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Do veterinary offices offer payment plans?

May 5, 2010 at 12:05 a.m.


by Dr. John Beck

Q: What can I do if I need to take my pet to a veterinarian, but do not have the money right now? Do veterinary offices offer payment plans or other options besides cash payments?

A: There are a lot of different ways to tackle medical expenses when it comes to your pets. You should be prepared to pay for not only the office visit, but also any other tests/procedures and the medications necessary to treat your pet.

If you are price shopping veterinary offices, do not just ask what the cost of the medical exam is, it will probably make up a third to half of your total bill. You should also ask what the average bill is for someone who is experiencing your problem. For example, if your pet is scratching and loosing hair, ask the staff to give you a ball park estimate for complete treatment of a similar case. Just remember, any quote or estimate is truly that and every case is different. A staff member might over quote you or under quote you depending on the severity of your individual case.

Keep in mind that most veterinary offices are a one-stop shop. Unlike human doctors, you usually receive your exam, any necessary diagnostic or medical procedures and all the medications in one trip. No need to visit another doctor, a lab or a pharmacy. Because you are walking out of the office with medications (whether they are given in the office, i.e. injection, or taken home), they are expected to be paid for that day. You are not able to take a product from a grocery store and not pay for it, same logic here. Some clinics offer extended pay or payment plans for those animals that require a major surgery, emergency cases or hospitalization. But once again, ask about the financial policy of the clinic before scheduling an appointment.

As far as payment is concerned, most veterinary offices accept cash, checks, debit cards and major credit cards as payment. If you are concerned about the cost of veterinary care before you even have a problem, you can also enroll in pet insurance. All insurances are different. Some require you to pay for medical expenses upfront and they will reimburse you later while others cover expenses after a set deductible is reached.

That is something you will need to look into when picking an insurance company. Another option offered by a lot of clinics is a credit card specifically for medical expenses called 'Care Credit.' You can apply online before arriving at the clinic or fill out a paper application at the clinic. It is treated like any other type of credit card, your monthly income, living situation and credit score will impact you ability to be approved. Approval takes less than five minutes, and you are able to start using that line of credit immediately.

If all else fails, you might consider asking a friend to help or even selling or pawning something you own to help cover the cost of your pet's medical expenses.

The best advice is to be honest and straight forward with your veterinarian. If you can't afford 'the works' right now, don't be ashamed to say so. There are a lot of ways to go about helping an animal without spending your life savings. Let your veterinary staff members know when you make your appointment or at the beginning of your office visit that funds are tight. Most clinics will do the best they can for your pet while trying to stay within your budget. If you have any other questions or concerns, feel free to contact me or your current veterinarian.

Dr. John Beck has a veterinary practice at Hillcrest Animal Hospital in Victoria. Submit questions to Dr. Beck at drjohnbeck@hotmail.com.

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