The Fragile State of Veterinary Care Affordability

Between 2009 and 2017, veterinary service prices increased by 30.9%. Practices implemented new technology and purchased the latest equipment to improve the quality of their medicine. Between rising costs of care and the financial precarity of the average American family (39% of US adults do not have enough savings to cover a $400 unexpected expense), veterinary care affordability has been increasingly critical to healthy revenue growth. 

Despite the economic crises so far in 2020, many veterinary businesses are cautiously optimistic – and looking at the data, they’re right to be. During the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic, human healthcare revenue overall dropped 50%. Veterinary revenue, meanwhile, increased by 6%. 

Clearly, clients consider their pet’s veterinary care to be essential. But the situation is still uncertain. Recent job reports and an active pandemic cloud many pet owners’ financial futures. Many responsible pet owners will deal with their situation by being more open to options to help secure the care their pet needs – which is why so many practice owners are proactively implementing affordability solutions. 

As you chart the course through 2020 and beyond, pay special attention to how you can help connect clients with resources, so that conversations about care prioritize the best health outcome for the pet, and not the affordability of options. 

What are My Options?

Luckily, there are several resources to help your clients financially prepare for their pet’s care. They are all different and designed to fit different financial needs – so many veterinary clinics recommend several or all of them.

CareCredit 

What is it?

Active in the veterinary industry for decades, CareCredit is accepted at most veterinary practices in North America. CareCredit offers short-term financing options for eligible clients that provide 6, 12, or 18 months of no interest on costs more than $200. To incur no interest, pet parents only need to make the minimum payments and pay the full amount by the end of the promotional period (subject to credit approval). 

Unlike traditional pet financing or one-time veterinary payment plans, the CareCredit credit card gives clients the flexibility to use their card again and again for services, procedures, products, and diagnostics without having to re-apply. When clients pay with CareCredit, your practice gets paid in 2 business days, which saves you time on billing and collection.

Other companies, like Scratchpay, offer payment plans and personal loans for clients. Research third party companies, and decide which offerings would best serve your clients. 

What can I do to promote it?
  1. Educate Staff. As representatives of your practice, staff members should be a resource to guide clients to the best-fit options. 
  2. Make Brochures Available. Companies will often provide your clinic with literature, and sometimes stands, regarding their financing offer upon request.
  3. Empower your Staff with Links to Applications. Provide your staff with ways to deliver resources in digital channels. Email signature lines are another overlooked opportunity to educate clients on financing programs.

Wellness Plans

What is it?

A wellness plan is the positioning and pricing of preventative care as a subscription service. Every veterinarian understands the importance of preventative care for their patients’ length and quality of life. That is why third parties like PetDesk send health service reminders to get clients to come in for their wellness care. At PetDesk, our reminder system drives recurring visits automatically by sending multiple reminders, and a single reminder communication from us has a 41% chance to generate an appointment.  

Plus, recurring subscription revenue is more predictable, which helps veterinary business owners forecast and plan more accurately. Even better, a well-designed wellness plan balances value for the client and health for the pet. Banfield has a wellness plan, VCA has one, so why not you? 

How do I get started?
  1. Define What You Want Your Plan to Do. There are many questions to answer before you design or select the best plan for your practice. Will you structure it just for puppies, just for dogs, or both? Annual or monthly payments? Is there just one plan, or several? 
  2. Buy or Build. Companies like VCP offer templated plans you can customize for your practice, while also offering administrative services to you for managing service payment plans. Alternatively, you can leverage your local partnerships and business acumen to design a cost-effective and attractive wellness plan for your clients. Articles like this can guide you.
  3. Educate Staff. Whether you’ve built a solution or bought one, walk your staff through why you felt a wellness plan was right for the practice so they can discuss the option with clients. 
  4. Create a Communication Plan. You’ve likely made operational updates, added services, or adjusted hours before – it’s the time to use tools like PetDesk to send a mass message, or consider a Facebook post with a link to sign up!

Charitable Organizations and Emergency Financial Assistance 

What is it?

Many funds exist specifically to help pay for pets’ care. Clients often need to apply and wait, but these organizations’ contributions typically have no strings attached. From breed- or species-specific charities to general funds, many clients can find a charity to help fund their pets’ care.

Maybe you already have a favorite. That’s great! Do the leg work for your clients and research the charities out there. Use resources like this list from the AVMA or this one from the Humane Society to find charities that are right to recommend to your clients.

How do I get started?
  1. Create a Master List and Distribute It. While this option requires some time and consideration, spending time looking into breed-, state-, city-, or species-specific charities, as well as the larger, general ones pays off. After assembling your list, post it around the front desk. 
  2. Educate Staff. Now that you have your list, talk to your staff about the intent, and share why you’re excited about each one. Staff will be empowered to match client needs with organizations, and more likely to suggest options to clients.
  3. Make a Client-Friendly Version of the List. Put it in your new client packet, keep several handy at the front desk or in the back, and make it into a PDF, so the front desk can easily text or email it to clients. Make sure to include any qualification criteria and contact information, as found on the organization’s website.

Pet Insurance

What is it?

If you ask personal finance experts, pet insurance is still a question mark. But, surprisingly, it is more prevalent than you may expect, especially among millennials. Among people between 18 and 35 that had a pet, about 1 in 5 reported having pet insurance. With pet insurance, typically the client pays the hospital and submits a claim for reimbursement to the insurer, so you will be paid for the care you’ve rendered. 

There are a lot of different pet insurance plans for your clients to consider. Pets Best offers 90% coverage on unexpected veterinary costs with no annual or lifetime limits; Trupanion has a tool that lets you submit a claim at the front desk and be paid by Trupanion directly. Most pet insurance companies design their policies to mitigate risk around emergencies and treatments, not preventative care. But some do, like Pumpkin Pet Insurance; Pets Best also has a wellness option.

While veterinarians are unable to directly sell pet insurance, it is in your and the pets’ best interest to help owners consider it. As you’ve probably noticed, clients who have insured their pets are less price-sensitive and visit more often.

What can I do to promote it?
  1. Research options for your clients. With so many, it is worth some time researching so more of your clients can choose the policy that works for them and their pets. 
  2. Recommend Insurance. You know the overall benefits of insurance, and how having it can be the difference between life-saving treatment and euthanasia. Use your expertise and relationship to explain to clients how pet insurance can help ensure future decisions about their pets’ health aren’t dictated by financial constraints.
  3. Educate your Staff. Remember, they want to be a resource to clients – make sure they understand, so they can help clients by explaining why an insurance provider your hospital recommends may be a good fit. 
  4. Empower your Staff with Links to Applications. New pet owners and clients are often overloaded when introduced to all of your resources during their first visit. Their folder of new client materials can be easily misplaced or recycled. Whether you use PetDesk’s Two-Way Messaging to easily deliver documentation via text message or another provider, it is important to provide your staff with a streamlined and straightforward way to distribute digital materials to clients who need them.