Costs of medical liability insurance are built into the costs of the procedures, which I imagine are not that high for vets.
Human procedures require way more personnel and equipment . . . but are those personnel and equipment really necessary? Do human surgeons have better outcomes than vets? Granted, the methods and tools of human surgery and human anesthesia are much more diverse and numerous than the veterinary correlates, but are humans more complicated enough to necessitate such specialization?
In other words, why is it that humans require separate doctors to be the surgeon and the anesthesiologist, when animals make do with one doctor for both (I assume)?
And if the answer is because, “human medicine is much more complex than non-human medicine” . . . well, does it need to be?
I guess humans do live a lot longer and through medicine survive diseases that tend to kill animals, like lymphoma and ESRD and so forth, so maybe the specialization in human medicine is necessary.
Anyways, any other thoughts?
Oh, interestingly, cataract surgery for humansand dogscosts about the same.
The alternative to various veterinary procedures is euthanasia. If we could incorporate that into Obamacare’s replacement, it would probably create downward pressure on healthcare costs.
Also, in at least some states, you cannot recover for the pain and suffering of a pet, and at least it used to be the case that you could not sue for more than the fair market value of the animal. And a used dog is not all that pricey.
Shodan’s answer, I think, has a real grain of truth in it. Veterinary procedures cost much less than human surgical procedures because that’s what pet owners are willing to pay.
To dig deeper, there’s also the issue of supply and demand (though even this is related to the above) – there are much more veterinarians in relation to the demand than there are surgeons in relation to human patients. The glut in graduates from veterinary schools has been widely covered in the news the past several years, and in the meantime US medical schools don’t graduate enough new doctors, forcing American physician salaries to be one of the highest in the developed world. Surgeries in other countries are famously cheap compared to the US, to the point that surgery tourism is a real thing.
Let’s say it costs $10k to treat [really bad malady] in a human. If your kid gets [really bad malady], you’re going to do whatever you need to do to treat it. The hospital/insurers know this, and they price accordingly.
Now let’s say your cat gets [really bad malady]. The vet can charge $10k, but most people are not going to mortgage their home or empty their savings to save Fluffy, especially if Fluffy is getting up there in years. They’ll opt for euthanasia instead, or they may not treat it at all if the animal can still have a decent quality of life for a while. This drives animal care costs downwards or, maybe more accurately, prevents them from ballooning upwards.
It’s not the only factor, but it’s certainly relevant.
Spaying/neutering is particularly problematic in terms of perceived value, which is why we have stuff like Operation Catnip. A lot of times you can find somebody to do the procedure for free or at a heavy discount, and many shelters won’t even put animals up for adoption until they’ve had their surgeries.
I think there’s also a difference in what we consider an acceptable risk factor between human medical procedures and veterinary medical procedures.
The OP gave the example of having a surgeon and an anesthesiologist at a human operation while a single veterinarian will perform both roles. In most operations, this doesn’t make a difference. But, to make up a figure, say in one percent of operations complications arise where one person can’t simultaneously cover both roles.
For an animal, we’ll accept the one percent chance of this occurring and the animal dying. But for a human, we feel that the one percent risk is unacceptable so we insist on having a separate anesthesiologist.
There are undoubtedly dozens of other forms of medical support that aren’t generally needed during an operation but are available on stand-by in case complications arise. But this stand-by support costs money even if it isn’t used.
Representatives also sold the plan by saying it would include retirement to upstate farms where patients could spend their days playing with other pets. But the actual text of the bill did not include any reference to this program.
A great deal of truth to that: human medical care costs are typically several times higher – sometimes many times higher – in the US than in other first-world nations. And the reasons are not hard to guess: the enormous overhead of dealing with insurance company paperwork, losses from insurance companies that don’t pay and from patients that don’t pay, and the absence of any means of cost control combined with the essential non-discretionary nature of health care. As much as we dearly love our pets, most of that applies very minimally to veterinary services.
An instructive anecdote here is that when my dog needed an MRI, which I had to pay for out of pocket, the cost was roughly in line with what the government single-payer system here pays for a comparable human MRI. This is no surprise as the equipment is exactly the same and the technical procedures and skills required are much the same (as I recall, the vet had ordered many dozens if not hundreds of image “slices” to get a thorough 3D image of the relevant area). Whereas the cost in the US medical care system would be … well, actually the most accurate statement would be that in terms of a definitive answer, no one knows, because it’s a deliberately contrived secret. There are usually wide ranges of price for exactly the same procedure, all depending on who the payer is – which insurer, in-network or out, or individual patient, etc. But in general what information I’ve been able to gather about MRIs is that they cost at least several multiples more in the US health care system than in other countries. Whereas those artificially skewed dynamics don’t apply to veterinary services.
As wolfpup mentions, the insurance industry in the US contributes to the higher cost of US human-care as compared with animal-care.
This is worth highlighting. The massive costs imposed by the “middle-man must be paid!” system often escape scrutiny because, well, we Americans are simply used to them. And it’s not just the costs of the paperwork–it’s also the substantial profits of the insurance industry, the salaries, and the staggering costs associated with the giant lobbying apparatus maintained by the health insurance industry. All of this, and more, must be paid out of the fees charged for human-health services (much of which are transferred to taxpayers).
The veterinary insurance industry is tiny in comparison. No doubt those earning their livings from that industry would love to see it rival the human-health-insurance industry in power and size, but, as has also been mentioned, the ‘optional’ aspect of veterinary services acts to prevent those particular middle-men from really collecting.