Dog Days of Summer

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My wife and I have a small farm tucked in to the forest about twelve miles from the ocean in Oregon. We love animals, and that’s a good thing since we have six dogs, five cats, and three horses.

We also have a small hotel in Lincoln City and in this tourist based economy Memorial Day weekend is one of the biggest of the year. It is our first blast of financial fresh air after a cold winter and a very rainy spring. Friday night, after a busy, busy day, I was relaxing, playing cards with my friends, when a little after 10 pm my cell phone rang. It was my wife Katrica and we had a medical emergency.

Kaysha, our ten year old Golden Lab was having stomach problems so severe that she could barely walk. Katrica called to let me know that she was taking her to the emergency room at our new animal hospital.

After blood tests, a CT scan, X-Rays, and an ultra sound, (among many other tests) Kasha was diagnosed with splenic hemangiosarcomas. That’s college talk for a spleen that has a large tumor growing around it. In Kasha’s case her spleen had hemorrhaged and filled her abdomen with blood. The vet performed an emergency splenectomy and since Kasha had loss so much blood, she needed a blood transfusion as well. The surgery took about three hours. My bill was $ 2,700. I have to admit that I swallowed a bit as I gave the receptionist our credit card. After all $2,700 is a lot of money, so I decided to do a little research on my own.

As it turns out my bill was pretty steep, about $800 high as far as I could tell; but there was a very reasonable explanation for this. We were in the emergency room way after hours and we had kept a surgeon and two assistants up into the early morning hours. In addition, this is a brand new hospital; state of the art through and through, somebody has to pay for it. Fair enough.    

What I hadn’t thought about was that when I googled “splenectomy and cost” I was going to get both people and dog splenectomy costs. And what I found was telling. As I was comparing my dog’s itemized surgery invoice with the itemized people surgery invoice and there was almost no difference at all except for the billing amounts. A dog splenectomy cost from $1,600 to $2,700 and a people splenectomy cost about $ 17,000 to $20,000. It seems that my little fellow mammal got pretty good care in a state of the art facility with state of the art technology, and all for a bargain price.

Or was it? Maybe it was simply a fair price. Maybe a good part of the $17,000 dollar price difference is what one ends up with once you take the fair price and add in the insurance company’s profits, the lawsuits, the defensive medicine practices, the layer upon layers of beaurocracy, and the endless, mindless paperwork. I don’t know, but I have a suspicion that it is close.

It bothers me to think about how many people have their hands in my pocket that don’t actually do a thing to benefit me. But my vet wasn’t one of them, even though my bill was high, it wasn’t too high. All and all it was very fair. And after everything is said and done the import thing is Kaysha, so for the record, Kaysha survived her surgery very well. She is back to her old self; sniffing butts and eating the occasional hapless bug that has the misfortune to buzz by her nose. We know the nature of her disease and also know that her time left with us will be measured in months rather than years. Until then we will have lots of walks and extra yummy treats. I will treasure every moment I have left with her to the last moment in which I must let her go.

And for those of us who think our healthcare system has gone to the dogs; I say we should be so lucky. It would definitely be a “leg up” on what we have now.


Veterinarians and more

You are so on the mark. As an accountant to many veterinarians in Oregon and Washington, I can tell you they care more about their patients and the patient's "parents", than people doctors do. They go through just as much schooling and come away with equal student loans to pay back. The economy has also hurt the veterinarians, especially the newer ones who have a high debt load, as many people can't afford doctor care for their animals, let alone themselves. Which brings us to why insurance and hospitalization for people is so costly. Animal owners, responsible as a rule, know when they take their pet to a doctor, there will be a fee and they will usually pay it (I can count the number of NSF checks for 33 clinics over a period of 30 years on two hands). People are going to the emergency room for something as simple as an earache or acne, and they receive free care. So those who responsibly work hard to pay for their own care, subsidize them by paying higher prices. So simple, so wrong.