Really interesting article in VIN News: Health credit programs: safety net or predatory lending? Apparently the New York State Attorney General’s Office is investigating CareCredit, alleging that it “preys on seniors and vulnerable patients.” CareCredit is used at my school’s veterinary hospital, and many others, to provide on-the-spot credit for people who can’t pay their veterinary bills but do want to find a way to afford a procedure. (The alternative in many, I’m guessing most, cases is euthanasia of the pet.)
I think CareCredit is really important; without it, people who aren’t prepared for how high veterinary medical expenses can be these days would have to euthanize their pets instead of getting treatment. The New York State Attorney General's Office reports the following consumer complaints (it is not clear how many of the providers involved were veterinarians):
Health care providers misled them that CareCredit comes interest-free when in fact interest is charged when balances aren’t paid off following a promotional period of six to 18 months.
I wonder how many of these people were told of the card’s terms but failed to absorb them due to the emotional overload that can happen when your animal is in the ER and extremely sick. It does sound like veterinarians need to be a lot more careful in explaining those terms.
Services proposed but never performed were charged to CareCredit accounts, and account holders were unable to obtain refunds.
That is upsetting. I don’t think it’s a problem with CareCredit, though. I think it’s a problem with individual practitioners.
Medical offices pressed clients to use CareCredit even when clients had the cash to pay.
Both upsetting and a potential problem with CareCredit; I’ll be curious to see where this part of the investigation goes. More specifics would be nice, too. Since CareCredit is interest-free for some period of time, it may actually be in a customer’s best interest to use it, if they are sure they can pay it down promptly.
In general, I would hope to see legal consequences for practitioners who behaved illegally or unethically. I would hope not to see consequences for CareCredit if the only problem is with individual practitioners.
The article goes on to quote Jeff Stillinger, a practice management consultant and Certified Veterinary Assistant:
“We in the industry have failed miserably with reminding the client they need to budget and save... I have never once been handed, or handed out, a puppy/kitten package that contains such information. We don’t have to go overboard and do it for them, or teach them how. That’s not our responsibility. We simply need to remind them it needs to be done.”
I agree. I think veterinary culture emphasizes stepping back, letting the client make their own decisions, which is good — but when that is at the expense of failing to educate, it is bad. People have no way of knowing when they buy a puppy that a visit to the ER after a bad car accident could cost thousands of dollars. It’s our job to prepare them for that.