Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Veterinarians accused of predatory lending

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.


  1. Mmm, interesting one. When we acquired our feline overladies, I did some research into pet insurance and decided I would prefer to self-insure; there's a savings account which is ring-fenced for (non-regular) vet's bills. But we are, thankfully, solvent enough (or at least with credit cards with enough limit) that a large unexpected bill would not be an unmitigated disaster.

  2. Yeah, I think that's definitely the best approach if you can manage it. Of course it presumes the animal doesn't get sick before you've had a chance to build up reserves, or that you have credit cards that can handle it if that happens (as you say).

    It's really interesting to me that so many people just do not realize how much veterinary medical care can cost (probably because they are used to insured human medicine), and don't realize how much needs to be saved! (This entirely misses the issue, as well, of people who simply don't have the excess income to save.)

  3. Bibliogirl, few people are as smart as you and for that you deserve some major kudos. The take home is that owning a pet is like owning a i phone. It makes your life better so you should budget for it. The only difference is that the public at large seems to think that cell phone service is something they have to pay for or they lose service whereas veterinary bills are something the veterinarian should swallow because it is helping some poor pet. More often than not that poor pet is in the situation because of a lack of care in the first place ( we see 4-5 parvo puppies without the vaccinations provided free to no cost at most shelters per week and roughly half have paid for their dog but have no money to treat the disease they could have prevented). Yep, let me say it again bibliogirl you are one of the enlightened!