Your vet bills could be going up

Some veterinarians blaming the Affordable Care Act for rising costs

Published On: Feb 20 2013 06:34:24 AM EST   Updated On: Feb 20 2013 06:20:00 AM EST

Politics and pets are not something you would expect to discuss in the same conversation, but some vets say they're having to raise their prices because of recent changes in health care.

Dog owner Lori Heiselman was surprised when her veterinarian posted a warning on Facebook which said because medical equipment and supplies will be going up in cost, that extra expense will have to be passed on to the customers.

So Heiselman is already tightening her belt to pay for the increase in her dog's care.

They're very important. They're members of the family," she explained.

Why the price increase?  It's part of a new 2.3 percent federal excise tax on certain medical devices that just went into effect.  The tax will help fund The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, intended for people not pets. 

Manufacturers pay the tax, but a recent survey found more than half plan to pass it along.  Some vets say they can't afford it.

“I'm extremely concerned how this is going to be a hidden tax to our consumers that is, that is going to be passed on,” said Dr. Mike Hatcher, a veterinarian.

Medical devices used only on animals are exempt, but items like IV pumps, sterile scalpels and anesthesia equipment, which are medical devices which have a "dual use," meaning they can be used on people and animals, will be taxed. (See the explanation of "Dual Use Medical Devices" from the Department of Treasury, Internal Revenue Service at the bottom of this article.)

Hatcher says higher prices could have animal owners holding off on medical care and vets postponing the purchase of new devices.

Putting off an equipment purchase is something that can terribly affect our clients ability to have quality care,” warned Hatcher.

The American Veterinary Medical Association represents 82,000 veterinarians.  At this point, they don't know how much this new tax will indirectly cost them.  They're waiting to hear from more device makers.

“Congress never intended for this tax to impact veterinarian medicine and unfortunately it has, and I think that's very unfortunate that veterinarian medicine now is subsidizing human health care,” said Dr. Mark Lutschaunig with the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Congressional sources who worked on the Affordable Care Act said lawmakers tried to exclude vets from being impacted by the "dual use" medical devices tax, but it was too complicated.

Carol Smock founded a charity that helps struggling pet owners pay for veterinary care.  She's afraid her organization is going to be overwhelmed with requests.

"The impact this price increase is going to have on any of those families I think will be pretty devastating," said Smock, founder of Brown Dog Foundation.

Veterinarians say if your pet is sick or acting strangely, don't delay care.  That could just cause medical problems to get worse.

Channel 4 called around, and a few veterinarians in the Jacksonville area were unaware of any major pending price changes.  Others told Channel 4 they do expect to see some increases, but won't consider raising prices until they see just how much it impacts their costs.

If you're concerned with the cost of vet care, be sure and talk to your pet's doctor about payment plans or other financial options.  You can also look into facilities that offer low cost pet care.    Here are nine from our area recommended by the Jacksonville Humane Society:

  1. Jacksonville Humane Society Community Animal Hospital 904-725-8766 www.jaxhumane.org/cah
  2. River City Community Animal Hospital (Mobile Unit) 904-733-8123 www.rccah.org
  3. First Coast No More Homeless Pets 904-425-0005 www.fcnmhp.org
  4. Clay County Animal Hospital 904-276-7729 www.clayhumane.org
  5. St. Francis Animal Hospital 904-674-7223 www.saintfrancisanimalhospital.org
  6. Herschel Animal Clinic 904-389-0364
  7. Maverick Animal Hospital 904-276-8101
  8. Wells Road Vet Clinic 904-276-0600 www.wellsroadvet.com
  9. Putnam County Humane Society 386-325-1587

Explanation of the "Dual Use Medical Devices" from the Department of Treasury, Internal Revenue Service from this document on Taxable Medical Devices:

IV. Dual Use Devices
Devices That Have Medical and Non-Medical Uses
Many commentators expressed concern over the potential taxation of devices that have both medical and non-medical uses, such as latex gloves, and requested that the excise tax not be imposed on the sale of devices for non-medical uses.
Section 4191 imposes a tax upon the sale of a taxable medical device by the manufacturer, unless the sale is for export or further manufacture. In most instances, the manufacturer does not sell directly to the end user of the device. Therefore, the manufacturer does not typically know the identity of the end user at the time of sale. Further, commentators suggest that manufacturers would have difficulty tracking their products through the supply chain and determining the ultimate destination of their products once they are sold to a distributor. Commentators also stated that, in some cases, after the manufacturer sells a device to a distributor, the distributor may package and label the device for sale for non-medical uses.
Under the proposed regulations, the definition of “taxable medical device” is tied to the FDA’s listing requirements for devices. Therefore, a device that is listed with the FDA pursuant to FDA requirements is a “taxable medical device,” unless it falls within an exemption under section 4191(b)(2), such as the retail exemption.