If your pet has ever needed surgery or emergency care, chances are you felt a knot in your stomach when you saw the vet bill. An article on the Veterinary Information Network web site noted that between 2000 and 2013, prices for veterinary services increased 91%. As veterinary treatment becomes more sophisticated, this trend will continue. Now that 83% of owners consider their pets to be members of the family, they expect a level of care commensurate with that perception. The problem is, the cost of that care is often out of reach.
|Tony and Suzanne with their four-legged family members: |
Sam the Schnauzer and Chase the Clydesdale/Thoroughbred cross
Suzanne Cannon knows how hard it is to choose between finances and your pet’s health. Several years ago, her dog developed a case of pancreatitis, requiring $4,000 of emergency treatment. Despite having pet insurance, Cannon, who was then going through a divorce, still had to pay upfront and then wait for reimbursement. Third-party financing wasn’t an option due to her personal circumstances. “The only thing I could do was put the entire bill on a credit card. I maxed it out, and the interest rate was nearly 21%. I could have made monthly payments, but outside of being approved for a loan, that wasn’t an option.”
Cannon now hopes she can give more options to other pet owners. Along with her partner, Tony Ferraro, she helped launch VetBilling.com in 2014. Ferraro owns Electronic Billing & Customer Support, a Timonium-based electronic payment processing firm he founded 27 years ago. Leveraging the company’s expertise in payments and collections, Ferraro and Cannon set out to fill a gap in the veterinary industry. Their VetBilling.com business model allows pet owners to spread veterinary costs over time by making interest-free installment payments, while enabling vets to reliably collect those payments using Electronic Billing’s secure and sophisticated payment processing infrastructure.
Cannon says paying for vet care is a hot topic for vets and their clients – for different reasons. Pet owners, who find vet costs overwhelming at times, are strongly in favor of more payment options. Vets, on the other hand, hesitate to offer payments, with good reason. “Vets absolutely want to provide the best care for their patients. I haven’t talked to a single vet who isn’t sensitive to the issue of cost vs. care,” says Cannon. “But they also run a business and need to protect themselves. They don’t want to get burned by clients who don’t pay, and they don’t want the hassle of billing. It can be an administrative nightmare.”
Cannon and Ferraro created a system that would address the needs and concerns of both parties. The benefit to the pet owner -- having extra time to pay an expensive bill -- reduces stress and means their pet gets treatment without cost getting in the way. For the veterinarian, worries about getting paid are reduced because VetBilling.com sets up automatic drafts from the client’s checking, savings or credit card account. The vet doesn’t have to invoice, track payments, or make uncomfortable collection calls.
VetBilling.com also offers a credit assessment tool to help veterinary practices determine the risk involved in offering a payment plan. The web-based application allows the vet to enter basic client data, then instantly returns a credit grade along with recommendations for a down payment and length of plan. According to Ferraro, “we designed the system so it executes a ‘soft’ credit pull, meaning it won’t show on the client’s credit report or affect their credit score.”
VetBilling.com won’t deny a payment plan to a client based on credit grade. “The vet decides whether to offer a payment plan, not us,” says Ferraro. “If a trustworthy client has fallen on hard times, and the vet wants to offer a payment plan, we won’t turn them down. Our credit scoring system is a guideline so the vet can make an informed decision. We won’t rule out someone who really needs a plan if the vet wants to take on that risk.”
VetBilling.com’s payment plans are offered by several veterinary clinics, including the Pet+ER, Frederick Road Veterinary Hospital, and Perry Hall Animal Hospital. Valley Veterinary Hospital in Middletown and Metropolitan Emergency Animal Clinic in Rockville, MD, offer the plans, too.
According to Pet+ER’s Client Services Manager Mellissa Dodson, client feedback about the program has been very positive. At Frederick Road Veterinary Hospital, owned by Drs. Dan and Lisa Zakai, clients are grateful to have a payment option that fits their budget. “We realize that not everyone who loves their animal qualifies for a credit card, but that doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t pay,” says Dr. Lisa Zakai. “This option allows us to be more flexible.”
For Cannon and Ferraro, who have a dog and a horse, what’s most rewarding is knowing their efforts have already made a difference. “Our first success story came from a woman whose 5 year old dog needed emergency surgery,” shares Cannon. “She was turned away by one vet because she didn’t qualify for financing. She went to Frederick Road Vet, where they’d just implemented our program. They set her up on a 3 month payment plan. Not only was her dog’s life saved, she paid off her balance early. I have a picture of Peggy and her dog, Daisy, in my office. It reminds me every day why we started this. This is much more than a business – it’s very personal to me.”
Suzanne Cannon is Director of Marketing and Business Development for VetBilling.com.
For more information about veterinary payment plans, visit VetBilling.com on the web or call 800-766-1918 between 10 am and 6 pm Monday – Friday.