Disaster Planning, Part 1: Vet Bills

Contributors: Dr Karie Vander Werf, Andrea Wenzlaff

It’s an emergency. Your horse is colicking, has a bad laceration, injured its eye… it was being “A
Horse”. You realize you don’t have the money for an emergency call. What do you do?
Hopefully, you’re reading this BEFORE this happens and can put a plan into place.
You may think, “But my vet loves horses and he/she will treat my horse because it’s an emergency.
I will definitely pay them later.”

Unfortunately, this is a very common scenario, and while the first part of the statement is true (we
all love horses, this is why we went through what we did to get where we are), the second part
often is not (no matter how trustworthy you may be). Asking your vet to bill you is tantamount to
asking to borrow money from them. Now, vets are generous people. We give our hearts and souls
to our patients and clients. We also gave a TON of money to our veterinary schools for our
education and most of us continue to give a TON of money to the government and lending
institutions for our loans. In addition to loans, we have liability and disability insurance, DEA
licensure, state licensure, federal accreditation, continuing education, plus if we are business
owners, we have the additional expenses involved in that (and wow, there are a lot!).
While this may be the first time YOU have asked your vet for money (which is what you’re doing
when you’re asking to be billed), this may be the 2nd, 5th, or 10th time this week or month for your
vet. Small animal veterinarians get asked multiple times a day.

Be up front and reasonable with your financial limitations with your veterinarian. Don’t say “colic
surgery is an option” when you have no means to cover this (yes, this has happened). Don’t say,
“save my horse, money is no concern” and then not pay when the bills get too high. On the flip side,
don’t say “my horse is colicking but I don’t even have enough for your exam fee” and then make the
vet feel bad that you’re in that situation. We understand that not every horse can go to colic
surgery. We understand that not every horse can get IV fluids. We are reasonable people and can
work with you knowing the limitations – but please realize that the outcome may not be as favorable
if some options are not explored. And we cannot do this for free. Not if you expect us to be in
business in 5 or 10 years.
Alternative options:

  • Ask your friends or family members if you can borrow the money and pay them back. If your
    friends and family members won’t let you borrow money from them, why would your vet?
  • Have a credit card or cash set aside for emergencies only. It doesn’t have to have a large credit
    line. My suggestion would be $1000 to give you a good cushion to work with on an immediate basis. This will be dependent on your area and average prices for common emergencies.
  • Call your existing credit card companies and ask for an increase in your credit limit.
  • Pawn shops, title loan companies, etc. are additional options.
  • See if your vet takes Care Credit or ScratchPay.
  • See if your vet is an AVMA Foundation member – their Veterinary Care Charitable Fund may be of
    help. Donate to this foundation when you can so you can help others in need as
    well. https://www.vccfund.org/
  • Insure your horse. You insure your car, your home, yourself, and even your phone – why not your
    horse? There are MANY options for horse medical, mortality, and loss of use programs and many are very reasonable for even the pasture and pet horse.
  • Re-finance a vehicle. If you have a good relationship with your bank or credit union, this can often
    be done over the phone/e-mail within 36 hrs or less. This also provides a MUCH lower interest rate than most credit cards. This includes boats, campers, trailers, etc.
  • Use up your personal emergency funds. All financial planners recommend you have enough
    emergency savings for 60 days without a paycheck. For most people, this translates to $3000-$6000 in a savings account. Some of you may choose to burn through this then refill over time rather than paying interest.
  • Skip a mortgage payment. Your mortgage company will allow you to occasionally “defer” a
    payment as long as you pay on time for all your other payments. This simply moves the payment to the end of your mortgage. How often you can do this depends on the bank holding the note.
  • Pull against a life-insurance or retirement policy. Most of these allow you to finance your own lowinterest loans and are generally a fast way to acquire up to $10,000. If you fail to pay them back, you are only hurting yourself… and you should speak to your financial planner to understand the risks and costs associated.
  • Switch your deductions on your W-4. If you are single and generally received $$ back on your
    taxes at the end of the year, you probably aren’t calculating your deductions right anyway.
    Switching your deductions to 9 will not trigger an audit and will allow you to receive some of the
    money you would have waited all year for immediately. Generally, most people will be looking at an extra $200-$400 per check. Keep them switched for 3-4 checks, then switch it back so you don’t end up owing at the end of the year. Best to discuss this with your tax person so you understand the details of how it works before you have to use it.
  • If you are handy, oftentimes you can trade your labor for cash from neighbors/friends.
    While this article is small animal based, much of the info transfers to equine. Please have a
    look: http://bit.ly/2plcGo3
    You may say that your vet bills you. That is their option and prerogative.
    Others, please do not fault your vet if they do not offer this – there’s a reason for this

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