A dog is a rat is a doctor is a vet

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

You don’t have to compare veterinary care to health care under socialized medicine to see the difference between care for animals and care for humans:

Under our “system” of veterinary health care, there’s generally little or no wait, they’re invariably friendly (because you could always grab your dog or cat and take it to another vet), and as to the prices?

Let me give a personal example. My old dog Puff once swallowed half a tennis ball he had flattened, and it opened up like a parachute inside his small intestine. This formed an insurmountable blockage, and necrosis set in. Without immediate emergency surgery, Puff (by that time in horrible agony) would have been dead in a day or so. He was cut open, the foreign object removed along with a three foot section of intestine (the two severed ends being anastomized together) and after a couple of days at the vet I took him home, where he fully recovered without complication.

The bill for all of this? Nine hundred and fifty dollars.


Now, this was some time ago, and today it would be more. Probably close to a couple of grand.

But imagine how much it would cost if a boy were to swallow something he shouldn’t have and it lodged in his small intestine and had to be removed. I shudder to think of the possible bill for emergency surgery and two days in the hospital, but I think you’d be lucky if it cost less than $20,000.


The instruments, the drugs, the surgical techniques, sterile hygiene, intravenous lines, and post-operative support, all of these things are basically the same. True, the boy would not be placed in a four by six cage during his stay in the hospital, but a bed in a room is not all that complicated.

What accounts for the huge difference in price? A lot of people say it’s the liability insurance, but is that all there is to it? It’s not as if there’s much difference in the degree of education between an MD and a DVM. (And it’s actually harder to get into vet school than it is to get into med school, so if there’s an issue involving brains, the vets might win.)

It strikes me that there is a giant, overarching difference between veterinary care and regular medical care, and that is that the former is barely regulated by the government, while the latter is so regulated that even now — without socialized health care — many doctors feel as if they spent most of their time being bureaucrats. Is that it? I’m sure my vet kept records for Puff, but I’d be willing to bet they consisted of little more than a couple of paragraphs summarizing the diagnosis, the procedure, and his recovery. And I’d also be willing to bet that for the same procedure on a boy, if all of the records were all printed out they’d be a stack of documents inches thick.

(Hat tip to Ilkka at The Fourth Checkraise.)

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