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Posted on Thu. May. 08, 2014 - 12:01 am EDT


If you like your pet, you can keep it – if you can afford the higher vet bill

If animals could vote, maybe Obamacare wouldn't treat them like dogs

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Dogs are supposed to be man's best friend, but that's bound to change once they discover how people are trying to improve health care for themselves at animals' expense.

“Pets are becoming a luxury item when it comes to medicine. We're seeing a switch from basic and preventive care to more emergency care,” Dr. Kevin Cawood said, referring to rising cost of veterinary care caused by the “Affordable Care Act” – costs that must be passed along to owners who cannot go to the Obamacare web site for insurance on their pets.

And if some of Cawood's patients are deferring health care for their pets because of rising costs – his Indian Creek Veterinary Hospital at 5902 Homestead Road caters to a mostly middle- and upper-income clientele – the prognosis could be even worse for cats and dogs in less-affluent parts of town. Government and not-for-profit shelters could be hurt, too.

It wasn't necessarily supposed to turn out this way, of course, which is why it's called “the law of unintended consequences.” In order to subsidize health care for people – Obamacare imposed a 2.3 percent tax on X-ray machines, equipment used to perform tests and monitor vital signs, surgical tool, fluid pumps and other devices. Equipment specifically made for veterinary medicine is exempt, but the problem for Cawood and others like him is that most of the equipment they use on pets can also be used on their owners – and is taxed accordingly. “It's not going to be cheap to take care of animals,” he predicted.

“That (tax) may sound trivial, but if a device costs $30,000 to $40,000, it is not a trivial expense” said Dr. Douglas Aspros, former president of the 84,000-member American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). “We are not getting any more patients from the Affordable Care Act, and we should not be pulled into this . . . This is an additional expense . . . and we do not need to bear this burden on top of an already stressed environment.”

Cawood said the taxes could add at least a few dollars to each visit or procedure, and if that prospect is influencing pet owners' decisions, it's doing the same to veterinarians. Cawood, for example, said he may refer lab work to other clinics in order to minimize the need for equipment – a change that could save money but prolong the wait for results.

What's more, Obamacare is also causing the cost of some drugs to increase dramatically – drugs used by humans and, in smaller doses, by animals.

“We've had clients say, 'We can't afford all this stuff.' We may recommend a blood screen, but they wait longer for basic care, and when they do treat it costs more,” Cawood said.

And if that sounds a lot like the counter-productive practice Obamacare was supposed to stop among humans, it is. Maybe that's because dogs and cats can't vote. Yet. Nor are most of them insured, which means their owners must either absorb higher veterinary costs – or avoid them through lack of care.

“Some people have to ask themselves, 'Do I take care of my animal or put food on the table or gas in my car?' ” Cawood said. Overall, he said, costs may increase by up to 30 percent, much of it due to the direct or indirect influence of the Affordable Care Act.

People with money will weather the storm as they always do, and Cawood said some people who can afford it are already buying health insurance for their pets. So maybe the Obama exchanges really will cover cats and dogs, with the government taxing pet food and tick spray to subsidize the rates. In the meantime, though, a bunch of helpless, innocent, trusting animals are going to suffer and maybe die just so rich college girls can get free birth control pills.

And they call Republicans heartless.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at or call him at 461-8355.

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