Short Takes On News & Events

Why Some Veterinarians Have a Bone To Pick With Obamacare

By Phil Galewitz

October 8th, 2013, 6:00 AM

Dr. Douglas Aspros says the federal health law is increasing his costs to buy medical equipment, which he has no choice but to pass onto his patients — most whom are uninsured.

Dr. Douglas Aspros

None of Aspros’ patients, though, will benefit from the law’s expansion of  coverage. Aspros, you see, treats dogs, cats, birds, hamsters, parrots and other small animals at his veterinary center in Pound Ridge, N.Y.

The law’s 2.3 percent medical device tax, which started this year, was meant to have device manufacturers and their buyers contribute to the cost of expanding health coverage because they would benefit from having more business from insured patients.

But some devices used on humans are also used for animals, including ultrasound machines, laboratory and X-ray equipment. So as a result,  veterinarians have to pay the extra tax as well.

“We are not getting any more patients from the Affordable Care Act, and we should not be pulled into this,” said Aspros, a past president of the American Veterinary Medical Association which represents more than 84,000 vets. The association has joined device makers and business groups lobbying for a repeal of the tax.

The tax — estimated to raise $30 billion for the law over the next decade—has become a pawn in political fight over the health law with Republicans calling for its repeal in a deal to end the government shutdown. Many Democrats –particularly those with device makers in their districts in Minnesota, Massachusetts and New Jersey, oppose the tax. They argue that like any tax, it hurts sales and will cost them jobs.

The Obama administration opposes repealing the tax.

Aspros said any device that is not labeled specifically for veterinary use is subject to the 2.3 percent tax. “That may sound trivial but if a device costs $30,000 to $40,000, it is not a trivial expense,” he said.

He said veterinarians may have to pass on the extra costs when they bill patients for treating their pets. He noted visits to pet doctors have fallen since the economic downturn. He said some veterinarians may delay upgrading their equipment rather than pay the extra tax. “This is an additional expense…and we do not need to bear this burden on top of an already stressed environment,” he said.

9 Responses to “Why Some Veterinarians Have a Bone To Pick With Obamacare”

  1. Mary DeForest says:

    That’s all I need is for my vet bills to go up.The petroleum industry has one price at the pump for commercial vehicles that use diesel and another price for non-commercial vehicles and drivers. That is a much larger market than veterinarians, and thousands of people buy fuel everyday. I doubt that the largest hospital buys an imaging machine every day.

    Thank you again to the man that won’t start talking to both chambers of Congress and try to get his government running for the people.

  2. Donna Cohen says:

    Whether medical device manufacturers pass along the cost is a separate issue from the tax. They certainly don’t have to. The medical device industry is one of the top profit-making industries in the country [in the top 5 or 10]. They make more than enough money to not stiff vets. I think if you are concerned, get the vet organizations to push back. There is NO REASON that vets should have to be penalized but there is EVERY REASON for medical device manufacturers to contribute a small portion of their huge profits to support healthcare.

  3. Donna Cohen says:

    By the way, if you want to know why the government was shut down, see this “plan” from FreedomWorks. Hard-right conservatives decided last February to do just this:

  4. Stan Kanarowski says:

    As I understand the fine print, certain sporting goods, coal, and tires are also classified as medical devices in the fine print of the regulations, promulgated based on the AAC. As Pelosi said, you’ll know what’s in the act after its approved…..

  5. karen lee says:

    As a self employed person having to buy insurance on the private market, the ACA will be saving me over $800 a month. That is more than enough to pay a 3% increase on vet bills for my 23 rescued dogs and cats.

  6. Dan says:

    What? Are we talking about 2.3 percent? That’s about two lousy cents for every dollar. Are you kidding me? Is that what vets are whining about? Anybody seeing cows on crutches? Anybody seeing cats in wheelchairs? Anybody seeing parakeets with leg braces? If you are seeing things like that, HOW MANY? Are you seeing 1 case in a thousand where pets need medical devices? You have got to be joking. Oh, how my heart bleeds! Here’s a thought, ever hear of euthanasia?

  7. marian says:

    Donna Cohen= Unfortunately, without price controls on medical device manufacturers and Big Pharma, the ACA will do nothing to control health care costs. With everyone having to buy it, and all the decision power in the hands of insurance companies, manufacturers can charge what they want with even less public scrutiny than there is now. Advise you buy stock in pharmaceuticals/medical device companies now.
    Karen Lee: Have you bought that ACA ins yet? As a self-employed person, who was hit by a car in a crosswalk & needs still more spinal surgery, having to buy insurance on the private market, the ACA will save me nothing. My premium for one person is currently $1200/month and is primarily determined by ZIP code. I own my home & cannot move. If I change plans, I lose my orthopedic surgeons. So I hope you never need to use the ACA plans you believe will be so wonderful.

  8. Donna Cohen says:

    Marian, Yes, we need price controls and ACA was not primarily a cost statute; it was meant to expand coverage. It does contain some pilot cost control projects, however. Had the bill gone further, it would not have passed, unfortunately. [For a great article on the cost of medical care, see Steven Brill's story in Time Mag. "Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills are Killing Us]. However, the government has forced insurance companies to not exclude for pre-existing conditions, to not have a lifetime cap, and the “medical loss ratio” – the amount that can be spent on non-medical costs is limited to 15% for large employers, 20% for individuals and small biz. That may not sound like a great deal but, up to now, some insurers have spent up to 40% on non-medical expenses [admin, marketing, etc.]. So, there is not less public scrutiny, there is more. However, there needs to be alot more.
    Karen, as I just mentioned you now have insurance options which cannot be denied you, no lifetime limits, and a base level of services which every policy must cover [plus, a number of free preventive care services that everyone gets]. My guess is that prior to ACA, because of your accident, you would not even have been able to get medical insurance due to pre-existing condition. And, if you did, your policy could have been “rescinded” at any time [in other words, the could drop you]. This is not longer allowed. And, you don’t have to worry about unlimited costs for care because there is a lifetime cap now. Is health insurance expensive? Yes, and it will be until there are further changes to the health system in this country. Are you better off with ACA than before? Yes.

  9. Judy S. Gilpin says:

    Veterinarians do not need another expense to have to cover! To tax medical equipment is ridiculous, but to tax vets is absurd when they do not charge the fees for the use of the equipment that human medical facilities charge. ANY other tax increase is very harmful to the veterinary practices. Pet owners want low fees and excellent medical treatment, then the government just keeps raising taxes!!!! That is not a formula for keeping practice doors open! Plus……the ACA is a disaster! The good parts should be kept, but there are many detrimental issues that should have been revised before passage (regardless of the ridiculous statement by Ms. Pelosi). It needs reviewed now!!!