With the possibility that the health insurance reform bill
may be headed for a reconciliation committee, reliable sources in the White
House and elsewhere are acknowledging that the rumors about the so-called “vet
option” have some basis in fact.
The vet option is short for veterinary option, the radical
compromise proposal that would migrate the current US healthcare system to one
based on the highly successful animal care model currently prevalent throughout
the US, with experts pointing out that the vet system has brought greater
health and life expectancy to domestic and farm animals. Although US humans
barely rank in the Top 25 in world health care, American animals are
consistently in the top 3.
Although not every aspect of the vet model will translate
directly to a human model, most aspects of the system will migrate easily, and
consumer acceptance in secret focus groups has been high.
Here’s what will stay the same: as in the current human
model, you will be able to choose your own doctor, just as pet owners currently
do for their animals.
Insurance: User option. As in the current vet model, you can
choose to be insured and choose your level of insurance. As the age of the
animal or person approaches the end of normal life expectancy, insurance rates
for the previously uninsured go up. If you’ve ever tried to buy cancer coverage
for a fifteen year old cat with a recently discovered tumor you can understand
how this would work. Same for “end of life care.” If the cat or the person with
what looks like a terminal disease is not insured, they will receive
appropriate palliative care and, of course, humane disposal.
Meds: Here’s the possibility for a real cost savings. The
regulations for animal pharmaceuticals are as rigorous as they are for humans,
since many animals are given medicine and then end up in the human foodchain.
These same veterinary medications will be available for human consumption
directly at a fraction of the cost that the same meds have been for humans.
Some exceptions, such as bovine growth hormone, may be held back initially.
Emergency care: Recognizing the current overwhelmed state of
most hospital emergency centers, properly licensed veterinary emergency centers
will be able to accept the full spectrum of mammalian patients. Clearly
veterinarian facilities that include a large animal practice will be able to
offer a full-service mammal response from the get-go. The clinics that
currently focus on the smaller domestic animals will need to add some equipment
in order to join the program, such as larger gurneys and suitable gowns.
The biggest objections to the program have come,
surprisingly, more from pet lovers than humans lovers. Pet aficionados have
expressed concerns that humans might crowd their existing pet facilities,
making access to care for their furry ones less convenient and possibly even
driving costs up. Government response so far has been muted, but Rahm Emanuel
has already spoken about this, pointing out that animal care in previously
human-only hospitals could become a huge boutique profit center for affluent
When we contacted Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi about
her support of the vet option, she repeated her frequently-heard mantra, “We must
get healthcare passed, no matter what.”