Most people are under the impression that the Affordable Care Act (ACA),  will only affect health insurance premiums for humans. While they are mostly correct, there is likely to be an impact on veterinary bills as well. People cannot yet get pet insurance through Obamacare, but they might want to consider purchasing policies through their vets to offset some of the costs that are going to be passed onto them when Obamacare is fully in effect.

Federal Excise Tax Passed on to Vets

The ACA includes a provision that imposes a 2.3 percent federal excise tax on manufacturers of several medical-related technologies. While the brains behind this legislation didn't exactly have animals in mind when they imposed this tax, more than half of the manufacturers of these technologies have publically stated they will pass their tax increase on to their customers, which happen to include medical and veterinary clinics. In turn, those clinics will pass them on to pet owners.

Medical technology used only for the diagnosis and treatment of animals is exempt from the tax. However, items such as scalpels, IV pumps and anesthesia supplies, which are useful for human and animal alike, are not. The added expenses may cause veterinarians to delay purchasing equipment, which can adversely affect the health of their clients’ pets.

Pet Owners May Avoid Vet Visits

One possible consequence of this is that pet owners might be more reluctant to bring their animals to a veterinarian in non-emergency situations. Regular vet visits, emergency or not, are necessary to ensure pets stay healthy, and prevent small complications from becoming bigger problems with time.  Not to mention that states require specific annual vaccinations in order to keep licenses current.

An increase in vet bills, though, might be enough for pet owners to decide to forego their pet's annual check-up to save on costs. Veterinarians recommend at least an annual check-up, but also agree that pet owners should question and look further into every test they recommend just to ensure how necessary they are. This can help keep costs down, at least somewhat.

Pet Insurance Might be a Solution

Alternative payment methods are available for pet owners that fear an increase in rates for veterinary services. Pet insurance in particular, is growing in popularity. In 2009, nearly 1 million pets were covered under insurance policies. That number is likely to increase significantly after the impact of the ACA on veterinarians becomes more apparent. Pet insurance premiums vary depending on the carrier, the age of the pet and the benefits included. It is best to get insurance when the animal is young, but older pets can still get covered.

Although almost all pet insurance policies include a deductible and coinsurance, that still might be cheaper than paying the entire veterinary bill with the projected increases. Before someone purchases a policy, it is recommended that the monthly premiums, deductible and coinsurance be weighed against the Obamacare increase. Only then will the pet owner have an idea of which route is cheaper in the long run.

How to Find Info on Pet Insurance

As far as finding a pet insurance policy goes, a pet owner's best bet is to ask a veterinarian for information about their options. There are many pet insurance providers that sell policies, but veterinarians will be able to accurately explain the differences between the various options. Employees can also ask their employers  if a pet insurance policy is offered as part of a voluntary benefit package. Although employers don’t usually contribute to the costs of a pet insurance policy, they sometimes offer premiums that can be deducted from an employee’s paycheck automatically, as well as group discounts.

Don’t Panic Yet

As with most provisions of Obamacare, it is not yet known how the federal excise tax on medical technology is going to impact veterinary costs. It might be a good idea to start looking into pet insurance policies, but there's also the possibility that the increases aren’t as steep as some veterinarians are predicting. A wait and see approach is probably most appropriate, but pet insurance is a very possible alternative for cost-conscious pet owners.

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