The Access to Veterinary Care Coalition (AVCC), a diverse group of for-profit and nonprofit veterinary services providers, animal welfare and social services professionals, and educators, exists to improve access to veterinary care for pets who don’t have it. The AVCC is working in association with the University of Tennessee’s College of Social Work and the Veterinary Social Work program at the College of Veterinary Medicine. Currently, the AVCC is conducting a national study of pet owners, including populations with inadequate access to veterinary care, and veterinary service providers. The purpose of the study is to identify barriers that households face, as well as best practices among those delivering veterinary care to underserved pet owners. The results will be published and widely disseminated to help guide veterinarians, animal welfare organizations, legislators, community leaders, and others as they seek to improve access to veterinary care for pets currently without it.
Background of AVCC
There are more than an estimated 23 million pets living with families that cannot financially provide for their veterinary care. When these pets become ill or get injured, their families have limited options to help them. Their unmet needs mean unnecessary morbidity and mortality, and an unacceptable threat to public health.
Private veterinary practitioners are well known for “giving away” their services to help animals that would otherwise suffer or worse yet be euthanized. However, understandably, their business bottom line dictates limits on pro bono services. Some veterinarians have created more structured ways to help the underserved, such as establishing foundations to help fund medical services.
Some nonprofit veterinary services providers are trying to help these underserved pets by expanding their services beyond only spay/neuter, initial immunizations, and one-time deworming. Some private veterinary practitioners view this as “unfair” competition, mainly because of the “tax advantages” enjoyed by nonprofit organizations, and especially so, if these services are not restricted to only those with demonstrated financial need. Also, some private veterinary practitioners believe that all pet owners should be required by law to present “proof of poverty” before obtaining services from a nonprofit. They argue that this will prevent those who can pay for their services from seeking a more affordable provider, i.e., the nonprofit. Nonprofit veterinary service providers claim that the vast majority of people they help cannot afford private veterinary care.
In response, some veterinarians are promoting the passage of new laws intended to protect their market. Such legislation is directed at nonprofit veterinary service providers, with the intent of limiting whom they can serve and what services are permitted. Also, some proposed legislation increases the regulatory burden on the veterinarians working with nonprofits.
Clearly, there is a need for reliable information, including: 1) how many pet owners who can pay for private veterinary services instead utilize nonprofits; and to what extent, 2) how many, if any, private veterinary practices have been negatively affected financially due to services being provided by a nonprofit service provider, and 3) what constitutes “inability to pay”; is it just those in abject poverty, or does it include middle-class families temporarily in financial difficulty at the time veterinary services are needed (e.g., due to illness, injury, or loss of job).
The for-profit private veterinary practice industry is still based largely on a “fee for service, cash only” model, with billings involving insurance at 2% or less. Consequently, these businesses rely on a robust economy with a thriving middle-class. However, since the 2008 recession, the economy continues to struggle, in particular, household income. Yet, the costs of becoming a veterinarian and providing services continue to increase, as does the number of private veterinary practitioners.
The AVCC formed in early 2016, with the first official meeting on March 14, 2016. The primary goals of the AVCC are:
- Foster development and promotion of methods for providing access to veterinary care for the millions of pets currently without it.
- Respond to legislative, regulatory and other efforts designed to interfere with nonprofit practices’ ability to serve pet owners, and work to preempt and avoid such action whenever possible.
- Improve collaboration among private for-profit and nonprofit veterinary service providers as well as relevant social services providers to promote access to veterinary care for all pet owners.
- Provide guidance to the veterinary profession regarding ways it can help promote access to veterinary care for all pet owners.
The groups represented on the AVCC are:
- Nonprofit veterinary service providers
- For-profit veterinary service providers
- National professional veterinary organizations
- Pet owners needing access to veterinary care
- Animal protection organizations
- Veterinary schools
- Veterinary social work
- Other animal care professionals