by Jan Baughman
(Swans - July 14, 2014) By now we're all familiar with the state of the US healthcare system and its ranking in comparison to similar nations: the highest per capita spending ($8,608) and percent of GDP; lowest quality of care and life expectancy; highest infant mortality and prevalence of numerous chronic and infectious diseases; and joined only by Turkey and Mexico on the short list of OECD countries without universal healthcare. Nearly $2.8 trillion spent annually -- dollars that do more for the well being of corporations than the public. In the meantime, said Americans with an inadequate system -- 314 million of them -- are spending more and more on their pets, comprised of 179 million cats and dogs alone, not to mention birds, fish, reptiles, and rodents, for a total expenditure of an estimated $55.72 billion this year according to a report by the American Pet Products Association, one-quarter of which goes to veterinary care.
There are no statistics to be found on the ranking of American pets compared to the rest of the world when it comes to life expectancy, infant mortality, and the like, but this household recently experienced first-hand the inequality and price gouging in the veterinary healthcare system when Mestor, our oldest dog, went for an exam because of suspected dysplasia/arthritis. When test results revealed an extremely high lyme titer, he was prescribed a one-month course of the antibiotic doxycycline. The vet was kind enough to advise me that a client for whose dog doxy was recently prescribed reported that there was a shortage of the drug, and after calling around she found a one-month supply at Walgreens in South San Francisco for $500, but by enrolling her dog in their Prescription Savings Club for a $20 annual fee, the cost was only $40.
Not quite believing it (and doxy is not in FDA's database of drug shortages), I called our Walgreens pharmacy in San Francisco. They had doxy capsules in stock for $217.19, with a club price of $151.82. Finally, I called the South San Francisco pharmacy, and sure enough I was quoted $500 for a one-month supply, and $37.88 if Mestor joined the club. The decision was simple, and when I arrived to sign him up and get the prescription, I was advised that they filled it with tablets instead of capsules. The cost: $15.
Five hundred dollars for a non-member; $15 for a member, and no matter that the member is a dog -- who would otherwise think to even ask? And why the price disparity -- with the lower-income-neighborhood pharmacy, just 8 miles south of San Francisco, charging more for non-members, and the higher-income, San Francisco pharmacy charging more for members -- except gouging those who can least afford to pay in the first example, and those who can most afford it in the second?
As the saying in this household goes, Only in America.
It's no surprise that medical tourism is a growing industry, with over a million Americans fleeing the country each year to save up to 80% on surgery, dentistry, prescriptions, and other care. Bo Keeley recently described the comprehensive time and attention he got for $200 in a Peruvian hospital. By the way, Bo -- himself a veterinarian -- advised me that it might not be necessary to treat animals with positive lyme titers, as the presence of antibodies could be simply a sign of exposure and maybe not infection. Just in case, however, he tells me that brand-name doxycyline capsules sell for a mere 20 cents each in Peru...
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