by Veterinary Practice News Editors | October 31, 2012 2:08 pm
Veterinary healthcare credit cards, in-house financing and pet insurance all provide financing options for veterinarians who want to help owners care for their pets and manage their own bottom lines. At the same time, providing different ways to help clients pay for veterinary services is an important way practices can bring options that help clients plan and budget for recommended treatment.
“As technology and choices for care have evolved, so have the choices for how to pay for care,” says David Fasoli, CEO and president of CareCredit of Costa Mesa, Calif., a leading healthcare credit card provider for more than 25 years. “CareCredit was created to give people options to finance veterinary procedures and treatments they increasingly want access to for their pets. It is one option among many a provider may accept.”
This payment method may allow the client to choose from special financing options such as deferred interest or extended terms, with no upfront costs and no prepayment penalties, and enables the veterinary practice to focus on diagnosing and delivering care, and less on administrative billing.
Consumer demand for payment options continues to increase. Because CareCredit provides a revolving line of credit that can be used repeatedly, many pet owners already have an account available when faced with paying for emergency treatment for a pet, routine wellness, and ongoing care or special diets, says Fasoli.
A smartphone-optimized website puts an application and monthly payment information at pet owners’ fingertips, providing them a way to learn about the program and apply from practically anywhere. It is especially valued by clients who prefer to keep their financial information private. A provider locator feature provides search results by name, location or phone number for those clients seeking a practice that accepts CareCredit.
A Web-based tablet app designed for use by veterinary providers lets clients learn about potential credit, view monthly payment options and amounts, and apply on their own. The free app is available for download by enrolled practices at www.carecredit.com/provider/tablet.
“Veterinary healthcare credit cards are widely accepted in veterinary practices for treatments stemming from emergencies to routine wellness visits,” says Cindy Hearn, senior vice president of CareCredit. “Once clients are approved, they can schedule the care their pets need with convenient monthly payments that fit their budgets.”
With today’s economic climate tightening credit approval rates, veterinarians may offer their clients in-house financing as an alternative to bank and credit card lending, says Bob Richardson, president of ExtendCredit.com.
ExtendCredit.com of Aliso Viejo, Calif., provides an online software platform for creating and managing in-house customer financing plans.
“Many veterinarians who would otherwise have to decline business from uninsured and financially or credit score-challenged customers,” Richardson says, “are able to extend credit to them through in-house financing programs.”
Fully automated, the online platform lets practitioners create and manage their own payment plans for clients who may not qualify for a credit card but veterinarians would still like to help.
Veterinarians control the terms and decide who gets approved, while companies such as ExtendCredit.com provide the tools needed to manage risk, stay in control, and fully comply with lending laws.
“Veterinarians know that many of their clients are living paycheck to paycheck,” he says. “Not many have credit available on their credit card or lack the credit needed for a credit card.
“When life doesn’t always go perfectly, financing tools need to be flexible,” he continues. “The key to getting your credit extension paid is working with the pet owner, if they have a temporary financial setback. Practitioners can decide whether to take partial payments, tack a missed payment on the back of the loan or restructure the whole thing, whatever it takes to get the clients back on schedule and get [veterinarians] paid what they are owed for their services.
“If you work with your clients on creative financing solutions, you’ll significantly increase the likelihood that you’ll be paid in full,” Richardson adds. “Most of them want to pay. It helps to make things flexible enough to let them pay you.”
Pet insurance coupled with wellness plans and in-house financing provide a complete solution for the healthcare of a pet. Wellness plans cover the day-to-day routine services, while insurance covers unforeseen issues and in-house financing helps the pet owner cover the gap in coverage.
“By paying an affordable monthly pet insurance premium,” says Jack L. Stephens, DVM, “clients can leverage their spending by five times or more for pet care than they would otherwise be able to afford.”
Dr. Stephens is president and founder of Pets Best Insurance in Boise, Idaho.
“Certainly, there are other methods (of paying for veterinary services),” Stephens says, “but they do not provide the expansive coverage of multiple episodes that might happen, with the high limits and no-interest payments that pet health insurance can provide.”
Advantages of accepting pet insurance for the veterinary practice include:
• Customers may choose any veterinarian, emergency clinic or specialist.
• There are no restrictions on care.
• Plans that pay a flat percentage of veterinary cost have no restrictions on cost, other than plan limits chosen.
Pet insurance offers affordable options for any budget.
Carol McConnell, DVM, MBA, says the profession has been experiencing a paradigm shift in veterinarians’ willingness to help clients financially prepare for unexpected veterinary bills. She is chief veterinary medical officer for Veterinary Pet Insurance of Brea, Calif.
“Practitioners are starting to encourage clients to plan for their pets’ future medical expenses,” she says. “When someone brings a new pet into their home, inevitably the pet is going to get sick or hurt someday. Taking the time to have these conversations with clients in advance can really make a difference in the long term health of that pet.
“It is better to have a financial plan or payment method in place before the pet is diagnosed with an expensive condition, and the client is crying in your exam room,” she says. “With pet insurance, clients can make treatment choices based on veterinary recommendations, rather than their budgets.”
Of course, some veterinarians might prefer to stick to discussing treatment options with pet owners. These veterinarians should hire capable practice managers to coach clients through financial options, McConnell says.
And keep in mind that pet insurance is “synergistic” with credit card financing, says McConnell.
“Credit cards provide relief on the day of service,” she says. “Then pet insurance will reimburse clients before the credit card becomes due. So it is beneficial to have both in place to avoid the entire unexpected veterinary expense hitting the household budget.”
Pet insurance helps people build veterinary care into clients' budget every month, McConnell says.
“It has become part of our American culture to pay for merchandise and services monthly,” she says. “Given our current economic climate, monthly insurance or credit payments enable pet owners to provide care for their companion animals. Which means they’re walking through veterinary practice doors, when otherwise they might have stayed home, or consulted Dr. Google.”
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