Can Vet Medicine Help Us Understand Human Medicine?

Is the increase in health care spending mainly coming from the demand side of the market (patients want everything, especially if someone else is paying for it) or the supply side (providers keep inventing new things to do for us)? This question is posed by Robin Hanson who offers this: in the old days, veterinarians were mainly focused on livestock, horses and mules. Today, they’re all into pets. Here’s the distribution of vet employment:

Food animal exclusive 1.8%; Food animal predominant 6.0%; Mixed animal 6.8%; Companion animal predominant 9.7%; Companion animal exclusive 67.2%; Equine 6.0%.

So where is all the increase in spending going? Apparently to the pets:

The average household in the U.S. spent $655 on routine doctor and surgical visits for dogs last year, up 47% from a decade ago, according to the American Pet Products Association. Expenditures for cats soared 73% over the same time frame—on pace with human health-care cost increases. Expenditures for people in the U.S. were up 76.7% between 1999 and 2009, according to the U. S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Hanson concludes, “much, perhaps most, of the rise in animal med spending is a demand effect.”

Comments (8)

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  1. Paul H. says:


  2. Vicki says:

    I’m not surprised by this. Most people think of their pet as a member of the family.

  3. Devon Herrick says:

    Veterinary medicine is a free market. Veterinarians have to provide services and a level of quality that third-party payers (i.e. the owners) are willing to pay. One problem is that pet owners are increasingly buying pet insurance, which makes them less price-sensitive. Nonetheless, veterinary medicine is an example of what can be done when providers have to compete on price and quality.

  4. Joe Barnett says:

    However, increasingly, the innovative therapies available for humans are available for pets too — e.g., cancer therapy, joint replacements, stents. The prices are mostly lower than for people. I have noticed, however, that drugs & preventative treatments (monthly treatments for parasites, e.g.) are often cheaper when purchased over the Internet or from a people pharmacy. I think that is because a vet practice is a low volume drug dispenser, and fills scripts mainly for the convenience of pet owners.

  5. Mohamed says:

    My hbnausd was discharged with an nearly 5 years ago from Active Duty. He is still in the National Guard awaiting a fit for duty (that is a whole nother can of worms and BS). In January of 2008 he had a set of Xrays done on his hips. He has had hip problem since basic training where he stepped into a pot hole while on a march, broke his foot and was not allowed to go to the doctor for more than 3 days!!! The VA has been telling hime for 4 and a half years that he has a left hip strain and is only giving him 10% disability for it, even though some days he can’t walk. Well we went to the doctor in March of this year and I mentioned something to his doctor about how bad his hips had gotten. The fool looked up his X-ray results and informed us that there was a possible fracture of his right hip. They neglected to tell us of it for 3 years! They ordered an MRI and it took 3 months to get that and they told us that they couldn’t find anything on the MRI. So now they are sending us to an orthopedist. On top of that, it took 4 years for them to diagnose him with PTSD. The doctor kept telling him that he was just depressed. Now we are waiting for a new determination on his diability, which we have been waiting on for a year now. We are just left in limbo.

  6. Raj says:

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