5 On Your Side

Money misconception dogs NC State veterinary center

Posted March 20, 2013

NC State College of Veterinary Medicine
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— Part of pet ownership unfortunately means having to deal with emergency care. One option for treatment – North Carolina State University's $72 million Veterinary Health Complex – is one of the most advanced and well-equipped veterinary care centers in the country.

But while many pet owners rave about the care their animals have received there, 5 On Your Side has also heard from others who say they were flabbergasted, even angry, about their experiences.

The center's director says it boils down to a money misconception.

Hank Richardson has a cat named Lucy and a bunch of chickens, but a rat terrier named Rudy owned his heart for 12 years.

"He minded so good and he had the best manners," Richardson said. "He was never sick a day in his life, until he got that cancer in his leg."

The cancer was growing so fast, Richardson says, that his regular vet referred him to the Companion Animal Veterinary Medical Center at N.C. State.

"We weren't thinking about money. We were just wanting to get this dog out of pain," Richardson said. 

But from the moment he and Rudy arrived, he says, it was all about money.

"The first thing they wanted to do was put a $500 up to/maximum limit on our credit card," he said.

Soon after, he was asked to increase that limit to as much as $1,200, but Richardson negotiated it down to $800.

"We go to lunch thinking we might be spending $800. Sure enough, when we got back from lunch, we spent $747," he said. "That's just diagnosis."

Had Richardson gone ahead with surgery to amputate Rudy's leg, it would have cost up to $4,500 more. He later got a bill for another $138.

Pet owner 'blown away' by cost of NC State vet care center Pet owner 'blown away' by cost of care at NC State vet center

At a minimum, that brings the total to $5,385.19.

"That does not strike me as unusual for an amputation," said Dr. Mike Davidson, director of the veterinary center. "Very often the initial bill, the bill for that initial visit and some diagnostics might be several hundred dollars, might be $800 to $900."

He said he regularly hears from people who assume that, because it's a state institution and a teaching hospital, that rates are discounted – like they are at the low-cost dental clinic run by students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"That's a very common misperception," Davidson said. "But it's important to understand, it is rarely the students or trainees delivering the veterinary care here. The individuals who are delivering the care here are board certified specialists."

The center operates as a referral-only, specialty practice, he says. With its high-powered CT scan machine, multi-dimensional X-ray equipment and million-dollar cancer radiation treatment room, the center has the feel of a high-end human hospital.

"It is very comparable to Duke Medical Center for human health care," Davidson said. "Not everyone can afford our fees. There's a substantial portion of the pet population that can't afford the fees associated with a specialty referral practice, and I understand that. I appreciate that."

In the end, Richardson took Rudy to have an emergency amputation at a local vet for $350. The estimated cost at N.C. State's veterinary care center was 15 times that.

5 On Your Side asked Davidson if the care was that much better.

"I would argue that it is," he said.

Richardson, on the other hand, couldn't believe that cost difference.

"I love my dog, but I couldn't go there. I just couldn't, and I don't know many people that could," he said. "I would have never in my wildest dreams thought it would be the charges that they quoted us. Never. And I still am blown away."

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  • rudy3 Mar 27, 10:50 a.m.

    I have taken my dog for dermatoloy issues for over a year. I have been very satisfied with costs, etc., but then again, it has not been a very serious diagnosis/treatment.

  • thosig Mar 25, 2:05 p.m.

    My former neighbor was a board certified army veterinarian that was studying a specialty while at the Vet School. Only the best veterinarians work there. We took our lab there several times and were always satisfied with their services and prices. ($500 upfront bothers you, how about checking into a hospital for a procedure - must meet deductible, co-pay, same thing) She also had 3 knee surgerys (2 on the same knee) at a local veterinarian's office. The cost of those surgeries was comparable with the Vet school. And the Vet that did the first one screwed it up, so it had to be done again and we had to pay for it. We also took her to a local vet for a diagnosis of Addison's disease, just to diagnose that alone at a regular vet clinic was ~$1500. Veterinary care is very similar in cost to health care, therefore the majority of people don't understand how much it ACTUALLY cost because they have insurance to pay for it. If you own a dog, unfortunately you have to accept the fact tha

  • MarvinsWife12 Mar 25, 11:51 a.m.

    What bothered me most about this report, was how the dean kept smiling when talking about how much money they charged. I understand that this is a business, but to smile while talking about how high the prices are shows a complete lack of compassion for pet owners who are caught between wanting to do everything for their 4-legged furbaby, yet not having the kind of money to do so.

  • carolinaflight Mar 22, 11:00 a.m.

    Can you folks really put a price on your pet's health? I took my dog to a local vet, spent $400 and 2 hours for her to be diagnosed with ARTHRITIS! They gave her Tramadol (tranquilizer) but nothing to help this so-called arthritis. 10 days later, she was paralyzed. I got a referral to the vet school and rushed her over there immediately. I thought I was going to pick her up that afternoon when in all reality, I was going to say my last good bye. The Vet School found that my dog had cancer in all of her major organs. Yes, it cost quite a bit but she was correctly diagnosed, more than I can say for the local vet who charged me $400 for a wrong diagnosis? My vote of confidence is for the vet school because I can not put a price on the best care possible for my pets! The staff was so nice and caring, something staff in the local vet offices need to learn as well.

  • SunAndSky Mar 21, 7:53 p.m.

    A life is a life.

  • Hans Mar 21, 7:22 p.m.

    Moral of the story: Stop worrying about your pets like they were human.

  • PathologicalNormality Mar 21, 7:10 p.m.

    The Vets at NCSU saved my dog's life when my regular vet had no idea what was wrong, and I have a very good regular vet! The condition she had was causing her to bleed from her intestines, and she lost so much blood she required a transfusion. The disease she was diagnosed with has only been reported FOUR other times in veterinary journals. FOUR. Yes, her treatments have been almost $8,000 in the last year, but I still have my dog and she is flourishing. Had I left her treatment to a regular vet, she would be dead. I am so impressed with NC State that I give them an annual gift.

    The facts boil down to this: their treatments, clinicians, and diagnostics cannot be matched by your regular vet. Yes, they are expensive, but worth every.single.penny. If you have an emergency and can afford it, trust them.

  • cocosyder2 Mar 21, 6:47 p.m.

    My original comment was the first one posted Wed. It was recently deleted. Could it be that I was critical of the smug Dr. Davidson who should go. I felt that there was a need to follow the money trail for this veterinary specialized group from building until know. Also if the specialists are doing so much, when do the students get some hands on experience
    Did the scope of the vet school "hosital" change when the new facility opened.

  • SunAndSky Mar 21, 6:19 p.m.

    I took my dog to an expensive "Speciality Hospital" for animals in Cary. It was a holiday. I paid money up front, they had us in the waiting room, supposedly waiting for test results for hour after hour. Other animals came in, they took the money and saw them, kept apologizing for making us wait but "they were sure we'd understand since other pets had emergencies too". Well, my dog laid there and his condition got worse and worse. I asked for attention, they sent a tech out, pulse was taken, quick evaluation, she said he was fine. Finally the test results came after a wait much longer than we were promised and they were useless. The vet could not diagnose my dog and did a very poor job trying to. Cost about $1000 for nothing. This "Specialty Hospital" was more concerned about getting everyone's money. My dog died that night. My experiences at N C State (with another pet)have been MUCH better.

  • Relic Mar 21, 5:45 p.m.

    "So you think your are ENTITLED to something because the State of North Carolina supports higher education?" No, I think they expect that doctors working for state taxpayers wouldn't be running such a high-priced service that pets can't be reasonably seen.
    "I can guarantee you that your tax dollars aren't going to pay for expensive equipment, in fact most of the employees at the CVM aren't; they are paid off gifts and grants, and not from NC."

    Federal grants are funded with tax dollars, just like the salaries of state employees. You've stated these things, now prove them because I find it very hard to believe.

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