EMTALA for Pets Please

In 1986, Congress enacted the Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act (EMTALA) to ensure public access to emergency services regardless of ability to pay.”  “EMTALA requires most hospitals to provide an examination and needed stabilizing treatment, without consideration of insurance coverage or ability to pay, when a patient presents to an emergency room for attention to an emergency medical condition.”  “In practical terms, EMTALA applies to virtually all hospitals in the U.S.”  In addition, many states have a broader requirement that any patient must be treated at a hospital regardless of ability to pay that doesn’t have the exceptions the federal EMTALA contains.

Veterinarians are now pushing insurance for pets, they push care for pets more extensive than is provided for humans, even for children.  If we’re going to have a federal Animal Welfare Act, then I think we need a provision in it requiring all veterinarians to provide care in pet emergencies regardless of ability to pay.  Only seems fair to me that, if they want to raise the standards for what we care we are mandated to seek and pay for in pet care, that they also raise the standard for themselves and step up in ALL emergencies.

Your Pet: ‘One of the family’… Until He Gets Hurt?” is a guest post on Dr. Patty Khuly’s Fully Vetted blog today.  There’s a doggy day care that doesn’t want to pay the veterinary costs incurred due an incident at the doggy day care and the guest blogger is bemoaning the status of pets as “property”.  Interestingly, if you’ve read Dr. Khuly’s blogs, you know she regularly whines and moans about deadbeat clients who don’t pay up.  Often the cases involve emergencies and clients know they won’t get their pets treated if they don’t pay so they promise and then can’t.  Of course, she often infers or says they could but don’t; just deadbeats.  Dr. Khuly is also one to push pet insurance regularly.  And I'm one to say that all the pieces need to fit together.

Ms. Marcy LaHart, the guest poster doesn’t mention whether the owners of the injured dog had insurance or not.  She’s complaining about the other side arguing that the damages should be limited to the “fair market value” of the dog; arguable somewhere between $80 and $250 she says.  If they had insurance, wouldn’t that amount cover the out of pocket costs?  If the veterinarian had been required to provide the services regardless of ability to pay, that would have dealt with the issue too.

The simple truth is that the real issue in the case is that the owners signed a waiver but Ms. LaHart is an activist who seems to be promoting that animals get treatment even better than would be provided for humans injured under similar circumstances.  The dog jumped a fence and was snagged and injured.  Have you ever read the signs at a playground for kids; in the play areas at malls and restaurants?  If your child jumps off the top of the slide at McDonald’s, they are going to disclaim responsibility too and they didn't give you an individual warning either.

As for the general concept of treating animals, at least pet animals, more like humans, more like children, when it comes to medical care.  Well, OK, fine, so long as the veterinarians step up and provide emergency care regardless of ability to pay and reasonably priced well care AND are on the hook for malpractice on the same terms as human doctors.  Well, OK, fine, so long as the attorneys are willing to take veterinary medical malpractice on contingency or because the law allows for collecting legal fees as in human medical cases.

I’m pretty sure the lawyers are going to be hunky dory with that.  How about you veterinarians?  Are the pets members of our family even when you don’t get paid for your services, even when you have to pay the judgments for legal fees?  How do you like the bigger picture of what you're promoting?

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