Vet Option Pushes Healthcare Debate in Radical New Direction

With the possibility that the health insurance reform bill may be headed for a reconciliation committee, reliable sources in the White House and elsewhere are acknowledging that the rumors about the so-called "vet option" have some basis in fact.

The "vet option" is short for veterinary option, the radical compromise proposal that would migrate the current U.S. health care system to one based on the highly successful animal care model currently prevalent throughout the U.S., with experts pointing out that the vet system has brought greater health and life expectancy to domestic and farm animals. Although U.S. humans barely rank in the top 25 in world for health care, American animals are consistently in the top three.

Although not every aspect of the vet model will translate directly to a human model, most aspects of the system will migrate easily, and consumer acceptance in secret focus groups has been high.

Here's what will stay the same: as in the current human model, you will be able to choose your own doctor, just as pet owners currently do for their animals.

Insurance: User option. As in the current vet model, you can choose to be insured and choose your level of insurance. As the age of the animal or person approaches the end of normal life expectancy, insurance rates for the previously uninsured go up. If you've ever tried to buy cancer coverage for a 15-year-old cat with a recently discovered tumor, you can understand how this would work. Same for "end of life care." If the cat or the person with what looks like a terminal disease is not insured, they will receive appropriate palliative care and, of course, humane disposal.

Meds: Here's the possibility for a real cost savings. The regulations for animal pharmaceuticals are as rigorous as they are for humans, since many animals are given medicine and then end up in the human foodchain. These same veterinary medications will be available for human consumption directly at a fraction of the cost that the same meds have been for humans. Some exceptions, such as bovine growth hormone, may be held back initially.

Emergency care: Recognizing the current overwhelmed state of most hospital emergency centers, properly licensed veterinary emergency centers will be able to accept the full spectrum of mammalian patients. Clearly veterinarian facilities that include a large animal practice will be able to offer a full-service mammal response from the get-go. The clinics that currently focus on the smaller domestic animals will need to add some equipment in order to join the program, such as larger gurneys and suitable gowns.

The biggest objections to the program have come, surprisingly, more from pet lovers than human lovers. Pet aficionados have expressed concerns that humans might crowd their existing pet facilities, making access to care for their furry ones less convenient and possibly even driving costs up. Government response so far has been muted, but Rahm Emanuel has already spoken about this, pointing out that animal care in previously human-only hospitals could become a huge boutique profit center for affluent communities.

When we contacted Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi about her support of the vet option, she repeated her frequently-heard mantra, "We must get healthcare passed, no matter what."