Thursday, August 22, 2013

Extortion at the Vets?

I try to be fair to veterinarians, so let me start off with two points:

  1. Extortion can be a two-way street when it comes to veterinary care, and;

  2. Health care is not as precise a field as some people imagine.

What do I mean by the first point? 

Simple: Vets are often presented with sick or injured dogs and owners who cry poverty when asked to pay for their medical care.

Sometimes the cries of poverty are true, and sometimes they are contrived or greatly exaggerated, but in either case a veterinarian has to make a choice: should they provide charity care to this hurt animal because their irresponsible owner has not saved money or bought insurance?

If the answer is yes, and that charity is repeated again and again, what will that mean for the vet's own family income?

And, in a country where homeless shelters have color television sets and everyone seems to be dying of obesity rather than starvation, what does it mean to be "poor" anyway? 

Does the cry of "poverty" simply mean the dog owner care less about keeping the dog alive and pain-free than he or she does about getting monthly cable TV, unlimited cell phone services, and a regular large fancy coffee at Starbucks?

So cries of "poverty" are not always genuine.

On the other hand, veterinary billing is so riddled with lies, upcoding, bill-padding, and unnecessary tests, and vets are so practiced at ripping off clients through manipulation (they call it exploiting the human animal bond), that it can be said the veterinary extortion of one kind or another seems to go on every day in some practices. 

Now comes this tale out of California.

A California woman is suing a veterinary clinic for extortion over claims a vet tried to have her arrested for animal cruelty charges because she could not afford a $10,000 emergency surgery after dog was hit by a car.

Karen Kelly says she took her dog Mojo to Advanced Critical Care and Internal Medicine Inc., a 24-hour veterinary clinic, in her hometown of Tustin, California, after the dog was hit and dragged by a car in July 2011.

In a matter of a few hours, Ms Kelly racked up more than $1,300 in veterinary bills. She was told the her dog would need surgery that that would cost an additional $10,000 - and there was no guarantee Mojo would survive, according to the lawsuit filed in Orange County courts.

Ms Kelly is suing the clinic for $1million, claiming civil extortion, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent infliction of emotional distress. She is represented by Orange County attorney Barry Besser.

ABC News reports that Ms Kelly did not have the cash to pay for the surgery up front. She called friends and family members, who didn't have money to lend her for the procedure, either, the lawsuit says.

She also applied for a line of credit at the veterinary clinic, but was denied.

When Ms Kelly asked if she could bring Mojo home so he could be take him to her regular vet the next day, she was told that she would have to sign a form saying it was against the vet's medical advice.

The veterinarians further warned that 'they were going to report her to the authorities for 'animal cruelty,' which is a crime,' according to the lawsuit.

Ms Kelly opted to take her dog home. It is unknown what care Mojo received after leaving the Advanced Critical Care clinic, but he never underwent the surgery recommended by the veterinarians. He is still alive at age 15 - more than two years later, according to the lawsuit.

However, the day after Ms Kelly left the vet, an Orange County animal control officer nailed an orange notice to her day stating that she was being investigated for animal cruelty.

The investigation was later dropped, but not before Ms Kelly sustained considerable emotional distress, her lawyer says.

The clinic, which has since changed names and ownership, declined to comment to ABC News.

A former owner and veterinarian at the clinic also both declined to comment.

Declined to comment? Yeah, I bet!

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