The Cartel, RevisitedPosted by in Uncategorized
Cartel (noun): An association of independent businesses organized to control prices and production, eliminate competition, and reduce the cost of doing business (1). Also called a trust (2).
(1) Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms. US Department of Defense 2005. (2) Collins English Dictionary, 2003.
There’s been a long lull in blogging this summer, mostly because I’ve been busy doing a lot of things which will annoy the private practice veterinary community. We’ve expanded HSBC’s own veterinary services and have just received final approval for our new community veterinary hospital, to break ground this fall. I’ve presented workshops at the nation’s largest animal welfare conference highlighting and promoting the new wave of non-profit based veterinary hospitals springing up across Pennsylvania and the United States. We’ve helped other shelters add or expand their own veterinary resources to better fulfill their humane missions.
However, during that time I’ve also had a bit of an about face in my rhetoric due to meeting several veterinarians from around the country. If you follow this blog, you know I’ve stated many times that non-profit vet services are presented as the boogey man for every problem facing small, private practice vets. This is especially the case for private practice vets who are struggling in the face of very real, but completely unrelated, negative market forces.
I’ve pointed out the private vet practice has been in decline for decades in the face of these other economic drivers and, in my opinion, is going the way of the human health care industry. There will be more consolidation, non-profit practice, corporate practice, with only the most capable private practices surviving. I’ve pointed out that the vets themselves facilitated a glut of new graduates who need jobs and these new graduates like animal shelters, are charitable, and don’t want to buy in to the old, debt ridden, practice purchase model. Many of them want only to work as a shelter vet or desire a non-profit practice, as long as the practice of medicine is high quality.
I’ve talked about the way non-profit practices like ours can provide better than industry standard care at market rates for those who can afford it, at reduced rates for those who can afford less, and for free for those who can afford nothing. This approach is deeply rooted in mission, since there is now a growing body of evidence that having a strong veterinary relationship decreases relinquishment of pets to shelters.
Whether the old timer vets like it not, the world is changing and their model of practice is coming to an end. Given the new models of service rising, I think this is for the best for animals, for people, and for veterinarians.
I’ve also been pretty vocal in my feelings that the private practice veterinary community across the nation, and sometimes with the active support of their state vet boards and veterinary medical associations, attack non-profit veterinary practices and seek to keep them from opening or close them down. If this was any other industry, and the economic bullies weren’t able to hide behind a white lab coat and stethoscope, we’d call it a cartel. I have called the thugs of the veterinary industry- and it is a multibillion dollar industry, make no mistake about it- a cartel.
But this year I had a bit of an eye opening. I realized that it wasn’t just non-profit practices who were falling victim to these attacks. It was also other veterinarians and other practices feeling the heat. I’ve been meeting vets from around the country who want to turn the model I promote- non-profit missions driven by veterinary services- on its head. They are trying to have veterinary practices which embrace major non-profit, mission driven goals to better serve animals and people. And their own consciences.
Vets who have opened full adoptions programs in their hospitals and have even applied for 501c3 status for that work. Vets offering charity clinics and sliding scale fees for poor clients. They are starting to look like us! And now they face opposition from their own community, sometimes even from their own partners.
Am I mad they are stealing our “market share”? Do I pretend to fear the quality of their charity isn’t as good as ours? Am I suspicious of their stated motives and suspect its really just some plot for more profit? No! Hell, I know they aren’t getting rich giving away services, that they aren’t stealing clients from other vets or from us, that they aren’t undermining the quality of care industry wide- and so does every other vet, just like they know we aren’t doing that either. They are simply professionals who care about animals and people and are doing what they think is best for them, for their own practices and for themselves.
I called the vet industry a cartel and I was wrong. A cartel implies a broad coalition, a monolith in support of a monopoly. But I see cracks in the monolith now and I see the very bricks which constructed it- the very vets these assailants of non-profit practices claim to represent- pulling themselves from the mortar to build a new foundation for the future of veterinary medicine. So, I don’t think it’s a cartel any more.
I think it’s become a cabal.
Cabal (noun): A small group of people who work together secretly united in a plot.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 2013