Off The Wall: The ‘Tooth’ about Consumer’s Ability to Choose

Deanna Tickle writes…

Oh, Mike. You tell a beautiful story as always. Unfortunately, for me, it was marred by your dig against the vet’s fee for Freddy’s dental surgery. It’s disheartening to hear a champion for hard working Americans discount the value of medical care for your beloved Freddy.

You didn’t pay $150 “just” to pull a tooth. You paid for general anesthesia, good analgesia, the skill of a veterinarian who spent 8+ years in school, the skill of the veterinary technician to monitor Freddy’s vitals during anesthesia, and probably IV fluids and dental radiographs. $150 is a bargain!

We veterinarians earn far less than our human counterparts in the medical profession, and our registered technicians earn far less than human nurses. We know this going into the profession, and we accept it. We know we won’t be rich, but we don’t want to be broke either. We charge what we charge because we strive to provide top notch care without cutting corners and provide our staff with benefits and a living wage.

Hi Deanna

Thank you for the compliment, and the criticism. I value both. Regarding the former, I aim to please. As for the latter, I’m afraid you have over-estimated me. I am not the “champion for hard-working Americans.” At least, I would never describe myself as such. What I am, is a devoted fan of skilled labor who depends upon others to provide me with the products and services I rely upon.

I have great respect for your profession. Sincerely, I do. In fact, I spoke at an annual gathering a few years ago that consisted of several thousand veterinarians. To this day, they hold the distinction as the most enjoyable, appreciative, and thirstiest group I’ve had the pleasure to address. But that doesn’t mean I can’t bitch about your prices, does it? When I complain about the cost of milk ($7 a gallon!) it’s not a dig against dairy farmers, and when I whine about the cost of gas ($4 a gallon!) it doesn’t mean I’m devaluing the work of roughnecks and roustabouts.

The truth is, your industry – like all industries – does not exist for the purpose of keeping people employed, or providing your staff with “benefits and a living wage.” Your industry exists because veterinarians fulfill a need in our society. But what I pay you to pull my dogs tooth is not a reflection of who you are as a person – it’s a reflection of a competitive marketplace.

Every week, I hear from people who are upset that a plumber or an electrician or a mechanic is “overcharging” them for this or that. I understand their frustration. If three plumbers quote three separate prices to fix the same exact problem, that creates all kind of uncertainty – especially among those of us who can’t fix the problem ourselves. But does that mean the more expensive ones are less ethical? Many will say “yes.” But tell me, if you charge $150 to pull Freddy’s tooth, and another qualified vet charges half that, what should I assume about you? That your service is twice as good? Or that your office is twice as greedy? And what about the guys down the street who wanted to charge me $600? Are they thieves? Or merely the best damn tooth-pullers out there?

This is the underlying problem that divides so many Americans today, with respect to the topic of work. Some believe the price of a service should be high enough to assure the worker enough money to live on. Others believe the price of a service should be low enough for everyone who needs it to get it. While others – me for instance – believe the viability of a business should rely upon its ability to survive in a competitive marketplace. Thus, the consumer’s ability to choose between a $600 tooth extraction, a $150 tooth extraction, and $50 tooth extraction.

That’s the thing about competition…there’s no free market without it. And that’s the tooth.


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