Victorian animal rights MP proposes ‘Veticare’ scheme to provide public care for pets and animals

Veterinary care in Victoria would become free or subsidized under proposed new laws to introduce a health insurance scheme for animals called ‘Veticare’, to make seeing a vet more affordable and accessible.

Australia is experiencing a nationwide shortage of vets and, combined with an increase in pet ownership during the pandemic, this has led to some vets closing their doors, particularly in rural and regional areas.

In response to this problem, the Animal Justice Party will introduce a motion in the Victorian Parliament that includes the creation of public veterinary hospitals, the development of veterinary nurses and the establishment of a wholesale billing model for veterinary care.

It remains to be seen how many supporters the minor party will be able to gain with its bold new plan – but here’s how it says it would work.

Why was it introduced?

Pets and wildlife aren’t getting the care they need because animal owners and rescuers simply can’t afford it, according to Animal Justice Party leader Andy Meddick.

“Victoria is experiencing a crisis of vet shortages, and it’s not only creating animal welfare issues, it’s driving up prices and putting unimaginable pressure on vets to work overtime, unaided,” Mr. Meddick said.

“Just as we can see our doctor with a Medicare card, Veticare is creating public clinics that allow free or low-cost appointments.”

Penny Hocking has been a veterinarian for over three decades and said Veticare could make a huge difference, especially in rural and regional areas.

Vet Penny Hocking says free veterinary care would help ease the burden on animal rescue groups.(Provided: Animal Justice Party)

“Some people drive for hours to get veterinary care in the Victoria area because after-hours services are very limited there and in the cities it can be very expensive,” she said.

“When people cannot afford veterinary care, not only does the animal not receive adequate care, but it can often be euthanized or turned over to a rescue group that bears the veterinary expenses.”

What would it cover and how would it work?

The scheme would cover everything from pets needing minor care, including an annual exam and injections, to more serious operations.

People who have pets would pay an annual fee and receive a Veticare card.

The Veticare card means that pet owners would pay regular fees (as with Medicare) and, depending on the owners’ financial situation, they would be charged a deviation fee.

A sick dog
The ‘Veticare’ system would cover a range of procedures from annual vaccinations to serious operations.(ABC News)

The laws would also introduce government-funded public veterinary hospitals that would be billed wholesale with no over-the-counter fees.

Veterinary clinics are private and there are currently no public clinics in Victoria.

Who would be eligible?

Every Victorian pet owner would be eligible to have the scheduled fee covered for their vet appointment, but the spread fee would differ depending on a person’s financial situation.

Concession, pension and healthcare cardholders would have all costs covered, receiving the same benefits as Medicare, for their pets through Veticare.

Animal rescuers and caregivers would receive a Veticare card but would not have to pay an annual fee, to recognize their contribution to animal protection.

A black dog with gray markings stares at the camera on a sunny day
“Veticare” would work similarly to Medicare, with coverage for scheduled costs, but the variances would be based on a person’s financial situation.(ABC News)

“Vets are often stressed out because they have to deal with wildlife and use up resources in their clinics that they don’t get reimbursed for, we want to make sure they get that reimbursement,” Meddick said.

Under the laws, dedicated wildlife hospitals would also be set up in regional areas with qualified vets to reduce the burden on other clinics, with the first hospital being located on the Great Ocean Road near the Surf Coast.

“There are currently no veterinary or wildlife specialist services for the entire western Victoria region,” Mr Meddick said.

Is there any other place in the world that does this?

The proposal is an Australian first and could be the first in the world.

“The idea arose from the question of how to solve the veterinary crisis?” said Mr. Meddick.

“We needed to find a way to ease the pressure on vets and their mental stress, to alleviate the financial stress of people wanting their animals seen and the burden that wildlife rescuers place on vets and veterinary nurses, so we turned to the health system and Medicare.”

Andy Meddick smiles, dressed in a dark blue shirt as he holds a small dog dressed in a warm coat, under gray skies.
Andy Meddick, MP for the Victorian Animal Justice Party, thinks his bold vision will attract some support in Parliament.(Provided: Andy Meddick)

What about the issue of the shortage of veterinarians?

Veterinarians are leaving the industry in record numbers due to increased stress and patient numbers.

The proposed laws would provide additional training and development for veterinary nurses to become technicians and nurse practitioners.

In human medicine, nurse practitioners and technicians are authorized to perform minor surgical procedures and the same principles would apply in the animal health sector to reduce the patient load and the burden on veterinarians and allow more patients to be treated. animals.

Vet nurses would also be able to assess wildlife with the aim of freeing up time for vets to make other appointments, improving access and encouraging them to stay in the industry.

Dana hugs two dogs as she sits in a sunny yard
Veterinarian Dr. Dana Kolosky says many vets left the industry during the pandemic.(Provided: Animal Justice Party)

Last year the Victorian government introduced veterinary nursing as a free TAFE course to help address the shortage.

Veterinarian Dana Kolosky said since the pandemic the industry has lost a lot of staff.

“It’s busier than ever, a huge amount of staff has left and the public has come out and taken a lot more animals,” Dr Kolosky said.

“We have a lot of stress and fatigue, it’s not the well paid, easy job that people perceive, we bring a lot of stress home and emotional blackmail is a huge problem – people tell us things like “If you don’t do this, our animal will die.”

“People look at veterinary care and think it’s very expensive, but they compare it to a heavily subsidized human system.”

What happens next?

Today, the Animal Justice Party’s sole MP, Andy Meddick, introduces the motion in the Upper House of Parliament in Victoria, where the state government does not have a majority.

A whippet sleeps under a doona with its head on a pillow
Meddick says his proposal would make access to veterinary care fairer.(ABC News)

Mr Meddick said he had cross-support and had discussed the plan with the government.

“I would like to see it operational within 12 months, but I can understand the government wanting to spend more time on this,” Mr Meddick said.

As for the cost?

“I would be lying if I said it would be cheap, I would expect it to be over $10 million,” Mr Meddick said.

“But the benefits would far outweigh the costs.”

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