Find out how pet health insurance helps clients and patients while benefiting the veterinary practice.
As a veterinarian, I always believed that if I set aside a certain amount of money for my pets, I would be able to afford whatever was thrown my way in terms of their care. Why would I need to spend extra money each month on pet insurance? However, my latest job over the past nine months has shown me how important it is to carry pet insurance, not only for maintaining my own pets’ health, but also for benefiting our practice financially and providing our clients with gold standard care.
Our integrative small animal clinic in Fort Collins, Colorado, pays towards our pet insurance policies as an employee benefit; this allows the entire staff to see the true advantages of having pet insurance and how it can help our clients and patients. Many pet insurance companies offer some coverage for alternative medicine. The challenge is to evaluate the different companies in every area of their plan coverage.
The advantages of pet insurance
According to the NAPHI State of Industry Report 2017,1 close to 1.8 million pets were insured at the end of 2016. This translates to an average annual growth rate of 11.5% from 2015. DVM360 recently posted an article titled “The changing pet owner: 5 trends driving change in veterinary practice”2 which places financial stress at the top of the list. Pet insurance is the number one way we can help our clients and patients and benefit everyone. About 50% of clients stated they would purchase pet insurance if veterinary clinic staff discussed it with them during an appointment!
A veterinary clinic needs to decide which insurance plan or plans to recommend. Technicians can do the research, compiling information so the hospital manager or owners can make the final decision. The technicians in our own clinic play a large role in informing and enrolling our clients in pet insurance. During every appointment, the technicians discuss how pet insurance can help people’s animals and make it easier for them to afford the best care. Having pet insurance also allows clients to do more with preventative medicine – for example, seasonal acupuncture tune-ups and regular chiropractic/osteopathic before and after agility. Our technicians know the benefit of pet insurance first hand because their own animals are on it. We have technicians who would have spent over $30,000 on surgeries and medical treatment out of pocket if they had not had pet insurance. As it was, they spent only 10% of that amount, thanks to their insurance plans!
What to evaluate when looking for pet insurance
- Make sure alternative medicine is covered if you offer these services at your practice. The level of compliance for the integrative services I offer increases exponentially when clients have pet insurance. With some companies, you don’t have to pay for alternative services separately, but it’s an important factor to be aware of when delving into the pet insurance world. Trupanion requires an alternative rider, and additional cost, for alternative services. Similarly, PetPremium’s Level 3 plan covers alternative therapies. Embrace covers the greatest number of alternative therapy types. PetsBest, PetPlan, HealthyPaws, Nationwide and Embrace all include alternative therapies in their routine plans.
- Check if there are annual deductibles, per incident deductibles and/or lifetime limits. If there is a yearly cap on a plan, the amount a client can spend that would be covered could be severely limited. Also, a plan can have a per incident deductible, which can add up. Numerous companies will have annual deductibles. Most will allow you to pick the deductible amount. Usually, a higher deductible will come with a lower monthly premium.
- Read the fine print for any exclusions or to see if there are time periods mentioned before certain conditions will be covered. Numerous companies, such as PetPlan and PetFirst, have a time delay of six to 12 months before a cruciate tear or disc disease will be covered if it occurs after a pet is on the insurance plan. Some of these plans allow that exclusion to go away, however, if the pet is examined within 30 days of starting an insurance plan. For example, PetPlan will remove the time exclusion if the pet is deemed to have healthy knees by a veterinarian within 30 days of starting a plan. Numerous companies will exclude nutritional supplements and vitamins although they will cover alternative treatments such as acupuncture.
- Be sure to check if there may be price changes during the year. With Trupanion, the plans are on a monthly contract and can thus increase. Other companies, such as Embrace and PetPlan, cannot change the rates for a year’s contract. Also, confirm how clients are paid. The easier it is to be reimbursed, the happier the client will be. Trupanion has an Expresspay option by which the clinic submits the charges directly to Trupanion and the client only pays the co-pay. Other companies, like HealthyPaws, have mobile apps that allow clients to submit their bills easily and quickly via their phones.
- Finally, check customer reviews on different pet insurance companies. You want to be comfortable with who you are using. There are many great insurance companies out there. It is a matter of finding what works best for what you are looking for in a pet insurance plan.
The graph below compares the main pet insurance companies. It was made by an independent reviewer (petinsuranceu.com) to limit bias towards any one company. Companies will compare themselves to others, but be wary of any bias that may skew one to look better than another. It is important to always call the insurance company to clarify all details once a plan has been chosen, to confirm everything that is included and the actual cost. The average rating includes Yelp, BBB and consumer reviews to determine that number. The differences between basic and best coverage refer to the different plans the companies offer, and can vary greatly for the services and amounts that are covered. The independent reviewer for the graph found HealthyPaws to be the best, but this will vary for everyone; this is why it’s so important for technicians to research all the information to figure out what is best for their clinics to recommend to clients.
Comparison between popular pet insurance companies
Graph courtesy of Pet Insurance U (petinsuranceu.com)
A case in point
My nine-year-old German shepherd, Finn, showed me why it is very helpful to have pet insurance. About three months into my job, I noticed Finn was limping on his rear leg. Because he was covered by insurance with no pre-existing conditions, I did not have to worry financially about doing radiographs to rule out hip, spine and knee issues. Finn does have a partial cruciate tear which may need surgery in the future, but I am able to afford rehabilitation, acupuncture, laser therapy, herbal medicine, supplements — and eventually the surgery if it’s needed — all because the treatments are covered!
Our overall success rate of enrolling clients in pet insurance is due to our technicians. They are able to showcase how beneficial pet insurance is to our clients, and because they have it for their own animals, they are able to share success stories on how it helped them. Our accounts receivable are very minimal because our clients can follow our gold standard recommendations for their pets and not worry about paying for it, while their pets get the best treatment possible. As a clinic, it is important to research a company that everyone feels passionate about, and then dive in. Your profits will rise, anxiety over collecting payments will decrease, and you will be able to practice the way you want, whether your focus is alternative, integrative or conventional medicine!
1State of the Industry Report. North American Pet Health Insurance Association, 2017. Retrieved from naphia.org.
2“The changing pet owner: 5 trends driving change in veterinary practice”. DVM360 Magazine, May 20, 2017. Retrieved from veterinarynews.DVM360.com.