Earlier this year, the American Animal Hospital Assn. unveiled a position statement addressing pet owners’ financial responsibility to provide health care for their animals.
The group is encouraging its members to discuss financial opportunities with their clients to ensure they are able to meet their obligation.
This is particularly important as veterinary care is becoming more expensive, with bills of $1,000 or more becoming “common” and $3,500 emerging as the “minimum specialist bill,” said John Albers, DVM, AAHA executive director.
He said that CareCredit recently received more than 55 accounts over $10,000, mostly from specialist care, in a single month.
The AAHA statement “strongly suggests that all pet owning families assess their financial situation and consider their ability to meet unexpected expenses that may be incurred for veterinary care. For some families, these expenses may be met through existing savings. Others may be able to use credit care reserves or medical payment cards. Some families should consider budgeting for these expenses and still others may want to consider protecting themselves through pet insurance policies.”
It further advises pet owners to carefully consider any pet insurance policy, to make sure they understand exactly what is covered.
To be palatable to AAHA, pet insurance should follow some fundamental guidelines, Albers told pet insurance providers and other attendees at the North American Pet Insurance Summit.
These fundamentals include:
• Direct reimbursement to pet owners. This was important because dentists have been reporting problems with dental insurance reimbursements, Albers said.
• A pet owner’s freedom to choose any veterinarian to provide care.
• The availability of high deductible policies. Albers said most pet owning households can handle unexpected expenses of up to $1,000, and that higher deductible policies would allow for lower premiums and a greater base of insured pets.
Some of the insurance providers, however, expressed concern that higher deductibles would lead to fewer claims. Fewer paid claims would reduce policy holders’ perceived value in pet insurance, thereby decreasing policy renewals.
Similarly, it is not uncommon for people to buy pet insurance for their puppies and kittens, then let it lapse after about four years of few or no claims. This is just when the now uninsured pet tends to start to have age-related veterinary issues.
Insurers also noted that overhead expenses would restrict potential savings in higher-deductible policies.
Rising veterinary costs should automatically increase interest in pet insurance, said Gerald Faust, Ph.D., the meeting’s facilitator.