The starting gun for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare, sounded Oct. 1, but the race began in earnest months earlier for the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Set up in 1957 to manage "insurance coverage for veterinarians by veterinarians,” AVMA’s Group Health and Life Insurance Trust (GHLIT) learned in late 2012 that underwriter New York Life would soon cease medical coverage to AVMA members because of what the insurer called "evolving market conditions and the regulatory environment.”
As a result, AVMA GHLIT has a new mission today: steering members toward a medical insurance exchange—a process millions of Americans are simultaneously experiencing.
"While we are saddened at the prospect of ending medical insurance as a benefit to our members, our top priority is ensuring that they do not experience any gaps in coverage,” said AVMA GHLIT chairman James H. Brandt, DVM.
Libby Wallace, CEO of the Tampa, Fla.-based trust, responded to questions about what AVMA members can expect because of changes wrought by Obamacare.
How many AVMA members are affected by the discontinuation of the medical plan?
"Approximately 35,000 AVMA members have at least one type of GHLIT insurance coverage. Currently, there are approximately 15,000 medical certificate holders.”
Why does New York Life’s decision to no longer back the AVMA group medical plan mean for members?
"Bona fide association medical plans like the GHLIT will be regulated by the individual medical insurance market rather than the group insurance market. This means that if GHLIT were to continue conducting business as we have in the past, we would have to make our medical plans available to all comers, meaning we could not limit our policies to only AVMA-member veterinarians. Based on this, New York Life made the business decision that they would not continue to offer association medical plans.”
Were other insurers asked to underwrite the group medical plan?
"GHLIT was unsuccessful in finding another underwriter who was willing or able to accept our group. New York Life will continue to be the underwriter for nonmedical insurance products like disability income and life insurance.”
When will AVMA GHLIT medical insurance expire?
"Jan. 1, 2014. GHLIT participants may select a medical plan from among several insurance carriers. The medical plans, carriers and premiums will vary by state.”
Are other GHLIT benefits affected?
"We will continue to offer nonmedical products, such as disability and life insurance, to our members through their GHLIT insurance agent or the AVMA GHLIT Insurance Exchange/Marketplace. The only GHLIT products affected by the Affordable Care Act are the GHLIT medical plans.”
Where should veterinarians go for medical coverage once their AVMA GHLIT medical plan lapses?
"In March, GHLIT launched the website AVMAGHLITcare.org to assist members in finding medical insurance for 2014 and beyond.”
How can veterinarians be sure they’re making the best choices?
"Through the AVMA GHLIT Insurance Exchange/Marketplace, members can view plan options online, have a live online chat with an insurance representative or speak directly with an adviser, in addition to working with the GHLIT insurance agent they may have worked with in the past.”
Will the website be updated with new information about the Affordable Care Act?
"We have added resources to our website to help keep members informed on how they may be affected by the Affordable Care Act. For example, we’ve added health care reform updates, videos and a map that links members to their state’s public exchange/marketplace.”
What are some stopgap measures GHLIT has put in place to ease the transition?
"In March, we introduced options for veterinarians who are Medicare eligible or soon-to-be Medicare eligible. In July, we introduced medical plans for those veterinarians who are under age 65 and needed a medical plan for the remainder of 2013. Additionally, we integrated the ability to get quotes for our other GHLIT lines of coverage like disability and life insurance.”
Will the quality of medical coverage be less, the same or better than it was?
"Starting in 2014, the rates, product offerings and carriers will vary based on geographical location, participant age and whether you are a tobacco user. The same carrier may offer one rate in one state and a different rate in another, although pre-existing medical conditions cannot be a condition of insurance nor can insurance carriers use that information to adjust your premium or decline coverage. AVMA GHLIT has committed to only including highly rated insurance carriers on the GHLIT Care Insurance Marketplace to assure our members that they are working with a reputable carrier.”
What have members said about losing AVMA GHLIT medical coverage?
"Most of our members are disappointed that the medical plans will end at the end of the year. We understand that this change may be difficult, and that’s why we have committed to assisting veterinarians as they navigate through the changes.”
How will the relationship between member veterinarians and AVMA GHLIT change?
"GHLIT will continue to be a valued benefit among AVMA members. The medical plan is the only product affected by the Affordable Care Act. And while this is an enormous change for those who have had GHLIT medical coverage in the past, we serve more veterinarians through our nonmedical products than we do with medical coverage, and we will look to add additional products in the coming months.”