Veterinarians and veterinary staff often come into to contact with clients who cannot afford to diagnose or treat their pets. Instead, these pet owners are faced with paying for a reduced level of care, if they can afford any at all, or the alternative of having to euthanize their pets.
But there’s another, better, option, say those associated with the growing business of pet insurance. The problem is that many pet owners are not aware of the availability or affordability of pet insurance, which places the burden of informing those owners about pet insurance upon the professionals they encounter at the vet clinic.
When veterinarians or their staff recommend pet insurance, not only are they helping the pet and owner by ensuring their financial preparation for incurring medical costs, they are helping their business as well. Evidence indicates that insured clients spend much more than non-insured clients and they tend to respond to an animal’s symptoms more quickly, according to experts.
These reasons are probably why pet insurance continues to grow more popular. Pet insurance is estimated to be a $510 million a year industry, and it is projected to grow to more than $750 million by 2015, according to the American Pet Products Association.
The percentage of dogs and cats with health insurance has shown a slow but steady gain during the past decade, according to APPA.
The percentage of insured dogs rose to 5 percent in 2012 from 4 percent in 2010, and the ratio of insured cats increased to 3 percent in 2012 from 1 percent two years earlier, according to APPA’s most recent study.
The group conducts its study every two years. In 2008 it found that only 1 percent of cats and 3 percent of dogs were insured.
Based on the number of dogs and cats in the U.S., APPA’s figures mean that as of 2012 roughly 4 million dogs and 3 million cats had pet health insurance.
Furthermore, the study shows that most dog owners spend between $250 and $500 per year on insurance for their pet while cat owners spend less than $250 per year on insurance premiums.
With that in mind, a pet insurance recommendation from vets or their staff should be a solid bet—and according to Jack L. Stephens, DVM, founder and president of Pets Best Insurance of Boise, Idaho, one that should be based on knowledge of the insurance provider, the coverage, benefits, service reputation and turnaround time for paying claims.
Stephens was one of several insurance company leaders asked by Veterinary Practice News to comment on whether veterinarians should recommend pet insurance to clients, and if so, why. Other experts who offered their input were Carol McConnell, DVM, vice president and chief veterinary medical officer for Veterinary Pet Insurance of Brea, Calif.; co-founders Chris and Natasha Ashton of PetPlan Pet Insurance of Philadelphia; Kerri Marshall, DVM, chief veterinary officer at Trupanion of Seattle; and Mary Beth Leininger, DVM, vice president of veterinary relations for ASPCA Pet Health Insurance of Canton, Ohio.
"The overwhelming challenge within the veterinary community right now is how to get the number of pet owner visits up.
"Pet insurance that covers preventive care treatments can be a great way to increase pet owner compliance to a veterinarian’s recommendations. A recent VPI survey of policyholders showed that 98 percent of policyholders take their insured pet to their veterinarian for preventive care examinations.
"Choosing a pet insurance provider that has a long history of supporting the veterinary profession, and one that understands the profession’s needs and concerns, is key.”
– Carol McConnell, DVM,
Vice president and chief veterinary medical officer for VPI
"Pet owners with pet insurance schedule more appointments, have five times the spending power, spend twice as much on veterinary care and are more likely to comply with recommended treatment. The result is increased business for the practice, fewer pets euthanized and happier pets and pet owners.
"To help your clients make a decision, choose one or two pet insurance providers to recommend. Choose providers that don’t require paper work at enrollment or at renewal—since the workload would fall to you and your staff—and be sure they offer a variety of plan options.
"You’ll also want to visit their websites to confirm they offer customer tools online and are easy to contact.”
– Jack L. Stephens, DVM,
Founder and president of Pets Best Insurance
"Pet health insurance lets veterinarians focus on what is best for this pet, instead of, ‘Can my client afford to let me treat their pet to the best of my ability?’
According to Petplan claims data, one in three pets will require unexpected accident or illness care each year, and every six seconds a pet owner receives a veterinary bill for more than $1,000.
By encouraging your clients to look into protecting their pets with pet insurance, you can begin to remove those concerns and questions from the equation, because insured clients are able to say yes to your "A” treatment, every time.
The result is healthier pets and more compliant clients. Everybody wins—including your practice.”
– Petplan co-founders Chris and Natasha Ashton
"Pet insurance needs to provide value to the pet owner and to the veterinary practice. We know from our participating hospital data that pets insured with Trupanion visit their veterinarian 65-171 percent more often than those that are not insured and that more than twice the care is approved and delivered for Trupanion–insured pets (61-176 percent more annual revenue per pet for pets insured with Trupanion in the same practice).
"Clients trust their veterinarian and value their veterinarian’s informed decisions on pet care.
Veterinarians are in the unique position to shape pet insurance through their recommendations. As more pets are insured, we want to make sure the role of pet insurance is to provide financial support to clients and be in alignment with good medicine, but not to dictate good medicine, and eliminating ‘economic euthanasia’ is always at the top of our list."
– Kerri Marshall, DVM,
Chief veterinary officer at Trupanion
The Healthcare Discussion
"I know some veterinarians are unsure whether they should recommend pet insurance, but numerous studies consistently provide data that show insured pet owners schedule 40 percent more veterinary visits and spend twice as much on veterinary care over the life of the pet than uninsured owners.
"Clients also are looking to their veterinarian for a recommendation. Pet insurance needs to be part of every healthcare discussion with clients so that they understand this very important option that can help them pay for their pets’ veterinary care. It’s easy to learn some of the main plan features from a couple providers and give your clients a head start in finding the plan that’s right for them.
"Focus on the types of coverage available, how the deductible works and, importantly, how much the plan costs. By doing a little homework.”
– Mary Beth Leininger, DVM, vice president of veterinary relations for ASPCA Pet Health Insurance
For more information…
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