By Woody Mawhinney • Pawlicy Advisor
The pet insurance industry has been around for decades, but only recently has it seen exponential growth. According to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA), the combined gross premium of the pet health insurance sector in the U.S. and Canada rose 24 percent from $1.15 billion in 2017 to $1.42 billion by the end of 2018.
Moreover, new providers are entering the market every year. Veterinarians are now on the frontlines in helping pet parents navigate the complexities within the growing multitude of pet insurance options and considerations.
The challenge for veterinary teams is to balance the workload of running a practice with their responsibility to educate clients about the existence of pet insurance resources. Within the fast-paced schedules of back-to-back appointments, veterinarians might suggest a one-size-fits-all answer when asked for a pet insurance recommendation, which can lead to liability issues and frustrated client relationships down the road.
Why location, finances, age, lifespan, and breed specifics matter
While veterinary teams may have slipped into recommending one specific pet insurance provider in the past, there are now too many factors to account for to default to a single treatment financing option for every client.
Breed-specific risks and exclusions can drastically affect coverage options. Premiums change across a pet’s lifespan, and at vastly different rates depending on the policy. Deductibles vary, as do reimbursement rates. And all of these factors can fluctuate by mere zip code due to the different health risks associated with location.
One must also consider the pet’s age at the coverage start date, the pet parent’s financial standing, and the overall expected costs across the remainder of the pet’s lifespan. All the variables in play mean the plan that seems cost-effective today, may not be the best as the pet ages five or 10 years from now.
As it is, no one plan is right for every patient. To make an appropriate recommendation, you would have to understand all the variables in play that are unique to a specific patient, and understand how they affect the innumerable policy options across an ever-increasing number of providers.
Instead, to avoid liability and frustrated client relationships, veterinarians can empower their clients to evaluate the wealth of options on the market, while paying close attention to what makes their pet unique.
Talking about pet insurance with your clients
Veterinary Practice News (see the March 2017 issue) previously reported clients with pet insurance spent 29 percent more on veterinary services for their dogs and 81 percent more on veterinary care for their cats, according to research by NAPHIA.
While navigating the pet insurance conversation may be daunting, increasing the rate at which pet parents adopt coverage is hugely beneficial for veterinary practices. From increased annual revenue to higher treatment acceptance and client retention, insured patients mean treatment conversations become simply about what must be done, and not about cost.
Still, veterinary teams shouldn’t have to do an in-depth analysis of each plan’s benefits and drawbacks, and then have to compare them against each unique patient. The conversation around pet insurance needs to be focused on education resources that empower pet parents to do the appropriate research for themselves.
Handing out four to six brochures for patients to take as “homework” is not an ideal experience, nor is it conducive to pet insurance adoption. Ideally, patients should not have to sift through the marketing material of several different provider brochures.
Educate pet parents on considerations to keep in mind and point them to a data-driven resource for transparent comparison. Many veterinarians choose to have this conversation during a patient’s initial visits and during routine care, when pets are healthy and perfect candidates for coverage. Simplicity is key to avoiding analysis-paralysis, and such educational resources have recently emerged.
Offering a data-driven approach to pet insurance recommendation
Marketing materials don’t always provide the best information about insurance plans, and most people don’t read the fine print. Pet parents have long struggled with inadequate and expensive coverage. It can take hours, days, or even weeks to compare plans.
Veterinary teams can help by steering pet parents toward comparison tools and objective marketplaces. Such resources streamline the volume of information needed to make an informed decision about pet insurance, and can increase the rate at which clients move forward with a coverage option.
Sites that aggregate reviews also provide very helpful context; however, they don’t normally help pet parents understand the nuances in the fine print that determine if a specific plan is the best fit for their pet’s breed, location, age, and other policy variables.
One solution that’s free to use is Pawlicy Advisor. It’s a pet insurance marketplace, and, more importantly, offers a customized, data-driven recommendation based on each pet’s unique attributes. The “intelligent” marketplace allows veterinary teams to streamline the pet insurance conversation and connect pet parents to the right plan, no matter the provider.
The ability for patients to input their own attributes and scan hundreds of policy variations among leading providers for an instant, objective comparison is a recent development in the industry. It’s certainly been welcomed with enthusiasm.
Empower your clients to make the best pet insurance choices
With the advent of pet insurance marketplaces and new recommendation technologies, pet parents can make more informed (and affordable) decisions about treatment financing.
Veterinary practices shouldn’t be expected to stay aware of every new policy that arises on the pet insurance market. Instead, pet parents need to be empowered with the resources and confidence to compare plans from a data-driven perspective.
Pet insurance helps ensure pets get the treatment they need. Unfortunately, the barrier to understanding coverage options, costs, and exclusions has been nearly insurmountable until late.
A one-size-fits all approach is not an ideal strategy for making recommendations to patients due to the sheer number of variables that determine which plan is the “right plan.” Luckily, recent comparison-based innovations in the pet insurance industry provide the clarity, education, and transparency needed when investigating pet insurance options.
Woody Mawhinney, CEO and cofounder of Pawlicy Advisor, was relieved when his pet insurance covered his Shar Pei’s monthly prescription costs. However, many veterinarians and pet parents in his community shared with him the difficulties they faced when evaluating options. He launched Pawlicy Advisor as the first U.S. pet insurance marketplace and recommendation engine, aiming to improve the pet insurance experience by providing objective analysis, more thorough comparison, and a streamlined education experience.
This Education Center article was underwritten by Pawlicy Advisor.