Veterinary medicine should be about providing the best care possible to all of our patients. Unfortunately, the cost of care, rather than the gold standard, often dictates our medical practices. Advocating for our clients to obtain pet insurance benefits the vet, the client, and most importantly, the pet, helping to preserve the human-animal bond (HAB) while ensuring we practice the best evidence-based medicine without financial impediments.
Encourage Pet Insurance For All
According to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA)’s May 2022 Pet Insurance in North America State of the Industry Report (NASI), at the close of 2021, almost 4.5 million North American (U.S. & Canada) pets were insured. This represented an increase from 2020 of 27.7%. While this growth rate is immense, it doesn’t translate to much of the pet owner population in the grand scheme. In the U.S., this figure only represents 3.89% of dogs and 0.95% of cats. Think of how many more patients we could help if more pet owners had insurance. (1)
As veterinarians, we provide many educational and non-medical support for our patients. We discuss vaccines, infectious diseases, preventative care (e.g., monthly preventatives, spaying/neutering, grooming needs), and husbandry. We discuss nutrition, and weight management, make recommendations for routine bloodwork monitoring, and more. Part of our veterinary duty includes preserving the HAB. To do so, we need to maintain a healthy pet. Often, frustratingly, this preservation requires financial means above and beyond what some can manage.
Veterinarians should strive to provide clients with options and information pertinent to the well-being of their pets from birth to death. This includes financial options and recommendations to permit our clients to care for their pets in the best way possible.
Financial support options
Too often, it outright stinks that our jobs come down to money. We aren’t mechanics or contractors, yet we must provide estimates and cost explanations as if we are not practicing medicine. Although this can be difficult to deal with, it is a reality. Ensure you offer your clients options. You want to provide your clients with a tiered path if finances are a concern. Regardless of an owner’s financial means, the plan they choose ultimately works for that individual owner, and not all decisions are financially based. One way to do this is to discuss options such as:
- The Gold Option — This would represent the gold standard of medical care;
- The Silver Option — This middle-of-the-road option may not be all the diagnostics and therapies desired, but it still provides a well-rounded treatment option;
- The Bronze Option — While the cheapest option, it still provides care within their budget. The caveat is that it may not be sufficient to treat/resolve the pet’s issues, and owners must be aware of this. It may be simply treating the clinical signs without performing any diagnostics, and hopefully, that is all they need. Nevertheless, it still provides a degree of care that hopes to preserve the HAB.
For those who have financial concerns but still want to help their furry friends, we have options for our clients. These options may vary with each individual practice. However, we can offer them opportunities for financial assistance and or preparedness planning, including:
- Pet wellness plans;
- Care Credit — Functions like a credit card with 0% financing options;
- ScratchPay — Scratchpay isn’t a credit card and doesn’t affect the client’s credit score, functioning more like a short-term loan;
- Wells Fargo Health Advantage® Card — 12.99% APR, but may have special financing options.
Pet Wellness Plans
Many of you offer your clients a membership service, often termed a wellness plan. Clients often get confused by wellness plans and what they offer. Ensure your clients know what is included and what isn’t. (2)
Generally, wellness plans cover variations on the following:
- Monthly heartworm/flea/tick preventatives
- Nail trims +/- anal gland expression
- Routine wellness exams (some may cover emergency visits)
- Discounted yearly screening tests (e.g., bloodwork, radiographs)
- Special pricing on dentistry or other elective procedures (e.g., spaying/neutering)
These plans generally function like a membership service and allow people the opportunity to pay for yearly services monthly or in a lump sum. There may be discounts as things are often bundled, but it doesn’t take the place of insurance, and owners need to understand why that is the case.
When offering wellness plans, inform your clients of fees for emergencies and other care not included. Clients should be reminded that even with these plans, they still need to put money aside for emergencies and other contingencies not covered by the plan. One way clients can prepare for unanticipated costs is by obtaining pet insurance.
Pet insurance policy flavors
Another way clients can find financial security is by enrolling in a pet insurance policy. Policy options vary in coverage, costs, exclusions, and more. But generally, pet insurance policies fall into one of three categories.
- Accident and illness coverage —Includes medical illness coverage, as well as providing for trauma or injury
- Accident-only coverage — Accidental trauma or injury only
- Wellness coverage — Similar to wellness programs, this choice provides routine care, and annual needs, e.g., vaccines, preventatives, dentistry
The pros and cons of pet insurance
It is important to let owners know both the benefits and disadvantages of pet insurance. The pros of pet insurance include:
- Financial backup;
- Reimbursement up to 100%;
- Clients can pick their veterinarian — Services like ScratchPay, Care Credit, or the Wells Fargo card must be offered/accepted at individual vet offices. However, pet insurance companies generally allow owners to go to their chosen vet;
- An employee benefit — It is becoming commonplace for many different types of employers to offer pet insurance as a benefit;
- Clients can choose the plan that fits their pet, lifestyle, and budget.
However, there are some negatives, and it is just as important that owners understand these as well. The cons of pet insurance include:
- The pet may not need coverage — If the pet remains healthy, the owner may not need to use the policy. However, don’t we do this with home or renters insurance, car insurance, and other similar insurance? We pay for the security it provides in case of unforeseen events.
- Insurers may not reimburse 100% of the fees — Owners need to read policies closely to see the percentage covered;
- Not all ailments may be covered — Pre-existing conditions and genetic infirmities are often excluded. Owners need to know this upfront.
- Generally, the veterinarian accepts payment, and the insurance company reimburses the owners once claims are submitted and after the treatment has been rendered.
- Most companies only cover dogs and cats, with only a few offering insurance opportunities for horses and exotic species.
Pet insurance references
There are a few references you can refer your clients to view. They provide the ability to compare and contrast various policies, companies, and options available to them. Of course, these websites also have means to give the owners quotes and may earn money, so keep that in mind when referring owners to them. Nonetheless, they can still serve as valuable resources for owners to gain information on what is out there. However, comparing and contrasting policies is paramount in determining company nuances, even from one policy to another within the same insurer.
There are many websites out there. You can direct clients to specific insurance companies if you support one over another. Or you can refer clients to sites such as:
- Pet Insurance Review — Offers comparisons for 20 companies, FAQs about insurance, and additional information for clients to evaluate. Of course, they also offer quotes.
- The Swiftest — Offers research-based information to provide a “better way to find insurance quickly in one place.” They offer information about various plans as well as quotes.
- U.S. News and World Report 2023 — Offers an annual review of the best pet insurance companies. They compare based on various criteria, including a money-back guarantee and the maximum enrollment age. They discuss some of the pros and cons of each selected company and mention if a plan is customizable.
Helping clients navigate pet insurance
Nowadays, an increasing number of pet insurance companies are available. While this provides clients various options, navigating it can be daunting and challenging. Not all plans are created equal, and owners need to be directed to sites that can help them compare plans and understand them.
Always advise owners to read the fine print, checking things like exclusions for pre-existing conditions, certain breed-specific disorders, and the type of care provided. Clients need to know that with most insurance companies, the money needs to be paid upfront to the veterinarian. Then they submit for reimbursement from insurance. This means that clients need to be able to have funds available initially to cover it, and that is often the problem. People often don’t have that disposable income or credit available and falsely assume that having insurance means they do not need readily accessible funds.
Insurance saves lives
It goes without saying that those with insurance are more likely to go forward with care and often choose the Gold Option rather than the Bronze Option. Knowing that even if they have to pay upfront, they will be repaid helps clients treat a pet without making medical choices based on economics. Informing our clients of available options and resources can help them navigate the pet insurance marketplace and allows them to take their pet’s care into their own hands.
- Pet insurance offers clients a financial means to cover care not necessarily planned for in times of emergency and unforeseen circumstances.
- Less than 5% of the U.S. pet population has pet insurance.
- Veterinary care can be expensive. Educating first-time clients about pet insurance and providing information enables people to plan for the future and preserves the human-animal bond (HAB).
1. North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA). State of the Industry Report 2022 (NAPHIA). NAPHIA. Published May 2022. Accessed March 6, 2023. https://naphia.org/industry-data/
2. Tramuta-Drobnis EL. Pet Insurance: Everything You Need to Know (from a Vet). PetsDigest. Published August 12, 2022. Accessed September 11, 2022. https://petsdigest.com/pet-insurance-101/