Dr. Peter Weinstein owns PAW Consulting and is the former executive director of the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association and the former chair of the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Veterinary Economics Strategy Committee. He teaches a business and finance course at the Western University of Health Sciences College of Veterinary Medicine.Read Articles Written by Peter Weinstein
Whether on an airplane, in a restaurant or at the front desk of a veterinary hospital, pet owners ask about pet health insurance. But of course, they usually ask about it too late — after a major medical or surgical expense. That’s because we, the veterinary profession and the decades-old insurance industry, have done a lousy job of informing the public about the availability of insurance.
In the United States, the business of veterinary medicine has taken a neutral, bordering on antithetical, approach to pet insurance. That is to say, our profession has very strong supporters and an equally strong group of detractors. Suffice it to say, that split has been a speed bump in moving the insurance penetration rate from a paltry 1.7% of U.S. cats and dogs to the double-digit percentages in Sweden and the United Kingdom.
What is our role as veterinary professionals in explaining to pet owners how insurance can help with the cost of care? It’s educate, inform and advise — the same role we have with flea control, heartworm prevention, desexing and every other treatment plan we share with clients.
Why not take the same approach to pet health insurance that you do when choosing which preventives or therapeutics to carry? Do your research, ask questions and feel good about your recommendations, making them actively, not passively. By passively, I mean is the brochure on the counter or wall rack? By actively, I mean do you have a plan — a system — for discussing and sharing insurance information with clients?
Convincing clients starts with convincing yourself and your staff about the value of pet health insurance to the practice. The North American Pet Health Insurance Association has shared plenty of information on the financial benefits of having insured patients. My focus here is on communicating the benefits to clients, so I am going to assume a buy-in and commitment by the leadership of your practice.
If the practice is committed to pet health insurance, how can you choose from the plethora of companies?
- Compare the companies. (Download the list at the end of this article.)
- Stop by insurance company booths at trade shows.
- Know what you would want if you were insuring your pets.
- Visit PetInsuranceInfo.com, a neutral site for insurance education.
- Ask clients who have insured pets about their experiences.
- Have your staff do the due diligence.
- Select no more than two insurers to support.
- Host lunch-and-learns with representatives from the chosen companies.
I also recommend that team members insure one or more of their pets. (I had one insured by Nationwide and another by Pets Best.) By doing so, your employees can learn how policies work and, more importantly, they will have stories to share with clients.
Even better is having a cheerleader on your team who is a huge advocate of pet insurance, either from her experiences or from an understanding of the benefits to the pet, the pet owner and the practice. She should be your go-to person for the “insurance talk,” someone who can help file claims, deal with issues and answer questions.
Be a Master Communicator
Too many clients don’t know that pet insurance exists. It’s your role to tell them. Take advantage of all available resources to advocate for pet insurance. Use direct marketing, indirect marketing, social media, text messages, tweets, email, push notifications, phone calls, handouts, brochures, posters.
For new clients, put a question or two on your welcome-to-the-practice form.
- With which company is your pet insured?
- What is the policy number?
If the pet is insured, great. Now you know. If the pet isn’t insured, the questions might instigate questions. A good customer service representative and exam room nurse will see the replies on the form and start a conversation.
If the patient and client are new, wonderful! Talk about the benefits of insuring early in the pet’s life, and help the owner enroll while at your clinic. If the opportunity is missed, have your insurance advocate reach out to the client at home and continue the conversation.
With existing clients, you might be surprised to learn how many are insured. When in doubt, you can always query, “Do you need us to complete a claim form for your pet’s insurance?”
Once you know that a pet is insured, note it in your practice management software system. Insured pets should be preferred patients for any and all care specials that would be covered by a policy.
Also, remember that insured clients come in more often. Have your cheerleader be the point person for appointments, veterinary care and follow-ups, giving those owners a concierge level of service.
What to Communicate
Your website is the information hub for new and existing clients. Your support of pet insurance and a couple of selected providers should be front and center, so post why you suggest pets be insured and identify the companies you endorse. Link to each company’s enrollment page.
Don’t forget about your Facebook and Instagram accounts. They are wonderful tools for promoting an “Insurance Case of the Month,” such as the pet that was insured and if it hasn’t been, euthanasia might have been the only option.
You also need to communicate a value proposition. Here’s an example: “Your pet is a very important part of your life. When it comes to caring for your pet, both the expected and unexpected costs of care can be challenging. We have found that most pet owners do NOT budget for the cost of veterinary care. Pet health insurance will help YOU and YOUR pet with both the expected and unexpected costs of care. Don’t let your wallet define what you can afford to provide for your pet. Insurance lets you make decisions from your heart!”
Finally, remember to answer frequently asked questions. You can do this by creating a page on your website, sharing a client handout or producing slides on your waiting room TV.
Here are some examples:
What pet insurance is
- A means to plan for the cost of your pet’s health care.
- A counterbalance to the costs of wellness, illness or injury care.
- Less complicated than it appears and less complicated than human health insurance.
- Similar to your homeowner’s policy. After a deductible is met, you will receive reimbursement (not always 100%) from the insurance company.
What pet insurance isn’t
Full reimbursement for the services you receive.
That depends on the policy you purchase.
What isn’t covered?
Preexisting conditions and other policy-specific exclusions.
How does insurance work?
You pay a monthly premium. You have a deductible that might be condition- or policy-based. When you reach the deductible, you are reimbursed a percentage of the amount paid over the deductible.
What is the best age to insure?
When young, to avoid any issues with preexisting conditions.
What about insuring older pets?
They are insurable, but preexisting conditions might be an issue. Premiums increase as a pet ages.
Should I buy well-care or sick-care insurance?
Both are available. Well care might be more affordable without insurance, but the costs add up over time.
Advocate, Educate, Encourage
Talking to clients about the cost of care is one of the most challenging parts of the business of veterinary medicine. Pet insurance must be part of the conversation. And I mean active communication, not just handing out a brochure and saying, “Read this.” A passive recommendation is not a recommendation.
If you believe in insurance, talk about it with team members and let them talk to clients. It’s a perfect team-based health care topic.
Pet health insurance is beneficial to the pet (no economic euthanasia), to the client (costs are shared with the insurance company) and to the practice (increased use of veterinary care, higher compliance and higher average transaction). Clients ask about and buy pet health insurance for various reasons, so help them, educate them and encourage them.
WHO’S WHO IN PET INSURANCE
Learn about the companies competing in the U.S. pet health insurance market and what they have to offer policyholders. Click here to download the free PDF.