How & Why To Promote Pet Health Insurance - From Dr. Mary Beth Leininger
Did you know that clients with pet insurance scheduled 40% more veterinary clinic visits than clients without pet insurance, according to the 2009 Brakke study1?
That’s why clinics should consider offering pet insurance to their clients—and maybe to their employees as well! But how can veterinary hospitals successfully promote pet health insurance to their clients? EVT spoke with renowned veterinary expert Dr. Mary Beth Leininger on both the why & how’s recently.
Dr. Mary Beth’s veterinary endeavors are extensive. A few of her accomplishments include being the first woman elected President of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), co-owning an AAHA-accredited practice for almost 30 years, serving as Project Manager for an international initiative to evaluate veterinary education…and as of this past fall, being named Vice President of Veterinary Relations for the Hartville Group Inc. Hartville provides ASPCA Pet Health Insurance, one of the country’s leading pet health insurance programs, through a strategic relationship with the ASPCA.
To benefit our readers, EVT asked Dr. Leininger how hospitals can share the good news—and why they should!
Educating Clients about Pet Health Insurance:
5 Easy Steps
1. Pet insurance brochures in the new client kit
2. Veterinarians letting clients know of the benefits and VARIETY of pet health insurance policies
3. Technicians asking each client if they looked at the pet insurance brochure
4. All staff encouraging clients to call clinic if they have any questions
5. Front desk staff asking each caller if they have pet health insurance
o Plus, ASPCA Pet Health Insurance does not require a veterinarian’s signature to begin paying a client’s claims.
Q: Can you tell us about when and how you first began educating people about pet health insurance?
I was in practice a long time, and back in the 1980s and early 1990s, pet insurance was in its early stages and was pretty limited. There wasn’t a lot of choice. We’d mention it to clients, and they kind of scratched their heads a little. Then we had a particularly heartbreaking case: a wonderful little Shih Tzu with neurologic issues that we referred to Michigan State for brain surgery. Unfortunately the family lacked the resources to afford the treatment that could have saved him. After that, we decided to make a real push to inform our clients about pet insurance—we began including a brochure from the only company available to us at the time in our “new client” and “new puppy/kitten” kits for clients. We just started the conversation and let people become aware of it. Now there are more options available for clients, and ASPCA Pet Health Insurance embodies the right direction in the evolution of pet insurance.
Q: Can you tell us more about introducing pet insurance at a veterinary practice?
Certainly. We all know that clients really want to follow the recommendations of their veterinarian and the healthcare team. These days technicians and front office staff are very involved in helping clients understand and accept the opportunities for “best care” that they are being offered. This is a HUGE difference from 20+ years ago when the DVM was the only person explaining the recommendation. It’s crucial for veterinarians and all their team members to be “singing from the same hymnal,” so to speak. Consistency of message is very important.
Q: Would you discuss how pet health insurance helps build practice revenue?
Anything that allows our clients to say “yes” to our recommendations is good for our business. Pet health insurance helps clients afford the care we want to provide. In 2009, the Brakke study noted that owners who had pet insurance scheduled 40% more veterinary clinic visits than the clients who didn’t.1 Insured pets are getting the best care.
In the early days, pet insurance was mostly for only catastrophic care, but now there are plans that include wellness coverage as well. And these are very popular with pet owners. That’s another incentive for those clients to take their pets to the veterinarian.
Q: Veterinary clients might argue that insurance costs—for pets, let alone for people—are too high to afford, particularly in tough times. You’ve stated however that pet insurance helps lessen costs as a factor in treatment decisions, especially during a difficult economy. Would you expand on this?
I think about veterinary care holistically, using my experience as a practitioner. How can we take care of our clients and our patients, one case at a time? Consumer Reports often publishes articles about how to save money on your pet’s veterinary care and mentions ways to find “cheap services.” Now I ask you, would you pick your family physician because they’re cheap? No, you pick them because they’re the best!
Another concept that Consumer Reports supports is a pet care savings account. But a savings account can disappear with just one illness or injury. It’s vulnerable to being emptied and lost all at once. But an insurance policy that you pay monthly premiums for can continue to provide financial support after that first incident, no matter what. And that’s important, especially knowing how unpredictable life and medical problems can be.
There’s lots of variety now with the plans. A client can opt for accident care only, accident and illness, or add one of several wellness care options. The client chooses which plan fits their needs and how much they can afford, which is very important to communicate.
Q: What has been the most effective method for advocating insurance to veterinary clients, as opposed to professionals? Ex: a large group presentation, one-on-one communication in person, detailed reports on related statistics?
There are a lot of ways out there for pet owners to learn about pet health insurance, but it remains that they trust their veterinarians and health care teams most of all. They want to hear about pet health insurance from us! I use this example about our responsibilities for specific recommendations; if a client asks about boarding kennels, would you provide your single best recommendation, or would you leave it up to them to investigate all the options themselves? In our practice, we had specific recommendations for boarding kennels, groomers, pet shops for supplies and food, and pet insurance companies, just like we carried only one brand of flea control products. Pet owners trust their veterinarians, and turn to them for information and specific recommendations.
*Q: How can all team members help communicate the value of pet health insurance to clients?*
There are a couple of easy ways. First, after providing clients with, say, a pet insurance brochure in the new client kit, you might have the front desk staff ask each person who calls in for an appointment if they have pet health insurance. If the client does, you can offer to run a second copy of the invoice for them to submit with their claim form. Second, technicians can also ask each client if they looked at the brochure and encourage them to call us if they have any questions. Often clients don’t want to take up the doctor’s time so the technician is the perfect person to ask!
What’s great about our company is that we try to minimize the paperwork for the veterinarian. A specific diagnosis is not required nor is a veterinarian required to sign it the claim form. The client can just submit the receipt along with the claim. The goal of ASPCA Pet Health Insurance is to keep it simple, and it’s done a good job of it!
Also, clinics should consider offering pet health insurance as an optional benefit for their employees. It’s a great way to encourage staff retention, plus it reduces the burden of discounted services for the practice. This benefit also gives employees first-hand experience with pet insurance, so they can talk about it from that perspective to their clients.
Q: Pardon a couple of lighthearted questions—do you have any pets? If so, are they covered by health insurance?
We’re currently without pets, but (as of the time of this interview) a new puppy will be joining our family in about 8 weeks! We don’t know if this will be male or female, but we have already met the miniature poodle litter that we’re picking from. Check back with us again in about 2 months on how it’s going (laughing).
And yes, absolutely, he or she will be covered by ASPCA Pet Health Insurance!
Q: What’s the 1 thing you would like our readers to take away from this interview, regarding the value of pet health insurance to clinics and clients alike?
Hopefully veterinarians and veterinary health care team members will better understand that pet health insurance benefits EVERYONE: the pet receives needed care, pet owners know they will have financial support to enable them to accept AND afford the care that is needed, and the veterinary practice team has the business benefit and personal satisfaction of providing that “best level care” that is their goal.
And this understanding will help them enhance the level of care and quality of service for their business, because insurance allows the client to be able to say “yes” to the veterinarian’s recommendations. Pet health insurance takes the worry out of saying yes to treatment. It’s an idea whose time has come!
One final point I’d like to make: Pet health insurance is NOT managed care like we have to deal with for our own medical care. It’s actually property and casualty insurance, like car insurance or homeowners insurance. We have auto insurance to cover unexpected expenses, just like we have pet health insurance to cover unexpected veterinary care costs. The relationship is between the pet health insurance company and the pet owner. The pet owner can chose any veterinarian they wish, including specialists and emergency clinics. The insurance companies don’t ever come between the pet owner and their veterinarian, but will provide that financial bridge that enables pet owners to prepare for the unexpected.
1 A Veterinarian’s Guide to Pet Health Insurance, from the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues (NCVEI)