10 Steps to More Insured Pets

John Volk , Brakke Consulting, Chicago, Illinois

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10 Steps to More Insured Pets

If you are like most veterinarians, you love presenting a treatment plan to a client who has pet health insurance because he or she is more likely to say Yes to the optimal treatment. Also, you are no doubt frustrated that so few clients do have pet health insurance. But you can do something about it.

The benefits of pet health insurance are well documented. In research conducted on behalf of the North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA), veterinarians reported that insurance improved compliance, increased the amount of money clients spent for veterinary services, and increased overall expenditures on pet care.1 A survey of pet owners found a 29% annual increase in spending by owners of insured dogs as compared with owners of uninsured dogs and an 81% increase in spending by owners of insured cats.1

Mississippi State University recently completed an econometric analysis on behalf of the AVMA that showed owners of insured dogs spent $211 more per year for veterinary medical services than owners of uninsured dogs.2

After studying pet owners’ responses in surveys and in-depth interviews with veterinarians highly successful in fostering their clients’ use of pet insurance, Brakke Consulting has identified 10 steps that can lead to more insured pets. Here is what successful veterinary practices can do to educate clients and encourage them to buy pet insurance.

1

Pick 1 or 2 Companies 

Pet owners are looking for a recommendation, not a catalog of choices. If brochures from 3 or 4 insurance companies are in the waiting room or in new-client kits, the client likely will not follow through. Pet owners may find it easier to check out 1 or 2 companies the practice recommends, and those 2 companies likely will work hard to help the practice educate clients.

2

Put a Team Member in Charge

The practice should have 1 or 2 go-to team members who can answer clients’ basic questions. This would typically be a full-time client service representative and/or practice manager. The designated team member would be the liaison with the insurance company.

3

Talk to Clients About Pet Health Insurance

Brochures alone will not get the job done because they require busy pet owners to take the initiative. A team member should always discuss pet health insurance with the client and then provide him or her with a brochure that includes instructions about going online or calling the company to get a free quote and perhaps purchase a policy. The practice should have this conversation with clients more than once, including during the initial new client or puppy/kitten visit and at each progress appointment during the first year.

4

Submit Claims for Clients

The practices that are most successful in fostering clients’ use of pet insurance submit claims on behalf of their clients because claims more likely will be filed and paid in a timely manner, even before the client’s bill is due. Submitting claims also can save the practice time because requests for more information from insurance companies are minimized.

In the NAPHIA pet owner study, 85% of owners said they were more likely to purchase pet health insurance if the veterinarian submitted their claims, which is what they are accustomed to with other insurance products.1

5

Determine Which Clients Have Insurance

Team members may be unaware which clients have pet health insurance because pet owners purchase policies directly from the insurance company. In most cases, pet owners do not have to identify the veterinary practice they use because the insurance policy will pay for treatment by any veterinarian. Each time a client schedules an appointment or visits the practice, ask if his or her pet is insured, which will provide a database of insured patients and help measure whether the practice’s efforts are increasing the number of clients who have pet health insurance.

6

Note the Policy Number in the Patient Record

This provides an easily accessible record showing the patient does have insurance, informs veterinarians and team members that treatment costs may qualify for reimbursement, and facilitates decision-making for the client about his or her options. When clients are upset about their sick or injured pet, they may forget they have pet insurance.

7

Provide Pet Insurance to Team Members as a Benefit

According to the NAPHIA study, pet owners are 71% more likely to purchase pet insurance if their veterinary practice insures team members’ pets.1 Think about it—clients are more likely to use a product the practice itself uses.

Every team member pet does not need to be insured by the practice. Offer to insure 1 pet per team member, or provide a specific amount for insurance premiums each month and consider raising the amount a little each year based on length of service. The veterinarian and the team member would choose which pet to cover; younger pets are typically favored because they have fewer preexisting conditions and rates are cheaper.

Keep in mind that clients are extremely likely to ask a team member, Which pet insurance company do you use? when they are considering pet insurance themselves.

8

Recommend Introductory Trial Policies

When allowed by state insurance departments, some pet health insurance companies offer 30-day introductory trial policies that most clients love. The NAPHIA study found 81% of pet owners were more likely to purchase pet health insurance if the company offered an introductory trial policy.1 Be aware that some trial policies must be activated soon after the patient’s veterinary examination, and suggest clients activate the policy from their smartphone before leaving the practice.

9

Provide Links on the Practice Website

Providing links to 1 or 2 pet insurance companies the practice recommends makes it easy for the client to obtain information or buy a policy and makes the practice the gateway to more details about pet health insurance.

10

Engage the Entire Practice Team

Every team member, from owners to associate veterinarians to kennel attendants, should be enlisted in the campaign to increase the number of clients using pet health insurance. Educate team members about the value of pet health insurance not only to clients but also to the practice. No one needs to be an expert, but each team member, and especially the veterinarians who have the most influence, must be able to convincingly reinforce that the practice thinks pet insurance is worthwhile for clients to consider. 

Conclusion

Pet health insurance helps generate more medical care for the patient and added revenue for the practice. Because pets are typically insured when young, the added lifetime value of an insured patient represents thousands of dollars of added revenue for the practice. At a time when practitioners are concerned about the decline in new patients and the loss of pharmacy income to online and over-the-counter channels, a tool that expands patient care and increases revenue can be particularly valuable.

If veterinarians and their teams proactively educate clients and encourage them to explore pet health insurance, more clients will consider insurance and more pets will be covered.

1 Always be sure to include a patient’s pet insurance policy number in the patient’s record so team members can see immediately they do not need to suggest the client consider insurance.

2 Train every practice team member about the benefits of pet insurance for the client, patient, and practice; get team member buy-in by providing insurance as a team-member benefit.

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