As you have probably already noticed during your time in vet clinics, high-quality veterinary care is expensive! We have the ability to perform a wide variety of advanced diagnostic tests and treatments for our veterinary patients, but not all clients can afford this level of care. Unfortunately, if clients can’t afford the diagnostics and treatments that we recommend, we can’t provide them… which means that all of the recent advances in veterinary medicine serve little purpose.
Fortunately, there is a solution to this problem. In many cases, pet insurance can help! If we convince a client to purchase pet insurance while their pet is young, we are far less likely to find ourselves performing an economic euthanasia later in that pet’s life.
When talking to clients about pet insurance, it’s important to correct common misconceptions. Doing so can help clients see the value of pet insurance, while also limiting frustrations that may arise over aspects of pet insurance that might be unexpected. Helping clients see the value of pet insurance, despite its limitations, increases the likelihood that they purchase coverage and maintain that coverage throughout their pet’s life.
“I don’t need pet insurance. I can pay for my dog’s shots.”
Many clients (especially older clients) are completely unaware of the high costs that can accompany modern veterinary medicine. We are now capable of doing far more than the old-time veterinarian of yesteryear.
A brief conversation highlighting the cost of quality care can help clients see the value of pet insurance. I like to tell clients about a Great Dane patient at a practice where I worked as a new grad. This crazy pup ended up needing two separate foreign body surgeries before she was eighteen months old! One surgery was performed at our general practice, while the other took place at the emergency clinic. These clients would have spent many thousands of dollars on these two surgeries, but they had pet insurance. Their insurance provider covered most of their costs, saving them several thousand dollars. They definitely got their money’s worth from that policy!
“Pet insurance is too expensive.”
Clients might have an idea of what they think pet insurance costs, based on comments made by a friend, neighbor, or family member. However, it’s important to note that monthly premiums can vary dramatically. Many factors that determine the pet’s insurance premium are relatively unchangeable: the pet’s species, breed, age, gender, and geographic location. However, there are a number of options that are left to pet owners. Pet owners often can choose their plan’s deductible; a higher deductible means a lower monthly premium. Many providers offer optional riders for wellness care, alternative therapies, and even cancer care; while this coverage is great to have, it can be declined if the owner wants to minimize monthly costs. Owners who do their homework are likely to find a wide variety of coverage options at a wide variety of price points.
“I don’t need pet insurance because my pet is healthy.”
Healthy pets are the best candidates for pet insurance. Pet insurance will not cover any chronic pre-existing condition that was diagnosed before coverage started. Additionally, even treatable pre-existing conditions (such as respiratory tract infections and urinary tract infections) can be subject to a waiting period after signing up for new coverage. For this reason, clients should ideally purchase pet insurance before their pet has any health issues.
“Pet insurance covers pretty much any illness or injury, right?”
Unfortunately, many policies come with a long list of exclusions. It’s important for clients to be aware of these exclusions before purchasing their policy, to minimize surprises and frustration. Many pet insurance companies, for example, limit coverage of hereditary conditions. Nationwide pet insurance maintains a list of conditions that they will not cover in any dog, which includes conditions like hip dysplasia, third eyelid prolapse, and tracheal collapse.1 They also maintain an additional list of breed-specific inclusions, which includes pannus in Airedales, dermatomyositis in Basset Hounds, and Beagle pain syndrome in Beagles.2 Clients should always take note of hereditary condition exclusions, and other exclusions, before purchasing a policy. They should probably focus on policies with as few exclusions as possible, although exclusions aren’t necessarily a deal-breaker as long as the owner is aware of the exclusions and can live with them.
“Pet insurance is just like human health insurance, right?”
There are many similarities between human health insurance and pet insurance, so it’s reasonable to compare them. However, there are also key differences. Many pet insurance plans, for example, require the client to pay their pet’s veterinary expenses and then submit a receipt for reimbursement. (Some insurance providers pay the veterinarian directly, but this is not yet a common practice.) The advantage of the reimbursement model is that pet owners can use their pet insurance at any veterinary practice; there is none of the in-network/out-of-network headache that accompanies human health insurance. The downside, however, is that clients need access to a savings account or credit card to be able to pay their veterinarian.
Understanding is Key
Clients who understand pet insurance are not only more likely to purchase a policy, but also more likely to hang onto that policy. After all, a client who purchases a policy, but then quickly becomes frustrated by the fact that they have to pay their expenses up front or by the fact that certain conditions are excluded from coverage, is unlikely to continue that policy for the long term.
When talking to clients about pet insurance, your primary goals are to show them the value of pet insurance and to point out factors that should be taken into account when choosing a policy. Try to avoid the temptation to steer them towards a single insurance provider, because providers are always changing their policies and coverages. Additionally, the policy that is the best fit for one client or pet may be a terrible fit for another client or pet. Instead, recommend a few high-quality providers and give clients the information they need to make an informed choice.