AVMA Life reduces paid maternity leave from three months to one month

August 12, 2019
Kristi Reimer Fender, News Channel Director

Kristi Reimer is editor of dvm360 magazine and news channel director for dvm360.com. Before taking over

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As part of short-term disability coverage, cost was unsustainable at the price, reports veterinary insurance expert.

AVMA Trust leadership has confirmed that the maternity coverage included in the AVMA Life Trust short-term disability policy is dropping from three months to one month, generating pushback from women in the veterinary profession and a discussion of harsh financial realities from the decision-makers at the top.

Under the old policy, short-term disability purchased through AVMA Life would “start paying benefits on or before the date of the delivery, and provide benefits for up to three months.” The new policy states, “Benefits can be paid for up to 1 month for routine pregnancy/delivery (disabilities resulting from complications from pregnancy are covered as any other illness).”

Health insurance making a comeback

Joe Kinnarney, DVM, MS, president of the AVMA Trusts, provided an update on health insurance coverage for AVMA members during the House of Delegates meeting in August.

The AVMA discontinued its health insurance option in 2012 when New York Life decided to stop underwriting the policies. Now the association is phasing the benefit back in. As of July 2019, the AVMA is able to offer Blue Cross Blue Shield policies to members in nine states: Montana, Arizona, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Illinois, Indiana, West Virginia and Georgia. The coverage is available not just to individual veterinarians but to all staff members at a veterinary practice, Dr. Kinnarney continued.

The goal, Dr. Kinnarney said, was to eventually be able to offer health insurance in all 50 states, but AVMA Trust leaders don't have a timeline for when that will happen.

During the AVMA House of Delegates (HOD) meeting held Aug. 2 in Washington, D.C., one member asked the association to prioritize support for families going forward. “I realize the financial realities behind the decision to reduce maternity coverage,” said Amanda Bisol, VMD, alternate delegate from Maine. “But considering that a large percentage of practicing veterinarians are women, I would like the AVMA to discuss ways to support families at the next [Veterinary Information Forum].”

Joe Kinnarney, DVM, MS, is president of the AVMA Trusts. In response to Dr. Bisol's comments, he admitted that communication about the change was not ideal and explained that “cost was not sustainable at the price” for 90-day maternity coverage as previously offered. One of the reasons for this, he said, was that people were purchasing short-term disability coverage, having a baby and then dropping the coverage.

“This is not how the policy was intended to be used,” Dr. Kinnarney said. “If more people had kept their short-term disability policies long-term, it would have worked out. As it is, we will still be offering an extended maternity policy-but it will be more expensive.”

At press time, a Change.org petition protesting the change had collected nearly 20,000 signatures. The women's veterinary website Vet Candy posted a critical piece, stating, “Six weeks is considered the normal length of ‘disability' leave following a normal delivery. While the U.S. does not have a standard maternity leave length, a study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that 60% of employers give 12 weeks of maternity leave.”

A thread on Reddit also discussed the issue, with one commenter declaring, “The AVMA doesn't care about you, me, or any other veterinarian out in practice (clinical or otherwise).”

Another participant in the thread replied, “I think the blame is a little misguided here. … This is because it's too expensive so truly the insurance company is to blame first, then the AVMA for poorly communicating and implementing it quickly. I think in general it's not that they don't care as much as their method of communicating isn't always great. But really ... if you think they don't care get involved and fix it. Tell them how they can be better.”

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