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Ensure care with insurance


Relatively few clients have pet insurance, but the numbers are steadily rising. And that's a good thing for your business.

PET INSURANCE IS STARTING TO MAKE SENSE TO PET owners—at least to some pet owners. In England, about 20 percent invest in pet insurance. And in Sweden, 49 percent of pet owners buy insurance, according to Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI). However, in the United States, only 2 percent of U.S. pet owners insure their pets and fewer than 10 companies offer pet insurance.

Overcoming obstacles

Why hasn't pet insurance taken off more quickly in the United States? Dr. Jack Stephens, founder of the recently formed Pets Best insurance company and creator of Veterinary Pet Insurance, (VPI) thinks more competition in the industry will boost awareness and clients' understanding about the benefits. "Licensure restrictions and regulations also put a damper on selling pet insurance, which aren't issues in Europe," Dr. Stephens says.

The state of human health insurance also plays a part in scaring some clients and veterinarians away from pet insurance, says Dr. Kent Kruse, the director of provider development for VPI. Some doctors fear or misunderstand that pet insurance is a managed-care scenario. "Veterinarians have seen or even experienced the negatives that managed care can bring to human medical care," says Dr. Kruse. He says the dental market, on the other hand, gives a positive model. "Now, about 50 percent of dental patients are insured, and that has been very beneficial to their industry."

Figure 1 Who’s who in pet insurance

The increasing sophistication of veterinary medicine also comes into play, says Brian Ianessa, spokesman for VPI. "People are increasingly choosing the optimum level of care. Pet insurance helps spur this change by making top-quality medical care more affordable."

Getting clients interested

It's easy to see that clients look to you for recommendations about their pet's care. And that includes recommendations for pet health insurance, including whether to purchase coverage, which plan to purchase, and so on. So if you wish more pet owners would buy insurance—and 76 percent of you say you do, according to the 2006 "State of the Veterinary Profession" study conducted by DVM Newsmagazine—you could play a role in increasing their awareness.

"Just talking about pet insurance in general during the first exam for a new puppy or kitten could get clients interested before they've incurred a large expense," says Rhona Sutter, president of Pet Protect. "Putting out brochures and explaining pet insurance on your Web site could also garner pet-owner interest."

Figure 2 Do you accept pet insurance?

Pet insurance, on average, costs about $25 a month, and many different levels of plans exist, from those that cover catastrophic injuries to wellness plans and cancer riders. Some companies reimburse clients after they've paid their veterinarian; others pay you directly and immediately for claims submitted, with minimal paperwork on your part.

"Some veterinarians are starting to see pet insurance as more of a partnership," says Linda Bell, vice president of marketing for the AKC Pet Healthcare Plan. "With pet insurance, clients are more likely to try more extensive medicine. And veterinarians often feel more confident offering the best care possible when they know insurance will make the service they provide more affordable for clients."

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