How to frame the pet health insurance conversation with clients

July 1, 2020

Help your clients avoid “analysis paralysis” when it comes to choosing a pet insurance plan.

With so many options available today, discussing pet health insurance with your clients can be a complex and time-consuming affair. Some practices simply give clients a handful of brochures, while others research the available options themselves and recommend that clients select from among just two or three plans. In some cases, these tactics have left both veterinary practices and pet owners stuck with “analysis paralysis.”

But getting your patients insured doesn’t have to be difficult or frustrating. Here’s how to help your clients understand the benefits of pet insurance and enable you to deliver gold standard care.

Start from the beginning

The best time to discuss pet insurance is the very first time a client visits your practice with their pet. Many of these first-time patients are young and healthy, with no diagnosed pre-existing conditions. (No pet health insurance policy covers pre-existing conditions, so it’s important to get the pet insured before any illnesses appear.)

Discuss pet insurance in the broad context of the pet’s expected lifetime costs. Many pet owners need to be educated about potential health risks for pets and the true cost of pet ownership in order to understand the benefits of financial planning and protection.

Simply handing a client some brochures is not proactive education. Instead, turn this interaction into a conversation you have during routine care. Speak to your clients in the same way you might when discussing heartworm or flea and tick prevention: Taking simple and affordable action today can mitigate future costs. Keep in mind that veterinary practices earn more money annually through insured pets than through uninsured pets.

Keep it simple

Giving pet parents too many choices can actually reduce the chance that they will move forward and enroll in any type of coverage. However, veterinary practices should not take a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to pet insurance providers either. The insurance discussion should be one of education and not necessarily specific recommendations. Educate your clients on the value and impact of insurance, then let them choose.

Some clinics opt to have a “pet insurance expert” in house who researches various insurance providers and then creates a detailed pamphlet for clients. Others leverage third-party online pet insurance comparison/education websites that do this research objectively and help guide clients through the insurance buying process.

Including these resources on your practice website will make it easy for clients to dive in on their own for more detailed information about pet insurance options. Also use social media to generate positive messaging about pet insurance. This is often a much more laid-back format for discussion, but those digital conversations can be as impactful as in-person interactions.

Keep notes in pet records

To make it easier to know which patients are insured, make note in the patient’s medical record. If they do have pet insurance, document the type of policy. This will help when making treatment recommendations, and it changes the conversation substantially.

For example, let’s say you need to recommend a $5,000 procedure. That’s a high cost for anyone. But if your client has a good pet insurance plan and you can inform them that 80% of that cost will be reimbursed, they will be more likely to follow your recommendation.

Also, make note of what wellness benefits the client can allocate and inform them during their visit. This will help them use those benefits before they run out at the end of the year.

Get your staff’s pets insured

Seventy-one percent of pet owners are more likely to buy pet insurance if their veterinary hospital’s team members have it themselves. If your staff members don’t use pet insurance, what signal does that send about pet insurance to your clients?

Some of your staff may provide treatment to their animals free of charge or at a discount, and feel that they don’t need pet insurance. However, you must keep risk and liability in mind. Recent IRS regulations state that veterinary practices cannot offer staff discounts of larger than 20% on services. Rather, IRS recommends that practices offer products and services at cost, plus 10%.

Dr. Hodges is an emergency relief veterinarian and advisor for Pawlicy Advisor, the only pet insurance marketplace actively endorsed by veterinarians. He has seen the positive impact of pet insurance in emergency cases and believes removing financial barriers from important pet care decisions is a key step forward.