Pet insurance is a win-win situation for both clients and veterinarians. Clients who are covered can focus on their loved one’s recovery rather than sweating about the hefty bill, while vets can utilise up-to-the-minute care without cutting costs. Insured pet owners always pay their bills on time—a positive outcome for practice managers when balancing the books. There’s also a bonus for the staff—some insurers offer policy discounts to vets and nurses.
Despite this country’s passion for pets, many owners are reluctant to pay the premiums in order to keep their loved ones happy and healthy. According to last year’s Australian Bureau of Statistics data, only five per cent of Australian animal lovers have their pets insured. In the US and Britain, however, 20 to 40 per cent of pet owners purchase insurance.
“The experience in overseas markets is that veterinarians and practice staff are a key driver in the uptake of pet insurance, but vets here are sometimes reluctant to promote it,” says Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) CEO Graham Catt. “Many keep information about pet insurance in their practices but the feedback we get is that only a minority actively recommend pet insurance to their clients.”
Ninety years ago, the first pet insurance was purchased for a much-loved dog in Sweden, followed by a dog policy in Britain in ’47. TV’s Lassie became a cover-pup back in 1982 when she was the first pet insured in the USA.
In Australia, there are 22 different companies offering pet insurance and they’re all seeing an increase in business. Catt notes that the uptake “is growing rapidly and the pet insurance underwriters say it’s definitely the fastest growing type of insurance in Australia.
“Along with changing attitudes to the role of pets in our lives, another factor is the great advancements in veterinary science and treatments available to clients over the past 20 years. Of course, more advanced treatments cost more to deliver and that’s where pet insurance can play a really valuable role in giving owners choice.”
There are simple ways to encourage clients to take the plunge. Take time to explain all the features and benefits but remember, you’re a surgeon not a salesperson so point out that you receive no commission from the policy. “It’s a good idea for pet owners to compare policies on the market, as there may be some limitations, exclusions or even excesses payable,” says Choosi chief operating officer David Parson.
It’s cheaper to sign up for an accident-only cover rather than an accident and illness cover, but according to a 2011 census by PetPlan UK and Australia, one in three pets will require unplanned veterinary care in any given year, so the higher policy can save money in the long run. The census also showed that insured clients are 40 to 80 per cent likely to make a claim on their pet insurance.
A policy can cover regular check-ups, immunisation, dental care, spay/neuter surgery, and tests. If a pet develops a chronic disease such as diabetes or cancer, it’s worth knowing if the policy will offer reimbursements for pharmaceuticals.
It’s also important to tell clients that policies don’t cover pre-existing conditions, such as the very common hip dysplasia and eye diseases. Some policies exclude coverage of breed-associated conditions, so a panting pug or a dachshund with a degenerating intervertebral disc will push the credit card into the red.
Simplify things by having just a few insurance companies on your books, and encourage clients to take home all the brochures, read the fine print and figure out the most suitable policy. “Pet insurance can appear complicated but it’s pretty simple,” says Catt. “Insurance is all about mitigating future risk, and in the case of pet insurance we are insuring against the risk that we won’t be able to afford a treatment that can save a life or greatly improve health when that treatment is needed.”
While pet insurance brings peace of mind to a client, it also improves the practice’s business. Pet owners can afford to pay for extensive—and expensive—surgery, allowing pets to live longer with better care. And that makes the practice’s bottom line healthier.