Veterinary Money Digest: Educating Clients About Pet Health Insurance

The current issue of Veterinary Money Digest, a new publication, released an article written by Maureen McKinney, “Educating Clients about Pet Insurance” that looks at NAPHIA’s Pet Insurance Best Practices Guide and includes an interview with John Volk, special advisor to our Veterinary Relations Committee and member working group.

According to research from the North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA) — the association of pet health insurers in North America — the majority of veterinarians wish all their clients had pet health insurance. And it’s no wonder. Pet health insurance alleviates some of the burden of costly veterinary bills, so clients who have it are often more willing to comply with the preventive, diagnostic and treatment recommendations you make. So, not only do your patients remain as healthy as possible, but your practice revenue increases.

“The use of pet health insurance is on the rise, although only a small percentage of pets are currently insured,” said John Volk, a senior consultant at Brakke who was integral to conducting the NAPHIA research, which involved surveying more than 600 pet owners and about 500 veterinarians. “Pet owners are far more likely to insure their pets if their veterinarian is behind it.” In fact, NAPHIA reported that 50 percent more pet owners said they would purchase pet health insurance if their veterinarian actively recommended it.

So, how do veterinarians educate clients about this important service? To find out, Volk spoke with practices in which a disproportionate number of clients have pet health insurance to learn how they persuaded their clients to buy it. Here’s what he found.

Choose One or Two Pet Insurance Companies, And Talk to Your Clients
Narrowing down the pet health insurance options for your clients makes it easier for them to decide. “If they are overwhelmed with informational pamphlets from five or six companies, clients likely won’t choose any of them,” Volk said. “But clients will respond when given just one or two brochures from companies that the practice really recommends.”

One of the findings of the NAPHIA research was that veterinarians tend to be passive supporters of pet health insurance, said Volk. “They might place brochures in the exams rooms or include them in puppy and kitten kits, but they rarely discuss it with clients. The problem is that pet owners don’t perceive brochures as a recommendation.”

What pet owners want, Volk said, is to have a conversation about it with someone in the practice. “Brochures are great,” he said, “but talking face-to-face will give your clients a better understanding of what pet insurance is all about before they do their own research.”

Ask All Your Clients If They Have Pet Insurance
Pet owners purchase pet health insurance directly from the insurance companies, so veterinary practices don’t necessarily know which clients have it. You need to ask them. “The people in your practice who are most likely to have a conversation about pet health insurance are those on the client service team — a receptionist or practice manager, for example,” Volk said. “So they should be the ones to ask clients if they have pet insurance when clients come in for a visit or schedule an appointment.” This will allow you to determine how many of your patients are insured and the effectiveness of your efforts.

Select One Person to Be Your Practice Pet Insurance Specialist, But Involve the Entire Team 
Designate a full-time receptionist, hospital administrator or practice manager to be the pet health insurance advocate in your practice, recommended Volk. “It just takes one person who is interested in it.” That team member can research some insurance companies and choose one or two for the practice to endorse. He or she can also explain the insurance options to clients and answer basic questions.

It’s well known that recommendations must often be made multiple times before they are followed, and it helps if the recommendations come from multiple people in the practice. So, make sure everyone on your team knows which companies your practice recommends and why.

It’s important for the veterinarian and other members of the team to reinforce that the practice believes in pet insurance. “That doesn’t mean everyone needs to know every detail about pet health insurance,” Volk said. “It doesn’t need to be a sales pitch.” If the pet owner hears about pet health insurance from a client service team member as well as the veterinarian, the client is much more likely to act.

Facilitate the Claims Process for Clients
It’s common practice in human medicine to record a patient’s health insurance information and submit claims to the insurance companies. Doing so in veterinary medicine is a great idea as well. “Note in the medical record when a pet is insured, and include the patient’s policy number,” Volk advised. “That way, everyone on staff will recognize that this pet is covered and that the client is likely to be receptive to optimal care recommendations.”

It’s also good to include some claim forms from the insurance company in the patient record. “We’ve found that pet owners are more likely to purchase insurance if the practice is willing to submit the claims for them,” Volk said. “This value-added service is really meaningful and makes clients more likely to purchase pet insurance.”

Submitting the claims for your clients not only makes it much more likely that the claims will be paid in a timely manner — which makes your clients happy — but it also saves your team time because they’ll have fewer phone calls to field from insurance companies.