What every vet should know about pet insurance (Part TWO)
What are underwriters?
These are the administrators behind insurance. They take on the risk of a future accident or illness, upfront. This is necessary for all insurance. They set the premiums, add any special exclusions or endorsements, and determine premiums and fullness of cover.
Who are brokers?
These are the people who represent the pet-owners to the insurance underwriters. Now this part is important: Only one broker in SA develops plans, and processes claims, uniquely due to their investment in hiring vets that have the knowledge to fulfil this vital role. Brokers inhouse vets can motivate to the underwriters for refunds, with an innate understanding of animal health. They also can talk to you, the vets, about medical histories, procedures and treatment plans. There is only one broker in SA that hires vets, and that is the team at MediPet. They are also unique to SA as a specialist & dedicated pet broker, with insurance for dogs and cats as their only business, not car, home, business or life insurance. This is important, because you want insurers on the pets’ side, with them as their core focus.
Why do we keep hearing about “sub-limits”?
Sub-limits are limits within cover, there for the only purpose of limiting risk, and cover for the insurer. It is a way some insurers make their products seem cheaper, when in reality pet-owners are getting less cover but don’t realise until they need to claim, and it’s too late to switch. So how sub-limits affect you, the vet, is the insurer will separate line items on your invoice and limit how much can be claimed for each treatment. Such as a number of radiographs or amount per year allowed to be claimed. The pet insurance company may only pay a set amount (sub-limit) for radiographs. Same with vet visits, medication, bloodwork etc. They may even have a limit on a condition. These cause huge disappointment as pet-owners expect to be covered for the advertised total amount but the sub-limits cut what they are actually paid out drastically. Also, it limits what treatments the owner can afford (by self-funding), and therefore what the vet can perform. They are not about what the pet needs medically, but what insurers deem allowable for that cheaper premium. And remember, this is non-vet people making these decisions! MediPet, again, is different as we have no sub-limits on any of our plans! This is what genuine insurance is all about.
How can (genuine) insurance improve your practice?
The small animal veterinary industry is at a precipice where our clients’ expectations, the costs of materials and the availability of vets could not be less aligned. The cost of importing critical implants and equipment is out of our control and the inflation, fuel costs, unemployment rate and weak currency affect our sales and our bottom line.
But everyone is struggling though. In almost every industry in our country, the small business-owners are feeling the burn. What vet practices have added to their burden is the emotional side, and the expectations of our clients. We can’t change the nature of our work, and not provide needed treatments, however our clients often really cannot pay these associated bills, and so the debtors keep adding up.
1 in 3 pets need emergency vet treatment each year. Bills from treatments would take a massive chunk out of pet-owner’s savings, if they even had some set aside for their pets. Who has R35 000 lying around? And possibly every year! MediPet pays out an average of R7 million every month in claims. Everyone’s cost of living has increased drastically over the last few years, we’re entering a recession, after dealing with the massive consequences of Covid, and pets are often the first family members who have to sacrifice the proper healthcare when things get tough. Tragically, the cost of expensive procedures and medicines can lead an owner to no choice but euthanasia, which we have all experienced first-hand. To be able to have an option available for pet-owners as a last resort can make a life-saving difference, and prevent a lot of heart ache, including that which we experience on the frontline.
In order to do our job efficiently, and to your clients’ standards, with the least amount of comebacks, all your patients should have some type of insurance. It’s the responsible thing to do.
Insurance can help with all these challenges before the practice starts to buckle. Insist on your clients taking out pet insurance. This gives you peace-of-mind that you will recoup your expenses, regardless of the client’s personal financial status, as the insurance will take care of these. It is even better if they pick an insurer willing to pay you directly without leaving them out-of-pocket.
(Another tip? Not all insurers need forms to be signed by you, or pre-authorisations. Recommend a vet-friendly pet insurer when asked by your clients. Insurance should make your life easier, not be more work.)