Why 34% of this hospital’s clients have pet insurance

Why 34% of this hospital’s clients have pet insurance

A doctor and a practice manager say it’s (mostly) YOU—the veterinary team.

When your clients go to the “human doctor,” I’m guessing they don’t ask if there’s any way to get a better price on a blood test. Because they’ve got insurance. So why don’t more veterinary clients have pet insurance?

Well, there are plenty of reasons. But we know among those who do have pet insurance, there can be better client compliance and better veterinary care for their animals.

Practice manager and DVM spouse George Bailey gives two reasons why he thinks Stratham-Newfield’s Veterinary Hospital in Newfield, New Hampshire, has a client base with 34 percent pet insurance penetration and is now considered a “super practice” by Trupanion: Better reimbursement practices and, even more important, your buy-in as a team member.

Client: “What would you do?”
Team member: “The same. I have pet insurance too.”

Every pet-owning member of Bailey’s veterinary team has pet insurance. Why? Because he buys it for them. “What veterinary team member making $15 an hour can afford to pay out of pocket for the best veterinary care when it’s needed?” he asks. So he made it an employee benefit that pays back to the practice in every team member’s ability to speak “experientially” to clients about the benefits of pet insurance.

Bailey once gathered his core team and asked them what the greatest obstacle to healthcare was for their patients. Team members responded with endocrinology, obesity and cancer—but no one said affordability.

“This opens the door to doctors being able to practice like you were taught at veterinary school,” he told the team.

Client: “Do I pay and get reimbursed later?”
Team member: “No, it’s nothing but a copay right now, just like your health insurance.”

Before 2013, Bailey’s practice had 7.5 percent pet insurance penetration in his client base. Even though his team members promoted the concept, he says they kept bumping up against the same barrier.

“The problem was the reimbursement model,” Bailey says. Even though clients knew they would be reimbursed by pet insurance, they still had to pay bills up-front and do the clerical legwork to file claims. “That really is just such a barrier for people to see value.”

A version of Trupanion called Trupanion Express with a higher premium provides preapproval within 5 minutes of the claim, with direct payment to the hospital. Clients pay a 10 percent copay.

At Bailey’s practice, after an exam, the doctor writes up a treatment plan and a team member gets preapproval in about three minutes. The technician returns to the exam room with a treatment plan, knowing the client is covered.

Since the practice began with Express two years ago, pet insurance penetration has increased 27 percent, and Bailey was invited to join Trupanion’s Advisory Board.

Team: “But I’m not in sales! And I don’t have the time!”

It’s not always clients and team members with reservations about pet insurance. Heather Steyn, DVM, owner of Advanced Animal Care of Colorado in Fort Collins, Colorado, says she’s spoken to plenty of veterinary practice owners and associates with two common complaints:

• I’m not a salesperson.

• This will take too long.

“First, we sell in everything we do with clients in practice,” Steyn says. “It’s what we have to do to get compliance. It’s what we do in taking the time to give a recommendation.”

And extra time? Steyn can rattle off her “pitch” for pet insurance—the same one her team members share and reinforce—in half a minute. It’s reinforced three times for a new client: 1) Receptionists ask prospective clients over the phone if they have pet insurance, 2) New-client forms on the website ask if pet owners have pet insurance, and 3) Technicians ask new clients about pet insurance at the same time as they’re covering “coughing, sneezing, discharge and behavior problems.” By that time, these pet owners want to know what all the fuss is about. That three-step message for new clients is nothing compared to the time Steyn would otherwise spend on recommendations.

“How much time do you spend going over treatment plans?” Steyn asks. “Or bargaining with clients to get diagnostic tests run? Or convincing pet owners of the need for care because of the cost?”