Help clients protect their investment
For years, Dr. Pamela Nichols, owner of Animal Care Center/K9 Rehabilitation Center in West Bountiful, Utah, heard clients say they couldn't pay. From scheduled wellness exams to unexpected crises, clients often claimed that the cost of care was more than they could afford. More irritating to her were the breeders selling pets with a "guarantee" of health that didn't hold up, leaving clients with an ill or injured pet they couldn't care for or didn't expect. That gave Dr. Nichols a bad choice most veterinarians relate to: offer free or reduced-cost care or turn the client away. Neither option seemed viable.
So when Dr. Nichols bred her standard poodle and sold the puppies, she incorporated the cost of a pet insurance plan into each puppy's purchase price. "Now those pet owners will have every opportunity to get the best care for their dogs," she says.
START THE DISCUSSIONThat experience motivated Dr. Nichols to encourage all of her clients to purchase pet insurance—starting with her new puppy and kitten clients. First, she had to turn staff members onto the idea. With a bit of training, they jumped on board. Now when new clients call for an appointment, one of the first things they hear is, "Do you have pet insurance?" And if the answer is no, staff members take that opportunity to educate clients.
Also, all new puppy and kitten appointments include a discussion of insurance benefits and a copy of an insurance company's policy information. "My staff and I explain that we think the smartest thing to do is to get pet insurance," says Dr. Nichols. "I tell clients that veterinary care costs are increasing, and to protect their investment in a pet, they need insurance. Also, if anything serious happens, like being hit by a car or getting cancer, insurance is a great way to make sure their pet is cared for."
The first month after recommending insurance to every client, Dr. Nichols' team saw an increase of about 150 client visits, she says. She attributes many of those to clients with pet insurance visiting for more routine care than they would have otherwise. Dr. Nichols says that clients with pet insurance visit the practice four to five times more per year than those who don't.
RUN THE NUMBERS
While clients without insurance are still in the vast majority, Dr. Nichols says she is seeing more and more clients buy into the idea all the time. And clients are more open to discussing the options than she expected. "I run the numbers and explain how much they would be paying out of pocket for various emergencies and serious illnesses," she says. "Then I show them how that stacks up against insurance premiums."
Lastly, she uses the opportunity to explain to pet owners the increased quality of care she can provide when they have insurance to help balance out the high costs. "I had a client whose dog had a tumor," she says. "I asked whether he had insurance, and he said, 'Yes, but why does that matter?' I explained that it's always easier to recommend the best care when I don't have to worry about whether you have the ability to pay for it. Financial implications matter much less when you're covered."
With many insurance companies on the market, Dr. Nichols recommends that you do your research before recommending a company to clients. Learn about billing policies, deductibles, what's covered, and limits. Ask whether clients will be reimbursed per incident or as a total limit per year. "Read reviews, talk to others, and make sure you're comfortable with the plan," she says. "If you endorse it, clients will be much more willing to go for it, and that will benefit everyone, mostly the pet."