It doesn't hurt Dr. Craig Prior's feelings when a client is hesitant to take out a pet insurance policy: "I tell them, 'Try
it for a year. If you don't like it, cancel it. I won't mind.'" That encouraging but low-pressure message got one skeptical
client, with two older boxers, to sign up. Soon after, both dogs developed cancer that required more than $25,000 of treatment.
Insurance paid for all but $500. Pet insurance takes the painful question of money out of the equation of many expensive procedures,
says Dr. Prior.
That's why he helps make it easy to use insurance at Murphy Road Animal Hospital in Nashville, Tenn. Insurance account numbers
are included on pets' charts. The front desk team has copies of claim forms on hand for the clinic's preferred insurance provider.
Receptionists fax forms to the insurance company for clients. The insurance sells itself.
Illustration by Phil Bliss
"People who have pet insurance don't have to think about whether to accept one of your recommendations," Dr. Prior says. "We
offer the best treatment, and we don't have to spend time justifying a procedure and selling it to the client." If you've
thought about promoting insurance at your hospital, here are tips from doctors already doing it.
A team effort
As with all new initiatives, the whole team needs to be on board with pet insurance. You can accomplish this in a number of
ways. If you find an insurance provider you prefer, you could ask a company representative to come to your hospital and give
a presentation about how the process works. Consider providing pet insurance as an employee benefit—or encourage team members
to obtain it on their own. Then they can share their experiences with clients.
Monica Dixon Perry, a consultant with VMC Inc. in Evergreen, Colo., has an additional suggestion. She used to work at a clinic
that employed a team member who spent part of her day faxing and processing insurance forms for clients. "We had clients switch
to our hospital because we filed claims for them," Perry says. If you don't want to fax forms, why not at least make copies
of the forms available?
Dr. Jen Emerson in Adel, Iowa, started looking into pet insurance after a client asked for her opinion. (See "Compare Plans"
at right.) Clients choose policies for themselves, but she makes sure they understand the waiting period. She's had clients
come back bemoaning the fact that they didn't remember they had to wait two weeks before the policy became active. "I do explain
it to them, but they still forget sometimes," Dr. Emerson says. "If you don't tell clients about the waiting period, in a
way, you fail them."
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Of course, people need to purchase insurance before a condition develops in their pet or an emergency procedure becomes necessary.
Because of this, Dr. Emerson has started including insurance information in new puppy and kitten kits.
Estimates of insurance adoption are still small—just 2 percent of U.S. pets are covered—but the numbers are rising. Insurance
can help clients pay for the sophisticated procedures that help their pets live longer, healthier lives. It's easy to get
doctors and team members involved in recommending it, says Carol Petyo, hospital administrator at Yorba Regional Animal Hospital
in Anaheim, Calif. "If we see a client who owns a younger pet, we'll give them a brochure and ask them if they've considered
it," she says. It's as easy as that.