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The VIN News Service recently conducted a Q&A session with the American Veterinary Medical Association and its indemnity arm, the Group Health and Life Insurance Trust (AVMA-GHLIT). The discussion explores the controversial partnership that’s emerged between GHLIT and Pets Best Insurance, a private entity.


January 21, 2009
By: Jennifer Fiala
For The VIN News Service


 The VIN News Service recently conducted a Q&A session with the American Veterinary Medical Association and its indemnity arm, the Group Health and Life Insurance Trust (AVMA-GHLIT). The discussion explores the controversial partnership that has emerged between GHLIT and Pets Best Insurance, a private entity. A related article on the topic can be found here:http://www.vin.com/Members/CMS/Misc/VINNews/Default.aspx?id=12021

 

THE FOLLOWING EXCHANGE FEATURES LIBBY WALLACE, GHLIT CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER:

Q. When and how did talks of an American Veterinary Medical Association Group Health and Life Insurance Trust (AVMA-GHLIT) partnership with Pets Best Insurance originate? Please explain.

A. The contractual agreement is between the AVMA GHLIT and Aetna Insurance of Connecticut (AICC). Aetna currently provides preferred provider network and clinical management services for the AVMA GHLIT’s personal health-insurance products. Considering the success that Aetna has experienced in numerous lines of insurance including personal health and life insurance, the trustees explored with AICC its interest in pet insurance. When the AVMA GHLIT explained the concept of educating the veterinary profession about pet insurance and developing a coverage design that is responsive to both pet owners and the veterinary profession, AICC expressed an interest in exploring this idea. It was recognized that experience in the administration and marketing of pet insurance would be important to this initiative. Several of the AVMA GHLIT trustees suggested talking with Dr. Jack Stephens (founder of Pets Best), due to his long history and experience with pet insurance. During the subsequent discussions between AICC and Dr. Stephens, the opportunity for partnership evolved.

Q. What kind of response has the GHLIT-Pets Best partnership garnered from the profession? Has there been any significant membership response/feedback to it?

A. Just to clarify, the contractual agreement is between the AVMA GHLIT and AICC.

The response to the AVMA GHLIT’s involvement with pet insurance has been very positive from practitioners. The AVMA GHLIT believes that with continued education about pet insurance, the profession will take a proactive approach to securing its future and preventing pet care from being controlled by third parties. They also believe it is important to keep the treatment decisions with the veterinarian and client, and we want those decisions to be based on medical need.

Q. How is the program doing since its launch in July?

A. The program is doing very well. We have selected the members of the Pet Insurance Advisory Council, and they have had their first meeting. Initially, this group will focus on education and communication to the veterinary profession and explore the best means of getting this information in the hands of veterinarians.

Q. How did the AVMA GHLIT become pet insurance experts, providing “a clear voice for the industry,” as suggested in the full-page advertisement that ran in Veterinary Practice News?

A. The AVMA GHLIT’s intent is that by taking an active role in the development of pet insurance, it can actively guide insurance coverage and business practices. Pet insurance that is embraced will provide for the proper treatment of pets by offering a product whereby the cost for unexpected care is mitigated. From the veterinary profession’s standpoint, the standards and guidelines set forth in the AVMA GHLIT white paper support the following principles:

• Medical determinations will be decided by the treating veterinarian.
• Veterinarians will set their own fees based on their circumstances and level of care.
• The selection of the veterinarian will be decided by the client, not a third party.
• The client and treating veterinarian will determine the treatment options and care based on medical factors.

The AVMA GHLIT has prepared a white paper, which sets forth standards and guidelines for pet insurance that they consider important. The AVMA GHLIT will provide ongoing communication and education to the veterinary profession about the benefits of pet insurance. Additionally, they have also established a Pet Insurance Advisory Board, which will provide input from the state veterinary medical associations, specialty practices, small animal practitioners and valued business advisors so that the communications and the criteria for pet insurance continue to represent concepts important to the veterinary profession and pet owners.

Q. Why did GHLIT or AVMA feel the need to place a full-page ad in Veterinary Practice News? Has the ad run in any other veterinary trade publications?

A. As part of the AVMA GHLIT’s commitment to educate and communicate to the veterinary profession on pet insurance, professional publications are one means by which that message is delivered to many veterinarians in all parts of the country. While the advertorial has not yet run in other journals, future publications are planned.

Q. Has the GHLIT or AVMA conducted surveys or studies that show pet insurance is good for the profession? Are there any concrete data, considering the American public has been slow to adopt it? Is there concern that increased use of pet insurance might ultimately prove to negatively impact the veterinary profession?

A. While the AVMA GHLIT has not sponsored any surveys or studies, Aetna, as part of their due diligence, conducted a survey and found that more than half of consumers and Aetna members surveyed find it appealing for a health insurer to offer pet insurance. They also know from research that employers are increasingly looking for new voluntary benefits to offer employees, so this new product has the potential to be a complementary benefit offering.

The AVMA GHLIT believes that with continued education about pet health insurance, the profession will take a proactive approach to securing its future and preventing pet care from being controlled by third parties. The AVMA GHLIT believes it is important to keep the treatment decisions with the veterinarian and client, and we want those decisions to be based on medical need.


THE FOLLOWING EXCHANGE FEATURES REPRESENTATIVES FROM AVMA:

Q. Internally, have there been any concerns raised regarding the appearance of nepotism and conflict of interest related to the hiring of former Executive Vice President Dr. Bruce Little’s (a board member of Pets Best) daughter to head GHLIT. Is AVMA’s membership aware of this and have they raised this issue with association officials?

A: The AVMA and GHLIT are separate entities. The AVMA did not have any involvement in hiring Libby Wallace as GHLIT’s chief executive officer.

Q: How does AVMA answer criticisms that it’s unethical for a membership organization’s trust to partner with private industry while reaping financial benefits from the union?

A: At its November 2007 meeting, the AVMA Executive Board amended the GHLIT’s charter to include pet insurance as one of its avenues of service to AVMA members. The AVMA Executive Board took this action to protect and promote veterinary medicine. They hoped by exploring new ways in which to meet pet owners’ growing demand for high-tech veterinary medicine at an affordable cost, veterinary medicine could avoid the managed-care scenario that has become the norm in human healthcare. The AVMA Executive Board wants veterinarians to be free to practice the highest quality medicine without the fees for their services being dictated to them. The AVMA also wants clients to be free to select a pet health insurance plan and a veterinarian that will best meet the individual needs of their pets. The AVMA does not endorse any specific pet insurance plan.

The AVMA recognizes that the viable pet health insurance programs will be important to the future of the veterinary profession’s ability to continue to provide high-quality and up-to-date veterinary service.

Q. Do AVMA officials believe that the public and profession can view GHLIT as an entity separate from the AVMA?

A. We certainly hope that our membership and the general public understand that the AVMA and AVMA GHLIT are separate entities. While there may be some confusion because AVMA is in the AVMA GHLIT name, AVMA GHLIT IS a separate entity from the AVMA. We hope that members understand the AVMA GHLIT is a member service and a member benefit designed to support member needs for healthcare, disability and life insurance coverage. The AVMA GHLIT is an insurance trust governed by an independent board of trustees with fiduciary responsibility to the AVMA GHLIT, not the AVMA.

While AVMA GHLIT is a separate entity from the AVMA, our Executive Board issues and amends the GHLIT charter and appoints the GHLIT trustees. However, the GHLIT trustees operate independently and are accountable to the members of GHLIT, not the AVMA.



VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email news@vin.com.



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