January 21, 2009
On the record
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.
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:
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.
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.
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?
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
• 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.
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?
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
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:
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?
The AVMA and GHLIT are separate entities. The AVMA did not have any
involvement in hiring Libby Wallace as GHLIT’s chief executive officer.
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
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
Q. Do AVMA officials believe that the public and profession can view GHLIT as an entity separate from the AVMA?
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
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 email@example.com.
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