January 14, 2011
GHLIT ends endorsement of Pets Best while severing ties with Aetna
Deal dies quietly as GHLIT exits pet health insurance arena
By: Jennifer Fiala
For The VIN News Service
The Group Health and Life Insurance Trust’s (GHLIT) endorsement of Pets Best Insurance has fizzled with none of the fanfare that accompanied the
union’s controversial beginnings in July 2008.
On Jan. 7, GHLIT Chief Executive Officer Libby Wallace implied that the
Trust — an indemnity arm of the American Veterinary Medical Association
(AVMA) — severed ties with the private pet insurance company. She made
the announcement during a speech in Chicago before the AVMA House of
While Wallace never publicly mentioned Pets Best, she announced that the
GHLIT ended its relationship with Aetna Signature Administrators in favor of a new underwriter, United HealthCare. The GHLIT's endorsement of Pets Best evolved, in large part,
because the insurance offerings of both entities were backed by Aetna.
Dr. Jack Stephens, the founder of Pets Best, has refused to comment on
the demise of his company’s relationship with the GHLIT. Pets Best still
employs Aetna Insurance Company of Connecticut as its underwriter.
Following Wallace’s report to House delegates, she confirmed to the VIN
News Service that the endorsement of Pets Best ended, though she
downplayed the GHLIT’s connection to the pet health insurance company.
Several times, she stated: “Our relationship really was ever only with
That characterization contradicts earlier statements made to the VIN
News Service as well as original promotional materials outlining GHLIT’s endorsement of Pets Best. The formal announcement came during the AVMA’s annual convention
in 2008 in New Orleans, accompanied by a massive marketing campaign that included signage signifying that GHLIT officials had put their confidence
in Pets Best.
That failed to sit well with many in veterinary medicine, especially
competitors in the pet health insurance arena who questioned the ethics
surrounding the GHLIT’s “exclusive” support of Pets Best. To many, the
deal translated to the AVMA’s endorsement of a private insurance
Despite such criticisms, Wallace defended the union, stating that the
goal was to put the GHLIT name behind a pet insurance company so that
veterinarians might believe in it. Many veterinarians steer clear of
promoting pet health insurance options due to fears that the system
might evolve into the managed healthcare debacle that’s plagued human
But the GHLIT’s mission to “educate” veterinarians on pet health
insurance was tarnished by news that the GHLIT had promised to
exclusively promote Pets Best in exchange for royalties on premiums — an
arrangement defended by GHLIT officials who stated the monies earned
would pay for staff to support the program on the Trust’s end and cover
marketing expenses. Rumors also circulated that the arrangement was
unscrupulous, considering Wallace is the daughter of former AVMA
Executive Vice President Dr. Bruce Little, who was a Pets Best board
member and shareholder.
Wallace has repeatedly rejected any notion that her family connections influenced the Pets Best-GHLIT arrangement.
Still, to many, it appeared as though the GHLIT and the AVMA, by extension,
were in bed with a private insurance carrier. That raised the
hackles of veterinarians, especially dues-paying AVMA members.
Debate erupted on Veterinary Information Network (VIN), an online
community for the profession and parent of the VIN News Service. Nearly a
year after the endorsement deal was announced, VIN polled its members on the topic. The result: Seventy percent of the survey’s 1,700 DVM
respondents reported feeling “very uncomfortable” or “uncomfortable”
with the GHLIT-Pets Best arrangement.
AVMA and GHLIT officials have publicly explained that although the
membership organization ultimately governs GHLIT, the two groups operate
autonomously. The AVMA does not benefit monetarily from the GHLIT and
the membership body does not endorse specific pet insurance companies.
Still, little could be done to mend the negative image many had of the
GHLIT-Pets Best endorsement deal — especially when veterinarians began
expressing discontent with Pets Best services.
In December 2009, it was revealed that Stephens and the GHLIT were
having problems with Aetna’s role in governing how Pets Best claims were
handled. At the time, Wallace shied away from conjecture that the GHLIT
might dump its relationship with Pets Best when the partnership deal
was scheduled to end in mid-2011.
“We entered into this arrangement cautiously, and we'll be doing a
critical review of our contract. This has been a learning experience for
all parties,” Wallace stated.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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