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AVMA Life health insurance kicks off July 1

Program will be accessible to members in most states

January 17, 2019

By Jennifer Fiala

AVMA Life plans to offer group medical insurance to American Veterinary Medical Association members, their families and veterinary practice staff by July 1. The rollout will begin in 10 yet-to-be-named states.

Members in more states will be able access the program in January 2020, officials said during a meeting last week in Chicago of the AVMA House of Delegates. 

AVMA Life, which sells a variety of insurance products through the AVMA, was in the health-insurance arena for nearly 60 years. But the organization, then known as the Group Health and Life Insurance Trust (GHLIT), was forced in 2013 to stop offering medical insurance.

The change was brought about by restrictions in the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, which barred association health plans from limiting coverage to select groups of people, such as AVMA members. The law also made association health plans and premiums subject to approval by departments of insurance in each state and the District of Columbia, ending the ability of carriers to offer national programs.

The GHLIT’s carrier at the time, New York Life Insurance Company, was one of many companies that responded by leaving the medical insurance market. As a result, some 17,500 veterinarians and their families lost health coverage.

Since then, federal restrictions have eased, prompting AVMA Life to re-enter the arena. Dr. Joe Kinnarney, chairperson of AVMA Life, explained to delegates last week that AVMA Life medical insurance will become available one state at a time. The association is in the process of selecting a carrier. 

But not all AVMA-member veterinarians will be able to participate because association health plans aren't permitted everywhere. A handful of states have banned such group policies due to concerns they will siphon too many healthy people from individual risk pools, causing premiums to rise for those buying insurance individually. Attorneys general representing California, Massachusetts, Delaware, Oregon, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, New York and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit in July, asserting that association health plans violate consumer protections. 

Where association health plans are permitted, state lawmakers must codify guidance. As a result, AVMA Life policies must adhere to a hodgepodge of state regulations.

"I've never met with so many lawyers and brokers in my life," Kinnarney said.

But it's worth it, Kinnarney said. Veterinarians who band together under AVMA Life will have access to group medical insurance rates. What’s more, the program makes it possible for veterinarians to offer affordable health care coverage to their staff — a perk that did not come with policies in the past, Kinnarney said.

"A big plus is that as a veterinarian, all of my employees will be covered by this plan. As a small business, I can now compete with the big guys," he said.

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

Information and opinions expressed in letters to the editor are those of the author and are independent of the VIN News Service. Letters may be edited for style. We do not verify their content for accuracy.


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