GHLIT tackles latest PR flap concerning Pets Best deal

Promotional e-mail advertises AVMA’s endorsement of insurance agency

Published: August 22, 2008
By Jennifer Fiala

Schaumburg, Ill. — An intranet e-mail from a Nestle agent offering employees 20 percent off Pets Best Insurance and citing the company’s “exclusive relationship” with AVMA is a product of faulty marketing materials and an independent writer who took “liberties” with press release language.

That comes from Libby Wallace, head of the AVMA’s Group Health and Life Insurance Trust (GHLIT). As chief executive officer of the AVMA indemnity arm, she faces another blow to the group’s assertion that a recently signed deal with Pets Best Insurance amounts to nothing more than a partnership between two entities with goals to educate veterinarians and promote high pet-insurance standards.

“This agent has been reprimanded and coached on the appropriate language to use, as well as all marketing materials must receive prior approval from
Pets Best,” she says of the e-mail’s author. “Neither Pets Best, Aetna, AVMA GHLIT nor the AVMA take this infraction lightly and those who abuse the rules will be dealt with on an individual basis.”

Why the strong reaction? Since GHLIT announced its partnership with Pets Best during AVMA’s annual convention in July, leaders in both groups have taken heat from veterinarians and competitive pet insurance companies who criticize the deal, characterizing it as an inappropriate use of memberships’ influence to promote a private insurance agency. In addition, the partnership appears “unethical,” they say, because Wallace’s father, former AVMA Executive Vice President Dr. Bruce Little, sits on Pets Bests’ Board of directors, and GHLIT will receive royalties from policy sales of Pets Best.

In response to AVMA members who question how the arrangement could benefit the profession, GHLIT’s Wallace, Pets Best founder Dr. Jack Stephens and Dr. Ron DeHaven, current AVMA executive vice president, have shed light on how the “partnership” manifested. Aetna, which underwrites some GHLIT and Pets Best policies, brought the two groups together, officials say. At the same time, GHLIT was looking for ways to educate veterinarians about reputable pet insurance carriers.

Despite receiving the go-ahead to pursue pet insurance from AVMA’s Executive Board, DeHaven highlights the autonomous nature of GHLIT operations. In an Aug. 8 statement to Veterinary Information Network (VIN) members, he writes: “We wish to clarify a significant misperception that AVMA endorses Pets Best Insurance … we do not. The AVMA is supportive of the GHLIT’s involvement with pet insurance” and its efforts to avoid the managed-care scenario that’s plagued human medicine, he says. 

But just as AVMA disassociates itself from GHLIT the arrangement, the Nestle e-mail surfaced alleging a more intimate relationship between Pets Best and the national association. Nestle, which has since rolled out its own pet insurance program by subsidiary Purina, did not return phone calls seeking comment on the source of its information.

Instead, GHLIT’s Wallace steps in, reiterating that the message was inaccurate. 

In a e-mail to VIN, she writes, “Thanks for bringing this situation to our attention.”

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