Letter: AVMA Life answers criticism on maternity-benefit cut

Officials devise options for pregnant policyholders to extend disability coverage

August 6, 2019 (published)
By Joe Kinnarney
& Tracey Gray-Walker

Thank you, Dr. Sarah Sims, for your passionate commentary that calls on AVMA Life to rethink a reduction in maternity-leave benefits ("AVMA Life, please rethink maternity-leave-benefit reduction," Aug. 31, 2019). We are always eager to hear from our members, especially on issues that affect each of us so personally. The American Veterinary Medical Association is your association, and AVMA Life is here to support you, so thank you for taking the time to share your perspectives. Member feedback is critical to our ability to evolve, grow and meet the needs of our members.

It might help to hear a bit of background as to why changes were necessary. Up until 2011, AVMA Life was pleased to offer health insurance to our members, which included options to support them during their maternity leave. However, federal regulation changes made it impossible for the AVMA to continue offering health insurance. At that time, we looked for new and alternative ways to support our members, including expanding our short-term disability product from 30 to 90 days. We only put in a modest price increase at that time which, in retrospect, has proven deeply unfortunate. In the eight years that have passed, the ratio of premiums to claims has seriously threatened the long-term viability of this offering. Simply put, you cannot triple the coverage paid out without appropriately increasing the price and stay solvent for the long-term.

Additionally, what began to happen is that many people elected the coverage for as little time as necessary to benefit from it while on maternity leave and dropped the policy as soon as they were back to work. This only accelerated the problem that diminishing premiums coming in were no longer able to fund the claims being paid out.

Therefore, as part of our recent strategic planning and product analysis process, we determined that it was necessary to modify the short-term disability product if we want to be able to continue offering it. As we worked with New York Life to explore options, we had several conversations with key stakeholders about the possible changes, and unfortunately information was communicated prematurely. We acknowledge that communication was not as clear or as helpful as it should have been. We apologize for any confusion or frustration this has caused our members. The AVMA Life Board and staff are committed to serving you and providing better communications going forward.

We also want to stress that AVMA Life is not making recommendations for how long a new mother should stay home after having a baby. Short-term disability with a maternity benefit is intended to be a resource to help partially replace lost income. It is not intended to be a standalone maternity policy.

At the same time, we truly hear your concerns and the many perspectives voiced by our members surrounding these changes. Hence, during its meeting at the AVMA convention this weekend, the AVMA Life Board finalized options for our members to purchase additional short-term disability benefits to extend the existing 30-day benefit period. These include options with longer maximum benefit periods for routine pregnancy disabilities of up to 60 days and up to 90 days. These options will be communicated to our members in the coming weeks.

Dr. Joe Kinnarney and Tracey Gray-Walker are officials of the AVMA Trust, an organization that provides professional liability insurance, life and disability coverage, financial services and other programs to members of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Kinnarney serves as chair of AVMA Trust; Gray-Walker is its chief executive officer. 

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