Efforts are underway to revive medical insurance for American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) members.
The AVMA indemnity arm Group Health and Life Insurance Trust (GHLIT) is launching a private health insurance exchange this spring that will provide member veterinarians with an online marketplace to compare and buy health insurance policies.
The move is designed to help the 17,000 or so veterinarians and their families with GHLIT policies secure new medical insurance in the wake of news that their current health insurance programs will be terminated by the year's end.
Private health insurance exchanges are a product of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which takes effect on Jan. 1, 2014. The GHLIT’s exchange will be built on a platform created by HealthPlan Services, a technology and administrative services provider for insurance and managed care markets.
So far, there’s no word on what plans will be offered. A GHLIT news release states that the private exchange will open in March and roll out in two phases. The first phase will focus on insurance needs of AVMA members aged 65 and older. The second phase will expand to include insurance plans and resources for all other members.
"Making sure our members have easy and secure access to the information, resources and customer service they need to make informed insurance coverage decisions is our top priority," GHLIT Chairman Dr. James Brandt said in the release.
GHLIT trustees learned last fall that New York Life and Co., the GHLIT’s longtime underwriter of its medical insurance offerings, planned to terminate its business with GHLIT and all other associations after 2013.
The reason: Language in the federal health care act forces underwriters such as New York Life to open its brand of association medical coverage to the general public, not just association members. Individual medical insurance is not a product that New York Life offers.
With New York Life’s exit, GHLIT was left without an underwriter. Chief Executive Officer Libby Wallace explained that the decision to end the GHLIT’s brand of medical insurance wasn’t made without looking for ways to save the program.
(The GHLIT's other insurance programs, such as disability and life insurance policies, will continue unchanged.)
"We have looked for other underwriters, and because of the way the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is written, companies aren’t willing to underwrite groups like ours," Wallace said last December in an interview with the VIN News Service. "We’ve been to several major carriers, and they weren’t willing to assume the business."
That news has been disappointing to veterinarians, many who have come to rely on the GHLIT brand.
Dr. Link Welborn, owner of four practices in Florida, has carried GHLIT medical insurance for 30 years. Through he offers United Healthcare’s insurance to his staff of 70, he’s remained loyal to GHLIT.
"I’ve never switched," he said. "I guess it’s (because of) the long-term comfort I get knowing that the trust was advocating for veterinarians. Now for the first time I’ll have to take a look at our staff program, the GHLIT exchange and make comparisons."
Shopping for health insurance, "is one more hassle nobody needs," he added.
A 34-year-old veterinarian and mother who has multiple sclerosis (MS), seconds that. The small animal practitioner from Wyoming spoke on condition of anonymity for fear that publicizing her medical condition might invite discrimination from potential employers. Having leaned on GHLIT's medical insurance since her 2008 diagnosis, news that the program will end on Dec. 31 has reduced her to tears.
"There’s just too many unknowns," she said. "That’s the hard thing."
Though the GHLIT’s medical insurance is described by some as "Cadillac coverage" and often deemed expensive, the veterinarian appreciates the comfort she gets from the AVMA-backed program. Years ago, GHLIT medical insurance supported her father-in-law’s battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease. Now it covers the $5,000-a-month medication she needs to manage her autoimmune disease.
Between health insurance premiums and out-of-pocket deductibles, she spends $25,000 a year with GHLIT. What other health insurance programs might cost is unclear.
"It’s scary not knowing what’s coming, wondering if another program will cover my condition," she said. "Even if we don’t buy a house, we have to have health insurance."
The MS-afflicted veterinarian appreciates GHLIT’s efforts to develop a private exchange, thinking it might ease the back-end work she needs to do to find new medical coverage. Still, she grieves the pending loss of an insurance program she’s come to rely on.
"When I’ve changed jobs, I haven’t had to change insurance; it’s become routine," she said. "I'm worried by change but hopeful that the new system could be better."
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