Podcast: Can Pet Insurance Policies Just Be…Dropped?

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Welcome to the Veterinary Breakroom! In the breakroom, Alyssa Watson, DVM, and Beth Molleson, DVM, discuss the important, relevant topics affecting veterinarians today. Prompted by the recent news of Nationwide dropping 100k+ pet insurance policies, Dr. Alyssa and Dr. Beth take to the mic to discuss how this changes their outlook on pet insurance, including how they discuss insurance with pet owners and how the rising cost of veterinary care is making an impact on the industry.


Episode Transcript

This podcast recording represents the opinions of Dr. Alyssa and Dr. Beth. Content, including the transcript, is presented for discussion purposes and should not be taken as medical advice. No guarantee is given regarding the accuracy of any statements or opinions made on the podcast. The transcript—which was prepared with the assistance of artificial intelligence—is provided as a service to our audience.

Dr. Beth [00:00:10] Hi, I'm Dr. Beth Molleson.

Dr. Alyssa [00:00:12] And I'm Dr. Alyssa Watson.

Dr. Beth [00:00:15] Thank you all for joining us in the Veterinary Breakroom. These are short conversations where we chat informally about relevant or hot topics in veterinary medicine. And today we are going to be discussing the recent headline that some of you may have seen, which was that Nationwide Pet Insurance, one of the leading pet insurance companies in the country, has dropped 100,000, over 100,000 policies. And that means that they're not going to renew the pet insurance for those pets. So as you can imagine, that's pretty big news in the industry. So we wanted to kind of sit down and discuss what that means for the climate of pet insurance, what that means for our recommendations as veterinarians, and kind of what that looks like going forward. So, in the past month or so, they have started sending out non-renewal letters. So people are being informed, I think mostly via mail, that their pets insurance will not be renewed. And as you can imagine, that has created a lot of conversation around the topic. So, Alyssa, I know when we first started talking about this, we were kind of, you know, we've reflected about pet insurance on here more than once, but it had us re-reflecting, if you will, about pet insurance and how we think of it, how we discuss it with our clients. But you had kind of some fun history on pet insurance. Do you mind to share some of the fun facts you found?

Dr. Alyssa [00:01:37] No, I'd love to share some of them. And this was one of the conversations that that, you know, it opened up, I think, as a broader topic. You know, oftentimes we as professionals talk about different products out there, but I for one, I won't speak for everybody else, but I, for one, sometimes don't truly understand, you know, the history or the regulatory status of some of these things. And so that was very true with pet insurance. I didn't know who regulated pet insurance. I didn't know how long pet insurance had been around. Certainly there are several companies that I have just dealt with because my clients have used them over the years. And so I have in that, you know, capacity submitted records or done things on behalf of the client. I personally don't have pet insurance for my, my own pets. And so that is a place where, you know, I think if I did have it for my own pets, I probably would have done a lot deeper dive into different companies, different options, different plans. I know we differ that way. Beth, I know you do have pet insurance for your pets, so, you know, what made you what made you do that? And what kind of research did you do before you you got that insurance?

Dr. Beth [00:03:02] Yeah, that's a valid question because I think it's something that comes up for all of us, whether pet owner or veterinarian is like, how do we make that decision and how do we know what's right for us? And, you know, how do we go about comparing the different companies? How do we go about thinking about all the different factors that goes into, you know, the age of our pet, the relationship with our pet, our own financial status? There are just so many things to weigh. So for my own pets, I did recently get pet insurance for them. I had not had pet insurance for years, but part of the reason I decided to get pet insurance was because I have seen costs rising in our area. You know, I feel like it used to be your pet suffers a catastrophic illness or injury, and I don't want to say there was a maximum amount that you expected to spend, but you kind of had a rough idea of what an emergency might require for your pet. I feel like those numbers have soared recently to the point where I'm like, okay, I truly don't want to be in a position where we're talking tens of thousands of dollars, and I'm having to make that decision. I also talked to a few, you know, friends and colleagues who have also brought up a few different points where I know one of my friends was saying, for him, it's not even so much the dollars and cents of it. It is just that decision-making process where he does not want to have to bring money into the picture. You know, if his 12 year old dog faces some sort of major medical event, he just doesn't want to have that on the table as a factor because he thinks it will be too difficult for him to make that decision, even if he, you know, had the funds available or whatever the case might be. So admittedly, I did not do a ton of research on comparing companies. As an employer, we do have a relationship with a company that gives us kind of improved pricing. So that was just the one I went with. But there's so much to think about. You know, a lot of them have different deductible plans. And I think that brings us to a bigger point that we were talking about, Alyssa, which is like, if it's hard for me to make that decision for myself being in the industry, knowing what I do about, again, costs of things, having heard reviews on different insurance companies and yet still really struggling with knowing what the right decision is. I think it brings us back to that conversation we've had before, which is like, how do I possibly go about knowing what the right thing to suggest to my pet owners is? And yet they really do rely on us to help them make that decision. So that's kind of one of the first things I thought of when I heard about these policies being dropped, is it almost just like complicates that already complicated decision.

Dr. Alyssa [00:05:49] Well, and the irony is not lost on me that the reason you're getting pet insurance is because cost of care is rising and yet the cost of rising care is the number one reason they cited for dropping these pets. And so that makes things even more difficult. Which brought me to back to that regulatory status because I got very curious about, well, who does regulate, you know, the pet insurance industry? And not surprising, it varies by state. Like so many things that we have talked about in the past, our licensing. Yeah, our licensing, our CE requirements, all of you know, these things, often times vary by state. And so pet insurance is is regulated by individual states. Usually they're classified as property and casualty insurance. You know, and I'm not an insurance person. I have no idea what that means. So, I would guess that it's going to put them into that category that's very similar to things like homeowner's insurance policies and things like that, but I don't know for sure. I did find, you know, through doing a little internet sleuthing that there are four states right now that have laws regulating pet insurance. And so those four states are California, which was the first, Maine, which was the second. And then recently in 2003, it looks like Mississippi and Washington. Several states have tried to pass laws, you know, governing pet insurance, but they haven't made it through the legislature. And so there's actually kind of this, like, model pet insurance law that the National Association of Insurance Commissioners has put out, that the the last three states seemed to kind of have followed that model. California pre preceded that, that model. And so they dealt a lot more, a lot of these laws it looks like deal with just making sure that there's transparency and that there, you know, that that these companies need to disclose to consumers. There's also some things about like waiting periods, like you can't can't have a waiting period for an accident. Or you know, what types of waiting periods you can have for things like orthopedic conditions and stuff, which we, a lot of us know are kind of common, commonly written into these policies. As far as I can tell from skimming through it, there was nothing in there that said anything about, you know, even in these states where where they do have laws on the books regulating pet insurance companies, there's nothing in there saying that that, you know, a company can't just drop policies. So, I thought that was interesting.

Dr. Beth [00:08:37] That that is interesting. And I think, you know, I can only voice my frustration so much when it comes to these different state regulations. I think it makes it so hard for us to kind of try to make sense of some of these rules and regulations. But yeah, you know, I think, it'll be interesting too to see what this situation does with consumer trust. You know, I think you hear horror stories of of pets losing insurance. And then, of course, it goes without saying, but one of the biggest issues with that is pre-existing conditions, now exist if these pet owners are shopping around and trying to find, different policies that their pets can take advantage of. So, you know, I think that's that's one of the considerations. But I think the broader point and I, we touched on earlier, is just this kind of rising costs of care and how that is impacting so much of not only pet insurance but just the way we practice. I know we've had conversations tangential to that on the podcast before, kind of the idea of spectrum of care. Like you said, it's ironic that one of the reasons that I feel like when we talk about rising cost of care, one of the sort of defenses that we can suggest for our pet owners is to get their pets on pet insurance. And now, you know, maybe we have to start asking ourselves if that's the ultimate solution or if it is a broader issue with the inflation of veterinary costs outpacing standard inflation, and kind of what that's going to do over the coming years to the veterinary market. So it brings up a lot of kind of a lot of interesting trends in veterinary medicine. And it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

Dr. Alyssa [00:10:19] Yeah, it definitely throws a little bit of a wrench into this idea that I feel like has been, you know, broadly pushed on veterinarians over the last decade or so that, you know, insurance is really the solution to a lot of these, these issues with costs that we're seeing. You know, I also did a little bit, you know, got a little bit the numbers are old. Like I couldn't find any numbers from later than, you know, 2022 or something like that, just about, you know, how prevalent insurance is in the US and it's still really low. You know, it's still only like 2 to 3% of, of the pet population that that owners have pet insurance for. However, it has been, you know, rising significantly year over year. You know, up 20, 25% year over year. You know, in the past, past decade or so, I'll be interested, just like you said, to see if that changes because of loss, you know, of of consumer trust, just like you said. You know, who are are people going to continue to to turn to this as a solution, or are they going to become, you know, a little bit more wary of it, or will we see other things like I can imagine just websites that that compare the cost and, and benefits of different pet insurance the same way they compare auto insurance or, or the same way there's these travel.

Dr. Beth [00:11:49] Whenever there's major disruption in the pet insurance business, it makes you start to wonder, like, are we trending toward more of a human insure? I, I don't know, maybe that's me catastrophizing, you know, brings up all those questions of what are the right moves to make sure that pets can benefit from pet insurance, that veterinarians can benefit in the sense that it's not a crippling, you know, like it is and can be in human health care, not a crippling thing to deal with. And yet still benefit again, the these insurance companies and the pet owners and have it be mutually beneficial for everyone. It is kind of a fine balance, but, yeah, we wanted to make sure everyone was aware of that. I know as busy vets it's hard to stay ahead of these headlines, so wanted to bring that to everyone's awareness and thought it sparked an interesting conversation about our pet insurance recommendations.

Dr. Alyssa [00:12:40] Yeah. And also maybe an entrepreneurial idea if anybody wants to start a website that compares different pet insurance.

Dr. Beth [00:12:48] Does all the state to state comparisons and. Yeah. My goodness. It's a lot to try to wrap your head around.

Dr. Alyssa [00:12:58] I'm gonna call it exspeedy pet.

Dr. Beth [00:12:59] It's all you. All right, Alyssa, so I think that brings us to our win of the week. Did you have any big wins this week?

Dr. Alyssa [00:13:10] You know, I did. I had a win. I was in clinic this last week, and I had just a couple appointments in the afternoon that were complete. It was funny because it was back to back, and it were they were both clients that had been long term clients that had, like, followed me from other clinics, like I had known these people, you know, maybe ten years, you know, and I'm only in clinic a couple shifts a month, you know, these days. And for both of them, you know, generally, I am really good about, like, checking my appointment and and knowing, you know, what the next thing I'm going into. But it was a really busy afternoon and, and things were coming at me and I hadn't had a chance to check the schedule. And so when I walked into both of these rooms, it was like walking into like a surprise party and seeing people that, you know, and it was so much fun. And my assistant for the day was a newer assistant that didn't know me. She must have thought we were crazy because it was like back to back rooms where we were like hugging and like, oh my gosh, it's been so long since I've seen you. Both of them had new pets because the pets that I had treated had passed on. They've been clients for that long. And so it was just kind of a fun neat thing to have happen.

Dr. Beth [00:14:21] Yeah, that is a win. I can relate to that because I work relief at a clinic I've been up for years and same thing. I always feel like an old, old woman when I come in and there's a pet there that I've been seeing since it was, you know, it's like a 14 year old dog, and I can regale the staff with stories of when it was a puppy or things like that, but it it's it's fun. It's what makes the job fun. Well, my win is also pet related, but personal pet related. My poodle, my miniature poodle, he's about 20 pounds. He doesn't usually get into things, but last week I came home and he had eaten an entire stuffy like, squeaky stuffy minus most of the stuffing and the squeaker, which is good, but he ate, like, the entire fabric portion. Yeah. Daniel. Yeah. And it was don't get me started. It was Paul, the other dog's, favorite stuffy. It was like a sentimental stuffy. Paul had it for years. He loved it so much. I actually replaced the squeaker ones, like, cut open seam, put a new squeaker in it. Yeah, I, I the things I do for Paul. Anyway, Daniel decided to eat it. Well, not the end of the world. I, you know, he's got pet insurance, so I'm like, all right, well, we're going to hope for the best. But if he needed an enterotomy, at least we've got the pet insurance. And he seemed fine. Like no issues. I'm assuming the stuffy had passed. Well, fast forward about four days, and we're I'm it's middle of the night, I'm fast asleep, and I wake up to the sound of heaving. Yes. And Daniel sleeps in bed with us every night, and so he doesn't bother to get off the bed. He's just heaving in the middle of our bed. And I wake up just in time to lunge across the bed with my hands cupped open to catch his vomit in my hands, and I did. I saved the bed sheets and it was this stuffy, so it was like a double win in the middle of the night. Didn't have to change sheets. I was a real hero. I know only my vet community would support the decision to catch the vomit. And yeah, no one enterotomies, so.

Dr. Alyssa [00:16:33] I support that decision.

Dr. Beth [00:16:34] A major win. We didn't get to cash in the pet insurance, but overall I still consider that a win.

Dr. Alyssa [00:16:42] Well, you should. If you have a picture of the old stuffy, throw it up. Maybe somebody will find one for you. I think put it on Facebook and see if someone can find it for you.

Dr. Beth [00:16:53] Not a bad idea. See what the internet can do for me. Anyway, well, thank you to our audience for listening in today, and we will catch everyone next time.



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Where To Find Us:

The Team:

  • Alyssa Watson, DVM - Host

  • Beth Molleson, DVM - Host

  • Alexis Ussery - Producer & Multimedia Specialist

Disclaimer: This podcast recording represents the opinions of Dr. Alyssa Watson and Dr. Beth Molleson. Content is presented for discussion purposes and should not be taken as medical advice. No guarantee is given regarding the accuracy of any statements or opinions made on the podcast.