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Jacks View: Managed Care

Posted on: August 23rd, 2011 by

Dr. Jack Stephens, the founder of pet health insurance in the US, holds his pets.
By Dr. Jack Stephens
Pets Best Insurance President and Founder

Little did I realize in 1978 when I went to the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association with the concept of pet insurance that I would spend the next 30 plus years working to establish pet health insurance in the United States. Today there are 11 pet insurance plans in the U.S. insuring an estimated 1 million pets and reimbursing pet owners over $200 million annually for veterinary care.

Although the market penetration for pet insurance is low when compared to other countries, such as the United Kingdom where over 20% of pets are insured, the U.S. growth is steady. Despite the long recession, the annual growth for pet health insurance is 20%. Prior to the recession, market research conducted by Packaged Facts predicted a 25-35% growth for pet insurance.

While some companies in 2010 experienced little growth or flat sales as compared to the previous year, Pets Best Insurance experienced a healthy 30% annual growth rate. Our company also remained profitable in 2010. To the best of our knowledge, only four of the 11 other US pet insurance companies can make that claim. We attribute our success to both a strong following of veterinary practice referrals, as well as our current policyholders who are exceedingly satisfied with our service and rapid claim reimbursements.

Managed Care
Looking back on the 29 years since founding VPI, it’s important to remind my veterinary colleagues that despite some dire predictions, dog and cat insurance did not migrate to the managed care principals which have been so vilified in human health care.

Myself, along with the 900 other veterinarians who funded pet health insurance had one very specific goal in mind— to provide indemnity insurance to pet owners so they could afford veterinary care. We knew that most pet owners would not save funds for unexpected pet healthcare needs, but they could budget for the care by paying premiums for insurance coverage.

Had we known then the difficulty that was in store in founding pet health insurance in the US, perhaps we would not have pioneered the path that has lead to helping millions of pets and their owners afford the care their pets so desperately need.

From inception we knew that we wanted to avoid certain managed care principals that affected human health care, including:

1. Networks of veterinary hospitals— we wanted to allow pet owners to choose their own veterinarian, not be directed to select sites for services.

2. Fee setting—we wanted to allow veterinarians to set their own fees based on their cost and level of care.

3. Service restriction— we wanted to allow veterinarians and pet owners complete flexibility to determine the best treatment options and procedures based on the owners’ needs, the pets’ condition and the style of practice.

An obvious question might be: Will the next 30 years bring managed care principals into pet health insurance and veterinary medicine?
The answer is in your hands. Managed care in pet insurance and veterinary medicine will not occur, so long as veterinarians opt out of joining networks and refuse to accept restrictions on cost or care.

Veterinarians should support pet insurance, which simply reimburses policyholders for covered services. It’s that simple; support indemnity insurance that reimburses your clients a flat percentage of your treatment costs and avoid discounting, networks or restrictive care to keep the best insurance has to offer.

Certainly there have been attempts to initiate managed care principals in veterinary medicine by Pet Clubs and even one pet insurance plan. However, all have ceased or made little progress since there are good pet health insurance plans available that reimburse 80% after the deductible of actual charges. The old pet insurance company that the 900 of us founded still uses “benefit schedules” which limit reimbursements, however they are the only exception.

Pet Insurance Advantages
With Pets Best Insurance’s flat 80% reimbursement plans, pet owners have nearly 5X the spending power that they may otherwise not have available to them. For example if the most a pet owner could afford to pay for their pet’s treatment is $1,400 before opting for economic euthanasia— with an 80:20 structured plan and a $100 deductible, they could afford $7,000 in care and their out-of-pocket cost would only be $1,480. In this case, pet insurance would have reimbursed them $5,520.

Pet health insurance allows pet owners to budget through affordable monthly premiums, which makes veterinary medicine more affordable. We thank you for recommending Pets Best Insurance to your clients.

What did that doggy eat?!

Posted on: August 23rd, 2011 by

An owner tries to stop a dog with pet insurance from eating a toothbrush.

Posted by: H.R.
For Pets Best Insurance

It’s no surprise that pet owners want their companions to be healthy. And with the advancements in veterinary science and research, our pets are now able to live longer, happier and healthier lives. But many of the life-enhancing and often life-saving procedures are complex and very expensive. Pet owners who opt to purchase pet insurance plans often find that their financial burden is alleviated when their pet becomes ill or injured.

Many of the top pet insurance companies report certain pet health conditions/injuries ranking as the most expensive to treat. Gathering data from subscribers’ claims, they’ve determined the average costs for these procedures. Many pet owners can’t believe that they might have to pay more than $1,000 for a single pet health issue. But the reality is that often the total vet bill may be even higher.

Ingesting Foreign Objects
Stomach and intestinal problems resulting from ingesting foreign objects are some of the most costly pet accidents or injuries that owners experience. Foreign object ingestion covers any item that a pet consumes that is not food. Even small things swallowed by pets can cause serious and even fatal internal injuries.

You’ve probably caught your dog trying to eat something he shouldn’t, and many dogs will eat some unbelievable things. One vet reported a dog that ate an entire bed sheet! Another common item dogs seem to frequently ingest are rocks. Though cats are less likely to eat something just because it’s there, they can easily swallow string, bits of their toys and even plants or other decor.

Symptoms of Ingestion
The most obvious symptoms that your pet has eaten a foreign object are lack of appetite, vomiting (even after water) and diarrhea. Diarrhea can be a sign that his intestines are blocked. He may look unwell. If you think your pet has ingested something harmful, get him to the vet ASAP– if you have dog or cat insurance, foreign body removal can cost far less.

Diagnosis
Your vet will first feel your pet’s abdomen for obstruction. If a foreign object is a possibility, X-rays will show some objects, but other items like plastic and cloth may not be visible. Sometimes an ultrasound may even be required to make the final diagnosis. In the worst cases, exploratory surgery is needed.

Treatment
Sometimes by inducing vomiting, the object will come up if it’s still in his stomach. Items can also be removed with an endoscope. Sometimes, if the item has moved to the intestines, abdominal surgery may be necessary.

Prevention
Make sure your pet has appropriate, safe toys, put them away when not in used and check them often for missing pieces. Obviously, pick things up off the floor that you wouldn’t want your dog to ingest.

Cost
Vet costs can vary depending on location as well as the severity of the foreign body diagnosis– but can often be upwards of $1,900.

For more information about how dog and cat insurance can help you afford the best healthcare for your pet, visit Pets Best Insurance.

Pastern Problems and Submissive Urination in Dogs

Posted on: August 19th, 2011 by

Hi, I’m Dr. Fiona Caldwell and I’m a practicing veterinarian at Idaho Veterinary Hospital. I’m at home today answering questions from Pets Best Facebook page.

The first question comes from Kimberly. She writes “What recommendations would you have to correct a puppy who is down in his pastures? What supplements are beneficial?”

I think you actually mean ‘pasterns’. ‘Down in the pasterns’ is a term for a flat-footed, hyperextension of the joint. It’s common in larger breed puppies and it typically results from the bones, the tendons and the ligaments growing at different rates.

It used to be thought back in the old days that we would supplement calcium and limit exercise in these guys. We actually found that that’s wrong. Calcium supplementation in large breed growing dogs can be dangerous. We definitely don’t recommend that you do that. It’s actually thought that letting these guys get extra exercise on sure footing – grass, carpeting and that kind of thing – can really be beneficial for them.

If you do have a large breed puppy, it may benefit from a large breed puppy food, something that’s a little bit more energy-restricted. Most puppies will outgrow it usually within about two to four weeks. If it’s quite serious, I would recommend that you see your veterinarian.

The last question comes from May who says “My dog has an issue with submissive urination. When we arrive home we have to completely ignore her or she’ll get so excited she’ll accidentally pee. The same thing happens when strangers come over. She’s four years old. Is she ever going to outgrow this?”

This is really common in puppies, like little kids that get really excited, and puppies commonly outgrow it. If you have an adult dog that’s doing this, there is a possibility that it’s because of her nature and because of her being slightly anxious about this, it may not be something she outgrows.

I think your idea about completely ignoring her until the excitement of you coming home subsides is a great idea. If you can get strangers or people coming over to your house on-board with that, too, and let them to know to just ignore her for five or ten minutes until everything settles down, in that way you can avoid it.

Try not to discipline dogs that are submissively urinating. They typically don’t really know that they’re doing it and it can make the problem worse because it usually stems from anxiety.
www.petsbest.com

Wildlife dangers and your pet

Posted on: August 18th, 2011 by

A dog with dog insurance sits outside.

During summer, it is essential to protect pets and other domesticated animals from possible encounters with local wildlife, which can result in injuries to pets as well as expose them to dangerous diseases. This is why proper attention to pet health and safety, and researching the best pet insurance, is essential in order to ensure the well-being of household pets in the great outdoors.

Fencing Around the Home
Fences are a good first step in preventing pets from coming into contact with other animals, but they only provide a basic level of protection and cannot defend against wildlife that can dig or climb over these barriers. Fences should be maintained and checked for holes and gaps.

Rabies Shots
One of the greatest risks to pets is the threat of contracting rabies from infected wildlife. Reported rabies cases are up this year in several areas of the country. The Virginia Department of Health, for example, is cautioning pet owners in the New River Valley district that the number of cases of rabies through May of 2011 has already matched the number for the entirety of last year. Cases have been reported in skunks, cats, raccoons and cows. Other areas of the state are similarly affected by the highly infectious disease.

The best way to ensure pet safety and to protect pets against contracting this deadly viral infection is to ensure that they get annual vaccinations against rabies as part of their regular veterinary routine. Rabies vaccinations are required in most areas of the country and provide nearly 100% protection for pets against contracting the disease. Some pet health insurance plans cover a portion these and other routine vaccinations.

Habitat Alterations
In Florida, the growing coyote population is beginning to pose a threat to domesticated animals. There have been a number of substantiated reports of coyotes stalking cats and dogs and even attacking them, according to Greg Andrews of Pinellas County Animal Services.

One way to make lawns and outdoor living areas less attractive to coyotes and other predators is by ensuring that pet food and garbage cans are not readily available food sources outside. Additionally, keeping the grass short and hedges and shrubs neatly trimmed is safer for pets since it presents fewer hiding places for undesired wildlife.

Another way to protect pets from wildlife and outdoor dangers is with pet insurance. Pet health insurance helps to manage costs associated with most possible wildlife-related incidents and also help ensure the best possible veterinary care is more afforable to your beloved pet.

What’s wrong with Frank the Dachshund?

Posted on: August 18th, 2011 by

A Dachshund without dog insurance plays with a bone.

By: Dr. Fiona Caldwell
Idaho Veterinary Hospital
For Pets Best Insurance

Frank had a rough start on life. He spent who knows how long on the streets until he was spotted by a good Samaritan who took him in. He was hard to resist, since he was a very cute golden brown Dachshund with the longest ears. He was probably less than a year old. After a few days in his ‘new’ home, the good Samaritan realized something was wrong. And unfortunately, the pup didn’t yet have dog insurance.

He didn’t eat well, and when he did, he would vomit. In addition, his breathing was off; it was rapid and shallow. They made an appointment to see me the next day.

Frank was very thin when he first came to the clinic. It was clear there was a serious problem based on his physical exam. While the new ‘owner’ had gotten somewhat attached, she wasn’t prepared financially to take Frank on as her own dog and she made the difficult decision to relinquish him. Frank officially belonged to the clinic.

Using donated funds and doctor time, Frank was radiographed and admitted to the hospital for treatment. The x-rays revealed a disturbing change in Frank’s chest. The thin muscle wall that separates the lungs from the other organs in the body, the diaphragm, was torn. This tear, or hernia, had allowed things that are supposed to be in the abdomen access to the chest. Frank’s intestines and his stomach were in his chest and pushing on his lungs, partially collapsing them, making it hard for him to breathe. This is also why he couldn’t eat, and vomited when he did.

The name for this condition is a diaphragmatic hernia and can be very serious. Frank probably had some type of trauma, maybe he was hit by a car or fell from something and caused this to happen. Since he had no other obvious injuries on his body, it was impossible to know how long the hernia had been there.

Frank was given pain medication and an IV catheter to administer fluids and surgery was scheduled for the next day to repair the hernia.

In the morning Frank looked worse, it was even harder for him to breathe. He was quickly taken to the radiology room and x-rayed. The radiographs showed that Frank had an even more serious problem. The trapped stomach, which was in the chest, had started to bloat, filling with air and pushing more and more on the lungs.

Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV) is commonly referred to as “Bloat” and is a potentially life threatening emergency that occurs primarily in large deep chested dogs, like Great Danes. The gastric dilatation (expansion) and volvulus (rotating) can occur separately, but when together the stomach will rapidly fill with air and can result in death if left untreated. It is unclear exactly what causes a gastric bloat to occur. It has about 15 to 33% mortality rate. It is estimated that approximately 22% of giant breeds and 24% of larger breed dogs may suffer a GDV in their lifetime. Thankfully, many pet insurance companies cover this condition.

However, not only was Frank not a large breed dog, but his GDV was even more life threatening since it was occurring in his chest. He was rushed immediately to surgery where the stomach was gently removed from the hole in his diaphragm and untwisted. Immediately his lungs were able to expand and his oxygen levels improved. The tear in the diaphragm was repaired and the stomach inspected for any damage. It was ‘tacked’ to the body wall to ensure it didn’t twist again.

When Frank woke up, he felt like a new dog. His recovery was very quick and within days he had gained weight and was acting like a puppy again. He was placed in a foster home and quickly adopted into a family that loved him.

Frank’s case is definitely a once in a lifetime situation and very unusual. Thankfully it ended well and Frank touched a lot of hearts in his short stay with us.