George Bailey and his wife, Sonnya Dennis, DVM, DABVP, have co-owned and managed AHAA accredited Stratham-Newfields Veterinary Hospital in Newfields, New Hampshire since 1996. The boutique veterinary hospital serves cat and dog owners across the region.
“With no boarding, grooming, or retail offerings, we try to be as close to your own physician’s office as we can. I think this is the model of success for going forward in private practice,” said George. “[We] speak to those who treat pets as a member of the family.”
Stratham-Newfields Veterinary Hospital has followed the pet insurance industry since they got started. Bailey and his wife have had insurance for their own pets since 1995 and got a group policy for their staff in 1996. They’ve consistently supported insurance but believed the first products on the market were in their own words, “woefully inadequate.” They wanted a product that functioned more like human health insurance for pets.
George has seen the industry develop from the ground up, and seen the impact it can have on a veterinary hospital when done right. We took a moment to talk to George about medical insurance for cats and dogs and how Trupanion Express is making a difference.
How has insurance made a difference in your practice?
It’s amazing, the difference it makes. Patients get better healthcare, and healthcare at an earlier point of intervention, which makes such a tremendous difference. Earlier presentation increases the number of positive outcomes and lowers the cost of care. We are able to intervene at an earlier stage and everybody’s happy.
The common norm is that generally there’s something we can do for the patient, but hanging over the entire discussion is “what’s it going to cost?” As a practitioner, when you present a diagnostic or treatment plan and affordability is not part of the discussion, it increases your level of confidence to provide the best care. You can ask, “What is best for Sophie? What will make her better again?” It’s a sea change when my doctors and nurses can take care of pets the best way, the most appropriate way. For over a third of our patients, the insured client is looking at us saying “we’ve already taken care of [the financial] problem. What do we need to do? What’s medically appropriate?” not “what’s financially possible?”
How does insurance make a difference to the staff at your hospital?
I think [financial strain] is a large part of the stress and depression known in the veterinary industry. It’s part of what causes veterinarians to have a higher than normal rate of emotional and psychological distress, they are constantly unable to provide appropriate and adequate care due to finances.
A big part of veterinary medicine is to limit care based on the budget of the client. It’s an ever-present weight. Vets may even change their messaging and pitch less than optimal care because they expect to hear “no.”
Insurance takes the burden off of the team, and it lightens the load. When you talk to clients with budget, you are better equipped to pitch the best treatment. You don’t “dumb down” care as a defense mechanism as you’ve been told “no.” What it’s done for my staff is immeasurable.
How did you find Trupanion Express? How is it changing the industry?
We were fully supportive of the idea of insurance but were never able to break an 8% adoption rate in our practice. It mostly had to do with dog and cat insurance never really catching up with the human model where you don’t have to pre-pay and get reimbursed.
It was 2013 and I was at a conference and I ended up meeting one the first five practices with the Trupanion Express pilot program. They said they were part of the direct pay study. When I realized that was out there, I lobbied and wanted to be one of the early adopters. We had communicated for years and understood the value, but we were now able to tell clients that they could use coverage just like their own and wouldn’t have to work through a reimbursement model. That really blew the whole thing wide open.
Once you can provide Trupanion Express, you can offer so much more. We moved insurance to the top of our list of what to discuss with clients and we now have a 35% adoption rate.
Do you think medical insurance for pets will become the norm?
Insurance has crossed the line from a nice thing to have to necessary to have. Almost anyone I talk to has a memory of a health issue with one of their pets where they were constrained by economics. I’ll ask, “Do you remember a time when this happened? Do you remember how you felt having to say no? So now, you have the ability to make sure you never have to feel like that again.” I think that’s tremendously valuable to people.
We understand their own health care intrinsically. This is an issue that we know, many just aren’t aware that it’s available for their furry kids. We have practices and practitioners that aren’t aware and in turn aren’t making clients aware. Getting pet owners to accept insurance is not a problem of trying to convince them. We just have to let people know it exists.
Insurance is not something you should expect to make money from. You should hope that you never have to use it. Many people relate health insurance to home or auto insurance, with the idea that you should not expect to use it. But the reality is, I may never have to use my home or car insurance, but I’ve never seen a cat without some major health issue at some point in their life. We all have health issues, even if we’re really lucky and they don’t happen until the end of our life. You will never not use it.
Pet ownership is changing and insurance is growing with it. I know that my lab’s birthday is tomorrow. This is the reality of pet parents in America today. We have these really bonded relationships with our animals. That’s what we do. That’s what Americans do now with their pets. How can you let them pick out a toy on their birthday and not have health insurance for them?
Any additional thoughts?
As a practice, we want to do more than end economic euthanasia. We want to end less-than-best treatment. If your kid broke their arm in a soccer game, you wouldn’t go to the hospital and ask if it was cheaper to amputate. Insurance is changing the way we practice medicine, and it holds incredible value.
The great majority in vet medicine is because we feel called to do it. It’s something we believe in—taking care of people’s pets. Talking about insurance is the biggest thing that we could possibly be doing for the health of dogs and cats.
Thank you, George, for taking the time to speak with us!