My 16-year-old cat, Oliver, was diagnosed with cancer last month. It’s been a trying time for our family, as we work to get him the best treatment possible. Fortunately, Oliver has veterinary pet insurance to help cover some of the medical costs. But as we worry about our sick family member, we’re also worrying about how to navigate the byzantine nuances of the insurance industry—the deductibles and maximum payments, what’s covered and what’s not, and how many treatments are considered a single “incident.” As someone who is owned by five cats, this real-world experience has me thinking about how much consumers would benefit from public policies that provide some basic oversight of this fledgling pet insurance industry.
My cat Oliver, who is also pictured in my blog photo.
That’s why I was disappointed to read that California Assemblyman Mike Villines, R-Fresno, who is running for the statewide Insurance Commissioner post, used time during his speech before Republican Party convention-goers this weekend to take some jabs at his opponent’s pending legislation to improve disclosures to consumers of pet health insurance. “I love my dog,” Villines said. “But that’s not the biggest issue for the state of California.”
The bill he was chiding? Assembly Bill 2411, authored by Assemblyman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento, and likely headed to Gov. Schwarzenegger’s desk. AB 2411 would—for the first time—require basic disclosures about any exclusions, coverage limits, and benefit schedules to consumers who are considering the purchase of pet health insurance. Not only is such information critical to accurately assessing and comparing competing plans, but it serves to reduce the confusion and oftentimes heartache associated with having a sick pet.
According to the 2009-2010 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association, 62 percent of U.S. households own at least one pet, up from 56 percent in 1998. In 2010, APPA estimates that nearly $13 billion will be spent on veterinary care and another $11 billion on non-food supplies and medicines for pets. Americans spend more on their pets than they do on movies, recorded music, and video games combined.
Several insurance carriers offer pet insurance plans—ranging from all-in policies covering most routine wellness and emergency veterinary care to catastrophic/emergency only plans—and many offerings in between. Advances in veterinary medicine are providing more and better options for treating diseases and other medical conditions, and are limited in their ability to extend our pets’ quantity and quality of life only by the ability of pet owners to pay for treatment. Pet insurance plays a vital role in bridging any gaps between the desire for treatment and the financial means to pay for it.
AB 2411 is as an opportunity to put California out in front of the growing market for pet insurance, which is already growing by some estimates by as much as 45 percent per year. Pet owners who seek insurance as a way to help mitigate the cost of veterinary care deserve adequate disclosures when making their purchase decisions—not only so they can evaluate competing plans and prices but also so they are not caught flat-footed when they receive less coverage than they may be anticipating due to confusion about how the insurance product works. The last thing anyone involved in a veterinary medical emergency needs is to get embroiled in a protracted battle over who owes whom what.
This bill is supported by the insurance industry. It’s supported by humane organizations. And it’s supported by consumer protection groups. In the legislature, this bill has garnered support from Democrats and Republicans alike. In fact, Sen. Mark Wyland, R-Carlsbad, is managing the bill on the Senate floor this week. It’s a bipartisan and commonsense solution to a problem facing many California families.
We’ve heard it before from opponents of animal welfare: that lawmakers should give up on lawmaking unless they’re tackling the big issues of the day. But elected officials should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time, and should be able to pass laws that help their constituents, even while they struggle over budgets, the economy, and top-tier policy issues.
And we know that animal welfare is not the domain of either political party. There are leaders for animals on both sides of the aisle, and both the U.S. Congress and the California legislature have bipartisan animal protection caucuses. Despite the leadership shown by members of their own party, it seems that some GOP members like Villines are intent on poking a thumb in the eye of animal loving voters, whether they are Democrats, Republicans, or Independents.A similar jab occurred last month, in response to the widely condemned shooting of a pregnant cow who was mishandled at the California State Fair, when the California Republican Party issued a statement making light of the tragedy and even suggested that inaction on the state’s budget justified the incredibly bad judgment exercised by fair and veterinary officials involved in the incident. I can’t put it better than SF Weekly reporter Peter Jamison did in his article, “Republicans tastelessly milk cow-shooting controversy”:
Cracking wise at the expense of innocent barnyard beasts killed under tragic circumstances might not seem a sure way to win the hearts of mainstream California voters. Yet that's exactly what communications officials at the state's Republican Party headquarters managed to pull off last week, with a bizarre press release that has pointlessly pissed off animal lovers—some of them elected Republican officials.
It’s time to put partisan politicking aside, and pass commonsense animal welfare reforms that appeal to voters of all political stripes. AB 2411 is just one of those policies.
Update: 7:00 p.m. PST – I’m pleased to report that the California Senate approved AB 2411 today by a vote of 27 to 9, with support from a number of Republican lawmakers. Once the Assembly concurs with amendments, this bill is off to the Governor.