If your post-graduation career plans involve working in small animal general practice, there’s a decent chance that you may someday find yourself dealing with wellness plans. In fact, a 2015 survey found that 20% of veterinary practices surveyed offered wellness plans, although the exact number seems to fluctuate from year to year.1
When you think of wellness plans, you might immediately think of Banfield. While they are a major provider and proponent of wellness plans, they certainly aren’t the only ones! Other corporations, including VCA and National Veterinary Associates (NVA) also offer wellness plans in many of their hospitals. Privately-owned practices are also increasingly offering wellness plans as a service to their clients, to increase compliance and provide clients with financial options.
Having a basic understanding of wellness plans can be a big help you as you begin your career. If you’re considering working a practice that offers wellness plans, understanding these plans can help you determine whether you would be comfortable recommending them to your clients. If you do end up working in such a practice, an understanding of your practice’s specific wellness plan offerings is essential in order to educate your clients about this option.
What is a wellness plan?
A wellness plan is a package of preventative care services, on which a client makes monthly payments. The cost of each included service is added up and, in many cases, a slight discount is applied to the overall package price. This annual price is then divided by twelve, in order to arrive at a client’s monthly payment.
While clients often receive a slight discount on their preventative services by participating in a wellness plan, and there may be other perks, it’s important to understand that a wellness plan is a payment plan. A wellness plan is not pet insurance; it’s a payment plan for preventative care services.
Do clients have options when selecting a wellness plan?
Client options depend on your practice. Most practices offer several levels of wellness plans for both dogs and cats, so clients can choose the option that is most appropriate for their pet and budget. For example, a wellness plan designed for young adult dogs might include vaccines, annual heartworm testing, fecal flotation (1-2/year), deworming (1-2/year), and an annual CBC/chemistry. A wellness plan designed for older dogs might include all of the above, in addition to an annual dental cleaning with pre-anesthetic bloodwork. These wellness plan options are usually summarized in a client brochure.
Are wellness plans similar to pet insurance?
The most common client misconception about wellness plans is that they function similarly to insurance. This could not be further from the truth!
Wellness plans are designed to cover a defined list of preventative health services. While they may offer additional perks (such as free or reduced-cost physical exams and/or discounts on other veterinary services), they offer little significant benefit for most pets with an illness or injury. Additionally, wellness plans are only accepted at a single veterinary clinic or corporation. Pets in an emergency situation may need to go to an emergency clinic or other general practice; their wellness plan will offer no benefit in that situation.
If a client wants coverage that will help their pet in the case of illness or injury, their best option is pet insurance. There is little overlap between a wellness plan and pet insurance, so many clients choose to enroll their pets in both a wellness plan and pet insurance.
Are clients “locked in” to a wellness plan for an entire year?
Remember, wellness plans are a payment plan. While you can typically cancel your health insurance, car insurance, or pet insurance at any time and forego future coverage, wellness plans are not as simple. The client is paying for a specific set of services and, in most cases, those services have already been provided when the client decides to cancel their plan. Cancellation policies vary by practice but, in general, clients who cancel their plan before the end of the year are still responsible for paying the cash value for the services they received.
What are the advantages of wellness plans?
As a veterinarian, the biggest advantage to treating pets on wellness plans is the fact that preventative care has already been paid for. When the pet’s exam, vaccines, and recommended laboratory tests are all covered by the wellness plan, the client doesn’t have to pay for these services at the time of their visit and compliance is higher. You can spend more time focused on the patient and less time trying to persuade clients to authorize recommended services. Clients often like the ease of budgeting that comes with wellness plans.
What are the disadvantages of wellness plans?
Working at a practice that offers wellness plans is not without its headaches. The biggest frustration is that clients often don’t understand how wellness plans work. This can lead to clients becoming angry when they are required to pay for services that they expect to be covered under the plan.
Other potential downsides of wellness plans vary by practice, but may include pressure to reach a certain number of wellness plan enrollments per week and the impact that wellness plan patients have on your production/compensation.
Like anything in life, there are pros and cons.
Wellness plans have their pros and cons, from both a client and veterinarian perspective. On the plus side, wellness plans improve client compliance and help clients with budgeting. However, despite what many clients may think, wellness plans aren’t pet insurance. In the rush to sign pets up for wellness plans, especially in very busy practices or practices that use wellness plan enrollment as a measure of employee success, this fact can sometimes be glossed over. When talking to clients, it’s important to provide a balanced perspective and correct these common misconceptions, in order to ensure that clients truly understand the plan before enrolling. This isn’t just the ethical thing to do, it will also decrease future headaches that can stem from frustrated clients!
1. Hauser, W. 2017. Wellness Plans Make Great Business Sense. Today’s Veterinary Practice. Retrieved from: https://todaysveterinarybusiness.com/wellness-plans-make-great-business-sense