New law has insurance carriers looking to get paws in pet market

Columbus resident Liza Hathorn is considering getting pet insurance for her King Charles Spaniel Rosie, but the options she finds are expensive.

After hearing about the new law that expanded pet insurance from just real estate and casualty insurance agents to health and life, Hathorn thought he could find better rates soon with more coverage options besides what he found.

On average, pet insurance premiums can cost $300 to $600 per year, depending on the type of coverage, type of pet, and how many pets are covered, according to Mississippi Department of Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney. Pet insurance policies reimburse pet owners for a portion of the cost of vet visits and medications.

“Financially, it’s not going to fit into the budget,” Hathorn said. “I think it’s important to know more about the different packages they offer because I didn’t realize that there could be so many different options.”

On Monday, Governor Tate Reeves signed House Bill 2228, setting out the legal framework for pet insurance to be sold in the state and expanding that license from property and casualty insurance to include health and life agents.

Chaney told The Dispatch that plans to create new pet insurance policies in the state came about after several health insurance carriers expressed interest in expanding into that market. Pet insurance is a very lucrative opportunity for insurers in states, Chaney said, while also giving pet owners more options for local coverage and better regulation of what various carriers like Aflac, State Farm, and Nationwide.

“This will help those who want to get into the pet health insurance business,” said Chaney. “You can buy pet insurance all along without the bills we have, but it’s not strictly regulated. You’re kinda on your own if you have a problem.

The regulations could include training programs for health agents to offer pet insurance, and insurance companies must disclose what they can and cannot cover regarding hereditary conditions, as well as explicitly disclose what disqualifies a pet from coverage, Chaney said.

The Pet Health Insurance Association of North America’s 2021-22 report shows pet owners across the country spent an estimated $2.6 billion on insurance and care, and about 3.9 million pets were insured, a 28 percent increase from 2020. Chaney believes the market in Mississippi can thrive as well.

“We’re not talking about a few million, we’re talking about billions of dollars,” Chaney said. “Say you insure a million pets in Mississippi. The average pet cost is $400 a year, that’s going to be billions of dollars soon.”

Local agents can get into the game
But the deep-pocketed national insurance brand isn’t the only insurer benefiting from the new bill. Local agents in the Golden Triangle will have the opportunity to obtain licenses through other operators such as Aflac or Nationwide.

Brandt Galloway, managing partner at Galloway-Chandler-McKinney Insurance in Columbus and West Point, said his life agency can add pet insurance to their offerings once the law goes into effect in July.

Brandt Galloway

“Depending on who offers the coverage, we will get the license as soon as they develop the product,” Galloway said. “I would assume that if one of those carriers started offering it that we would lose our relationship with them, we would be able to sell it.”

Jimmy Redd

Jimmy Redd, owner of Redd Family Insurance in Starkville, said he is also interested in expanding into the sector. Still, he needed to do his due diligence before giving it away.

“This is really a new law,” he said. “I’m doing research right now to find out what carrier is best for my client, what carrier and product is best. And anyone who wants to can contact me and find out more.”

How it works with the vet

Brittany Moore-Henderson

Brittany Moore-Henderson, a veterinarian and director of admissions and recruiting at the Mississippi State University School of Veterinary Medicine, says the clinics themselves don’t usually get involved with insurance companies. However, some companies may specify which vet you use.

“As long as the client takes their pet to a licensed vet, that’s all that matters,” she says. “So not that much (insurance) is taken at any clinic they go to. It’s more of a replacement thing.

Kate Duffy plays with her two dogs, Bruno, right, and Bentley, at the Lowndes County Soccer Complex dog park Tuesday on Fifth Avenue North. Duffy, who has pet insurance, believes with the passing of HB 2228, more people will have access to pet insurance coverage, which was previously limited to property and casualty insurance agents in Mississippi. The bill establishes a legal framework for selling pet insurance in Mississippi and expands insurance carriers from property and casualty insurance to health and life agencies. The bill goes into effect July 1. Grant McLaughlin/Dispatch Staff

Kate Duffy, who has insured her two dogs, Bruno, a mini Dachshund, and Bentley, a miniature Australian Shepherd, says she receives her pet coverage through renters insurance and pays about $37 a month to cover them both. With the new law, he hopes more people will consider being protected.

With his coverage, Duffy received an annual health check at the vet, three shots and 85 percent of his expenses were covered after deductible. When he took Bruno to the vet for a checkup, his bill totaled $220, but he received $150 back.

He said he hoped that with the new law, more people would consider getting pet protection because it could save a lot of money at the vet.

“I would say that pet insurance is something that no one thinks about,” he says. “Like two months ago, Bruno was sick, and we had to pay $600 for that. So it’s great that we have insurance because you don’t really know what’s going to happen.”

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