A new law has insurance carriers looking to claw their way into the pet market

Columbus resident Lisa Hathorn considered getting pet insurance for her King Charles Spaniel, Rosie, but the options she found were expensive.

After hearing about a new law expanding pet insurance from just property and casualty insurance agents to health and life, Hathorn figured she might soon find a better price with more coverage options than what she found.

On average, pet insurance premiums can cost $300 to $600 a year, depending on the type of coverage, the 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 costs of vet visits and medications.

“Financially, it wasn’t going to fit in the budget,” Hathorne said. “I think knowing more about the different plans they offer is something that will be important because I didn’t realize there could be so many different options.”

On Monday, Gov. Tate Reeves signed House Bill 2228 into law, establishing a legal framework for pet insurance to be sold in the state and expanding those licenses from property and casualty insurance to include health and life agents.

Cheney told The Dispatch that the plan to produce new pet insurance policies in the state came after several health insurance carriers expressed interest in expanding into that market. Pet insurance is a very lucrative opportunity for insurance companies in the state, Cheney said, while giving pet owners more options for local coverage and better regulations about what is covered by different carriers such as Aflac, State Farm and Nationwide.

“It will help those who want to get into that side of the pet health insurance business,” Chaney said. “You could buy pet insurance all this time without the bill we had, but it wasn’t highly regulated. You were kind of alone if you had a problem.”

These regulations may include training programs for health care agents to offer pet insurance, and insurers will have to disclose what they can and cannot cover regarding hereditary diseases, as well as specifically disclosing what disqualifies the pet from coverage, Cheney said.

The North American Pet Health Insurance Association’s 2021-22 report shows that pet owners nationwide spent about $2.6 billion on insurance and medical care and about 3.9 million pets were insured. which is a 28 percent increase over 2020. Cheney believes the Mississippi market can thrive as well.

“We’re not talking about a few million, we’re talking about billions of dollars,” Cheney said. “Let’s say you insure a million pets in Mississippi. The average cost of this pet was $400 per year, which translates into billions of dollars right away.

Local agents can enter the game
But deep-pocketed national insurance brands aren’t the only insurers to benefit from the new bill. Local agents in the Golden Triangle will have the option of obtaining a license through other carriers such as Aflac or Nationwide.

Brandt Galloway, managing partner at Galloway-Chandler-McKinney Insurance in Columbus and West Point, said his life agents may add pet insurance to their offerings after the law takes effect in July.

Brand Galloway

“Depending on who’s offering the coverage, we’ll be licensed for it as soon as they develop the product,” Galloway said. “I would assume that if any of these carriers started offering it, we would lose a relationship with them, we would be able to sell it.”

Jimmy Red

Jimmy Redd, owner of Redd Family Insurance in Starkville, said he would also be interested in expanding into the sector. However, he should do his due diligence before providing it.

“This is really new legislation,” he said. “I’m currently doing research to find out which media are the best for my customers, which media and products are the best. And anyone who wants to can call me and we can find out more.”

How it works with vets

Brittany Moore-Henderson

Brittany Moore-Henderson, a veterinarian and director of admissions and recruitment at Mississippi State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, said the clinics themselves typically aren’t involved with insurance companies. However, some companies may dictate which vet you use.

“As long as the customer is taking their pet to a licensed veterinarian, that’s all that really matters,” she said. “So it’s not so much that (insurance) will be taken at whichever clinic they go to. It’s more of a reimbursement issue.

Kate Duffy plays with her two dogs, Bruno, right, and Bentley, at the Lowndes County Soccer Complex Dog Park on Fifth Avenue North on Tuesday. Duffy, who has pet insurance, believes that with the passage of HB 2228, more people will have access to pet insurance coverage that 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 insurers to health and life agents. The bill takes effect on July 1. Grant McLaughlin/Dispatch Staff

Kate Duffy, who has insurance for her two dogs, Bruno, a miniature dachshund, and Bentley, a miniature Australian shepherd, said she gets her pet coverage through her renters insurance and pays about $37 a month to cover both. With the new law, she hopes more people will consider getting insured.

With her coverage, Duffy gets an annual vet checkup, three shots and 85 percent of her expenses covered after her deductible. When she took Bruno to the vet, the bill came to $220, but she got $150 back.

She said she hopes that with the new law, more people will consider getting pet coverage because it can save them a lot of money at the vet.

“I would say pet insurance is something that people don’t really think about,” she said. “Two months ago, Bruno got sick and it cost us about $600. So it was great that we had insurance because you don’t really know what’s going to happen.

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