Dr. Tracey Hageny had two good reasons for keeping the medical insurance she first purchased from the AVMA Group Health and Life Insurance Trust as a veterinary student, rather than switching to the plan offered by the practice where she works. First, the GHLIT plan covered the $2,500-per-month cost of the multiple sclerosis drug she needed to reduce the frequency of relapse. Second, her policy—including that critical drug coverage—would follow her wherever her future took her.
"I'm sure the practice policy is fine, but I didn't want to switch and find out that it wouldn't cover as much as my GHLIT insurance," said Dr. Hageny, who received the diagnosis of MS shortly after graduation. "My GHLIT medical coverage is also portable (and) that's huge. ... The unknown of whether or not I can get my medicine is stress-inducing, and stress is horrible for this disease. Not having that worry means everything."
A number of recent market and economic trends have made portability a highly desirable attribute of medical insurance. Portable health insurance is not tied to a particular employer, so it follows a veterinarian from one job to another with no change in coverage as long as premiums are paid.
For people who have pre-existing conditions, portability is especially beneficial because of the difficulties they may face in obtaining coverage as individuals rather than through an employer. In fact, the most recent Commonwealth Fund Biennial Health Insurance Survey found that 36 percent of adults between the ages of 19 and 64 who tried to purchase individual coverage were turned down or charged a higher premium because of a pre-existing condition.
The ongoing recession is another reason why portability is desirable. In a poll conducted in January 2009 by the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues, 5 percent of respondents said their practices had let at least one veterinarian go because of the recession, and 16 percent said layoffs were being considered.
Many veterinarians who lose their employer-sponsored insurance along with their jobs will find that obtaining equivalent individual coverage is cost-prohibitive. They may also face lengthy waiting periods or exclusion clauses when joining plans offered by new employers.
Finally, some veterinarians stay in positions that are not a good professional fit because they fear losing their health insurance. Worried that they will be uninsured or that any insurance they do obtain will be inadequate, many opt to stay in an unsuitable position.
When insurance coverage is not tied to employment, those scenarios may be preventable. By purchasing plans that are portable, such as those available through the GHLIT, veterinarians can maintain their coverage regardless of whether they change positions or leave employment to launch their own practice or pursue other opportunities.
"Portability puts control into the hands of the veterinarian," said Dr. Blair Hollowell, a GHLIT trustee. "It lets them purchase the coverage that is best suited to their personal needs—and keep that coverage no matter where their lives take them."
Information on GHLIT's benefits is available at www.avmaghlit.org. The GHLIT insurance program is underwritten by New York Life Insurance Co. For more information—including plan details, rates, exclusions, limitations, eligibility, and renewal provisions—or to find a GHLIT agent, call the Trust office at (800) 621-6360.