The steady climb in the number of female veterinarians has generated increased awareness of the unique health issues confronting women in the field of veterinary medicine. This broader understanding has, in turn, resulted in the AVMA Group Health and Life Insurance Trust introducing medical benefits designed specifically to address those issues, with a special emphasis on reproductive health.
"As the number of women veterinarians increased, so too did their representation on the GHLIT board of trustees," said Dr. Blair Hollowell, a GHLIT trustee, noting that the number of female plan participants increased by approximately 14 percent between 2008 and 2009 to 10,700.
"We walk in their shoes. We understand the unique workplace dangers they face, and we know the medical benefits they want and need. It goes beyond preventive benefits like mammograms and Pap smears, which, while important, only scratch the surface when it comes to protecting the health of women veterinarians."
Today, GHLIT makes available medical plans with not only maternity benefits but also infertility coverage—the latter of which is rarely available under individual major medical insurance plans outside that handful of states that mandate infertility coverage. A special program also is in place for women with high-risk pregnancies.
It was important for GHLIT to make these benefits available because reproductive health is a particular concern for female veterinarians. A study of pregnancies among female veterinarians in Australia, for example, found that occupational exposure to such hazards as radiation and pesticides could double the risk of miscarriage. The research appeared in the British Medical Journal: Occupational and Environmental Medicine in 2008.
Although the study's application to practices in the U.S. is limited, its findings do echo warnings issued by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health on reproductive risks in the workplace, including infertility and miscarriage. Among the relevant occupational hazards in veterinary practice are exposure to radiation, waste anesthetic gases, pharmaceuticals, mercury, bacteria, viruses, cats, animal bites, strenuous physical activity, and stress.
"Knowing the reproductive dangers inherent in any veterinary practice, it was important for GHLIT to provide our female plan participants with maternity and infertility coverage that goes beyond what is commonly available," Dr. Hollowell said. "In fact, in 2009 we extended optional maternity benefits to the student PPO plan."
GHLIT medical plans offer various levels of reproductive coverage that span fertility to delivery. The Trust's traditional and health savings account–qualified, high-deductible medical plans cover maternity expenses, whereas maternity coverage is an optional benefit under GHLIT preferred provider organization plans that must be specifically elected by participants. The Trust's traditional medical and PPO plans may also cover expenses related to infertility treatment, subject to certain dollar limitations.
For participants with high-risk pregnancies, GHLIT offers a maternity management program, which is designed to help reduce the risks of and costs associated with premature birth and complications of pregnancy. The program matches eligible plan participants with a nurse care manager, who conducts a full health and risk assessment and provides educational material and support throughout the pregnancy.
Information on GHLIT benefits is available at www.avmaghlit.org. New York Life Insurance Co. underwrites GHLIT insurance. Veterinarians and veterinary students can obtain more information—including plan details, rates, exclusions, limitations, and eligibility and renewal provisions—or find a GHLIT agent by calling the Trust office at (800) 621-6360.