AVMA GHLIT marks 50 years of service to veterinarians

Insurance designed for veterinarians changes with the times
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AVMA GHLIT 50th anniversary logoThe AVMA Group Health & Life Insurance Trust reaches a milestone this year, celebrating a half century of service to the veterinary profession.

The AVMA Group Insurance Trust was chartered Dec. 1, 1956, and began providing coverage to participants the following year. To differentiate the Group Trust from the AVMA Professional Liability Insurance Trust, now called the AVMA PLIT, the name was changed to the AVMA Group Health & Life Insurance Trust in 1986. Mutual of New York was the original underwriter and served the Trust until Nov. 1, 1991, when New York Life Insurance Company took over that role.

The Trust provides some unique advantages to its participants. First, as a self-rated participating program, premiums are based on the claims experience of participants and their families—no outside groups. Because there is no profit motive in the Trust, excess funds are returned to participants in the form of lower costs or improved coverage.

Second, the Trust is supervised by a board of trustees, all of whom are veterinarians and AVMA members. The trustees serve as a review board to represent participants' interests. They work with insurance professionals to design and manage plans that meet the needs of veterinarians and their families.

Former AVMA GHLIT Chair George Pickens devoted almost 25 years of service to AVMA members as a trustee of the AVMA GHLIT and AVMA PLIT. He's also been an AVMA member since 1959.

"We're unique in that the trustees are veterinarians serving veterinarians," Dr. Pickens said. "We're members of the same family, looking after the needs of our colleagues."

Originally designed to offer health, life, and disability insurance, GHLIT added new kinds of coverage through the years to meet the changing needs of participants. Some of the more recent changes include the introduction of the first medical preferred provider organization plans in 2001; 10- and 20-year-level term life insurance in 2004; and medical Health Savings Account qualified plans in 2004. Beginning in 2004, the Trust also arranged programs for dental and long-term care insurance for participants and their families. To respond to the changing demographics of the profession, GHLIT has made changes to its medical plans, including an optional maternity benefit and premiums based on gender.

The changing demographics of the profession are also reflected in the composition of the GHLIT board of trustees—four of the 10 current trustees are women.

One of the newer trustees, Dr. Carolynn MacAllister, has worked in a university setting for 24 years, which has provided her with a front row view of the profession's evolution.

"Within the next year, 50 percent of practicing veterinarians will be women," she pointed out. "The GHLIT is trying to be proactive to enhance our products for women. Here's what I'll be thinking of and working on: What can we do to enhance wellness for women?"

In particular, Dr. MacAllister views osteoporosis, skin cancer, and depression as high on the list of women's health issues.

Another new trustee, Dr. Blair Jones, agreed that the profession is "evolving in a direction that requires the Trust to evolve with it."

"I think the Trust has done a great job," Dr. Jones said. "My personal goal is to help steer the GHLIT in a direction that better suits the people it serves. I feel the Trust is obligated to constantly re-evaluate members and their needs, and be sure that New York Life is providing for those needs."

Dr. Pickens said, "The Trust has always tried to respond to issues members have brought forward—life insurance, for example, or disability, which is the best buy on the market in my opinion. The health plan is a good buy—the richness of the health insurance program is unsurpassed by any other carrier. I would encourage young practitioners to get as much protection as they can."

Dr. Thomas Freeman agreed. He's carried the insurance for 50 years. A 1949 graduate of The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, he initially purchased AVMA GHLIT health insurance for himself and his wife. Their three children were born under the coverage.

"The insurance has been excellent as far as we're concerned," Dr. Freeman said. "It's helped a great deal. What I would tell young graduates is, 'Health insurance is one of the most important things to get.' You can't practice like you should when you're worrying about hospital bills or what you'll do when the next baby is born. You need to put your mind at ease so you can do your job."

Another former and longtime trustee, Dr. Jack Dinsmore, devoted much of his effort as a trustee to meeting and talking with graduating students.

"We worked to get the program in front of the students," he recalled. "I was in every veterinary school every year, along with my colleague David McConnell, making presentations about group health and professional liability insurance.

"The most rewarding aspect was representing the member veterinarians and their needs. Our ability to be part of the decision making is satisfying."

As Dr. Dinsmore reflected on his career, the 1941 graduate of The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine was gratified by the amount of respect the profession has gained.

"Veterinarians are more compared now to the field of (human) medicine," he said. Dr. Dinsmore believes that the professional needs of veterinarians have also grown.

"Veterinarians today need all those things—a bank, insurance broker, financial adviser. The AVMA GHLIT has been very strong in providing a worthwhile service to members."

Dr. Pickens concurred that the business of veterinary practice is an important topic, and one that is now getting long-overdue attention. Veterinary schools and colleges have begun to offer instruction in that area. The AVMA GHLIT has also made the business of veterinary practice one of its priorities.

"In the last year of my term," Dr. Pickens said, "I saw trustees Dr. Jody Johnson and Dr. Ted Trimmer heavily involved in a mentoring program with a lot of the schools, emphasizing the business aspects of veterinary practice."

To help new veterinarians get started on a sound footing, AVMA GHLIT makes an outstanding offer to Student AVMA members at graduation: guaranteed issue of vital coverage, including health, disability, life, and accidental death and dismemberment, regardless of pre-existing conditions. Eligible dependents are guaranteed health and life insurance coverage.

The AVMA GHLIT is a key sponsor of the annual AVMA Veterinary Leadership Experience, a multiday curriculum designed to encourage a positive personal transformation among the participants from all 34 U.S., Canadian, and Caribbean veterinary schools and colleges. The program stresses the importance and relevance of balancing medical and surgical competencies with important life skills such as leadership, relationship building, collaboration, and work/life balance.

"The VLE program dovetails nicely with our commitment to wellness, prevention, and health education," Dr. Pickens said. "We consider the Trust to be a source of wellness information for our members, and we've also designed benefits to encourage members to take a proactive interest in their health."

The Trust also shows its commitment to wellness through its annual sponsorship of health screenings at the AVMA Annual Convention. Every year, hundreds of veterinarians and spouses take advantage of screenings, including blood chemistry profiles, lipid tests, hemoglobin tests, prostate-specific antigen tests, and rabies titers tests.

The health screenings are just one of the ways the AVMA GHLIT continually serves its participants. Dr. Jody Johnson, GHLIT director of member services, was a trustee for nearly 12 years and served as GHLIT chair for two terms.

"Our success has come about because the Trust has focused through the years on ensuring we met the ever-evolving needs of our members," Dr. Johnson said. "We plan to build on this success by continuing to ensure that we are enhancing our members' personal and professional lives by offering valued programs and services. Because of the Trust's ability to maintain its focus and relevance, we look forward to the GHLIT celebrating its 100th anniversary."

As stated, AVMA GHLIT insurance is underwritten by New York Life Insurance Company (New York, NY 10010), one of the industry's most respected names. Coverage lines include Medical Plans; Hospital Indemnity Plan; Short and Long-Term Disability Income Insurance; Life and Accidental Death & Dismemberment; Professional Overhead Expense Plans; a Basic Protection Package, which includes a rabies prophylaxis benefit; and Student Plans, which include medical, life, and disability. For more information, call your agent, or call the Trust office at (800) 621-6360.