Veterinarian-Turned-Insurance-Pro Sees Practitioners Thriving But Stressed

The country’s vets weathered the pandemic better than many companies. Many have been able to keep their practices up and running from the start and have not had to worry about lost income as is the case with restaurants, gyms, and other business owners.

Veterinary practices have been busy since the beginning of the pandemic. Many are doing very well financially.

But all of this good news doesn’t mean veterinarians shouldn’t worry. It didn’t stop their insurance company from worrying about them either.

“I seem like the first person you turn to when you have a liability problem.”

Dr. Edward Branam, DVD, is concerned that veterinarians have been under increasing stress since the pandemic began and are currently more stressed than ever due to the increased workload and staff shortage. The stress is on top of the usual business stresses and bites, escaped animals, employee injuries, or care complaints that veterinarians may be exposed to in the course of normal operations.

Branam knows his way around the field of veterinary medicine. He is a specialist in internal medicine. He completed his residency at the University of California at Davis, attended veterinary school in Michigan and practiced for several years until, as he puts it, “went to the insurance giant”. He is a Certified Insurance Counselor.

Since 2001 he has headed the veterinary and animal services division of Safehold Special Risk, a subsidiary of the international insurance broker USI Insurance. Officially, he is Vice President and Head of the National Veterinary and Animal Insurance Program. Branam and his Safehold team provide veterinarians and veterinary clinics with property and liability insurance and risk management including workers’ injury, property liability, professional liability, business income and other coverage.

Edward Branam, DVD, CIC

His work as a veterinarian reassures insurance customers. However, Branam jokes that he might be better off if he had a law degree. “I seem like the first person they turn to when they have a liability problem,” he said.

Small interruption

Its customers asked about business interruption insurance claims at the start of the pandemic when businesses closed. “The first thing they did, of course, was to reach out to us and ask us. We had some “uncomfortable conversations” about it because our customers had no idea what to expect financially in the future, ”he recalls.

The worry did not last.

Early court rulings confirming insurers’ exclusions for COVID-related loss of income helped lower expectations, according to Branam. The veterinary industry was also declared an essential business early on, which made it possible to reopen. That allayed their concerns, and those early business loss discussions quickly subsided and never resurfaced.

“When looking back on 2020 and now 2021, most of them have had record years behind them. Loss of income is really not the most important thing for them, ”said Branam.

(An Insurance Journal search of the business interruption litigation database managed by the University of Pennsylvania Law School found no cases involving veterinarians.)

For veterinary practices, like any other business, “just about everything came to a standstill” in the first few weeks of the pandemic, Branam said. Many veterinary practices only performed emergency operations at an early stage. “The practices were basically just triaging and dealing with the most critical cases,” he said.

Branam’s clients have told him that their case numbers have “universally exceeded” their previous experience and that a large percentage of cases are from new pet owners.

“But then the floodgates opened very quickly,” beginning with veterinary practices being classified as essential businesses and allowed to be reopened.

There have been various media reports that Americans took a pet adoption tour during the pandemic and that the demand for veterinary services has increased as a result.

Branam said his clients told him that their case numbers “generally exceeded” anything they have ever seen, and that a large percentage of cases are from new pet owners.

However, the American Veterinary Medical Association says that while veterinarians are busier than ever, this is not necessarily due to a boom in pet adoption. In fact, adoptions from animal shelters hit a five-year low in 2020, the group reported. AVMA Chief Economist Matt Salois told VIN News in early August that while new customers certainly add to the workload, the surge in activity has more to do with lagging existing customers, staff turnover and lower productivity due to COVID logs.

Read: Vets Are Tired, understaffed, and burned out

An industry tracker of more than 4,100 practices from AVMA and analyzes from VetSuccess showed that visits increased by 4.3% over the past year, while sales increased by 13%. Both fell in January and then peaked in April of that year.

Branam believes that its customers’ stress levels are being driven not only by increasing case numbers but also by decreased productivity due to COVID-19 security measures and chronic staff shortages across the industry

Implementing the COVID-19 protocols and health and safety agency guidelines slowed the patient process, according to the veterinarian who became an insurance specialist. Initially, the practices only let customers go to their parking spaces and then sent an employee out to fetch the animals. More and more practices are now letting customers hand in their pets, but then ask them to wait outside. This eliminates the need for an employee in the parking lot, but does not allow communication with the customer during the check. Many customers are now allowing their pets into the examination rooms again.

Branam says that in addition to the COVID inconvenience and inefficiencies, adequately staffing has been and remains a “huge” challenge. “There is obviously a shortage of veterinarians,” he said, but the shortage extends to licensed veterinary technicians, receptionists, kennel staff and others as well. He said the talent deficit was before the pandemic, but not as much as he sees it now.

More: Animal shelter in the face of human personnel problems

AVMA job data backs up claims that the industry is not attracting enough employees. AVMA found that the veterinary industry’s unemployment rate remained below 1% during the pandemic, although it rose to 15% nationwide. Although there were more veterinary practice vacancies in 2020, the unemployment rate for veterinarians did not change.

Branam claims that likely every veterinary journal has at least one article on mental health, burnout, or compassionate fatigue as the primary concern of the profession. “The end result is the case load compared to the workforce and superimposed with COVID, and the stress level is extremely high in most practices,” he admits.

He said, as would be the case in any profession, the harder, longer and faster zookeepers work, and fewer people help, the “greater the likelihood of both errors and omissions and injury to patients and / or staff”. . “

He said he has indeed seen a “slight increase in the number of professional indemnity and license offenses” and is closely monitoring workers’ compensation.

Labor Practices

He is also aware that the current environment has the potential to encourage liability claims related to labor practices, also because he sees his customers working longer with fewer employees. He said liability premiums for employment practices, as well as deductibles, have increased.

“In a small business where there just aren’t any extra staff, it becomes very easy to overlook breaks and lunches and things like that that come back and cause you problems in the future,” he said.

“I spoke to many practices that had their best year ever, and not only new, but also very established practices in 2020.

Cyber ​​risk is becoming an issue in the veterinary industry, as it is everywhere. “Veterinarians are no more immune to these pressures than any other small or medium-sized business,” he noted.

As a division of large brokerage firm USI, Safehold has a cyber advocacy for its business owner’s standard policy and the Banam team has access to other insurance and cybersecurity options for its veterinary clients.

Like many other policyholders, Branam’s clients are struggling with rising property insurance premiums, although he said they are not rising as fast for veterinarians as it seems for other companies.

The prices for professional liability insurance have also come under pressure since COVID. But here, too, Branam said that he had not yet seen any great migrations. “I assume that prices will rise to some extent in the relatively near future. If not in 2021 then definitely in 2022, ”he added, noting that these will be linked to the additional number of cases customers see each day.

Finally, he said that for the most part, the veterinary industry compensation market is still “relatively” soft and holding up well.

“This is a big surprise for me. I thought when certain states issued mandates, COVID claims would be considered workers’ compensation claims unless there was clear evidence that they came from elsewhere, “he said.

When asked if there are a lot of account shifts between different programs or insurers these days, or if the insured stay there, Branam replied that the practitioners are so busy and understaffed that unless they have “any negative experiences” with theirs Insurance broker or your insurance company, they have no need to change.

They also make money. “So there is no financial downward pressure to say, ‘Hey, we have to save somewhere.’ I don’t think that’s really a priority for many of them at this point. “

Branam found that he oversees more startups these days, including many new mobile practices. “We’ve helped more young vets get their first mobile practice adoption insurance policies, whether it’s working from the back of their car, pulling a trailer, buying an RV, or whatever I’ve seen in 20 years. ” he said.

He has also seen more private practices being sold than in the past 20 years. “I think it’s just a fact that so much money is being pelted at practice owners that their financial advisors are basically telling them, ‘You’re crazy if you don’t take this,” “he calculates.

All in all, 2020 was a good year. “I spoke to many practices that had their best year in 2020 and not only new, but also very established practices,” commented Branam.

In addition, many practices appear to be getting even better in 2021 and the years ahead.

“It’s a huge growth industry,” he continued. “I’ve had colleagues who said to me, ‘If you go out of business now, you have to try.’ If you can’t make money with a veterinary practice, you’d better buy a tent and move into the desert. “