Medical/surgical coverage has become a larger and larger expense for insurance companies. The reason for this is threefold.
More and more people now are accustomed to expecting high-quality medical and surgical aid for their horses and are requesting
this help from their veterinarians, Kean says.
Veterinary research has developed many new drugs, tests, treatments and procedures that now are available to clients. The
insurance companies must pick-up the cost of these new advancements.
Finally, horses now are living longer. William Harris, agent for the Harbins Equine Insurance Agency, says longer-lived horses
result in companies paying out fewer death claims during the life of a policy compared to 10 years ago. But medical and surgical
claims made during the average horse's lifetime have definitely increased.
Kean estimates that colic and non-surgical lameness now comprise up to 60 percent of the equine claims made. Because these
lameness cases often include nuclear scintigraphy, and more recently computed axial tomography scans or magnetic resonance
imaging, the overall costs incurred have increased dramatically, and insurance companies have had to increase their rates
Timber in your eye
Unfortunately, veterinarians also might be contributing to the growing cost of non-surgical lameness treatment. Both Kean
and Harris agree that the same degree of thoroughness in today's general lameness examinations does not exist.
"New tests have made it quicker and easier for some practitioners, especially more recent graduates, to simply observe the
horse move, do a flexion test or two, and then send the horse off for expensive diagnostics," Harris says.
Less time and effort is delegated for localization of the problem and previously effective, but low-tech, diagnostic methods.
"I hope this tendency toward incomplete work-up and quick referral by some veterinarians does not continue," Kean adds.
Serious equine diseases are affecting insurance policies, too. Most companies depend on input from primary veterinary researchers,
clinical studies and regional practitioners before specific policies are instituted. Each disease is evaluated individually,
and specific exclusions may be made on a regional basis (such as with Potomac horse fever in certain states), on a breed or
discipline basis (such as with Lyme disease in Morgans in New England) and specific vaccination protocols may be required
as well (such as with West Nile virus). As new information is received and evaluated, policies may change.
"The goal is to reduce the number of death benefit payments and to make someone's decision easier to seek proper treatment
for (his or her) horse," Harris says.
Insurance companies recognize the veterinarian's role in making this goal possible even though there might be times when that
role is difficult. Better communication between veterinarians, insurance agents and underwriters can make this goal more easily
attainable and might provide better, less-expensive policies for horses even as conditions in the world of equine insurance
continue to change. This change ultimately would benefit veterinarians and the clients they serve.
For archived articles from this author, click on Equine/Marcella at
Dr. Marcella, a 1983 graduate of Cornell University's veterinary college, was a professor of comparative medicine at the University
of Virginia. His interests include muscle problems in sport horses, rehabilitation and other performance issues.