Examining the rising cost of equine health insurance

Examining the rising cost of equine health insurance

The debate on why costs are increasing goes on, but is there a solution?
Feb 01, 2012

The topic of rising healthcare costs and concerns about who will pay has dominated recent social, economic and political discussions. The veterinary field is not immune to similar concerns, and the rising cost of equine health insurance is emerging as a significant problem.

Why is the cost of insurance rising?

Advances in technology such as nuclear scintigraphy, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), digital radiography and ultrasonography now offer clinicians many newer, more sophisticated modalities to choose from when pursuing a diagnosis. Advances in surgery and medicine—including the rapidly expanding field of regenerative medicine—provide an ever-expanding number of treatment options as well. Colic surgery is offered at many more clinics nationwide. Treatments such as stem cell injections, platelet-rich plasma therapy, tiludronate injections, shock wave therapy, thermography and others are all more readily available and increasingly used. These positive advances and options in equine veterinary healthcare should be a plus for horses and their owners, but it is precisely this increased level of care that is being blamed for the rising cost of equine insurance.

Increased levels of claims and increased costs of treatment are largely responsible for the ever-increasing premiums for horse insurance, according to the KBIS Guide to Riding and Sport Horse Insurance. KBIS is one of the leading equine healthcare providers in Britain. Cornish Mutual, another major British equine insurance agency, agrees and cautions that "veterinary treatment fees are pushing up the price of horse insurance premiums with the increases well ahead of the retail price index (RPI) at approximately 7 percent per year." Similar concerns are being voiced in equine communities worldwide, with some countries feeling like the increases are nearly out of control. According the KBIS guide, the veterinary fees often exceed the value of the horse.

Client demand as a factor

While no one questions that veterinary fees for equine health care are increasing, the reasons are multifactorial, and some practitioners, such as Doug Thal, DVM, Dipl. ABVP, of Thal Equine LLC in Santa Fe, N.M., thinks it is time that this issue is fairly addressed.

"Any service provided by modern and well-equipped equine veterinarians is costly," says Thal. He further explains that it is clients who have led the way toward increased offerings of veterinary diagnostic and treatment options, but it is these same clients who often seem uncomfortable with the reality of what that care costs.

"The trend toward specialization and expensive services in private practice is driven, to a great extent, by better-informed horse owners who demand the best healthcare for their horses," Thal says. These specialty equine practices require costly equipment, facilities and support staff.

Alan Goddard, managing director of Cornish Mutual Insurance Company, also acknowledges the increased level of care now available for horses and directly links this care to increasing insurance premiums.

"We are seeing a definite rise in the cost of treating a horse for lameness or injury," Goddard says. "Improved techniques and equipment mean that horses can get the very best treatment, but of course that comes at a high cost—bills often run into thousands of pounds."

The average cost of an insurance claim in Britain, including veterinary fees for treating an ill or injured horse, is about the equivalent of $2,325 U.S. dollars, according to the British Equestrian Trade Association.

"There are top-class referral centers, equine hospitals and universities available now for the treatment of horses," Goddard says. "And while some costs have come down because surgical procedures and equipment are becoming more common, an MRI scan of one limb, for example, can still cost between 600 to 800 pounds ($900 to $1,250), and colic surgery will cost in excess of 3,000 pounds ($4,500)."