Health insurer including veterinary telehealth for its Medicare Advantage members with pets | News

CHAMPAIGN — Your pet may be a member of your family, but health insurers who cover people generally draw the line at covering your four-legged companion.

One local insurer is making an exception for the pets of its Medicare Advantage members.

Health Alliance Medical Plans was honored recently by the Human Animal Bond Research Institute for providing fully paid access to 24-hour veterinary telehealth to its Medicare Advantage members with pets.

Studies have connected pet ownership with such health benefits as increased opportunities for exercise, less loneliness and anxiety, improved cognitive function in older adults and decreased blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“What we really found from a health plan perspective is that social isolation is real and it impacts a person’s health and well-being,” said Jana Perry, vice president of strategy and marketing at Health Alliance.

Perry said Health Alliance began providing 24-hour veterinary telehealth services this year for pets through whiskerDocs to its Medicare Advantage members in Illinois, Indiana and Iowa.

Skokie-based whiskerDocs makes veterinarians available to advise pet owners by phone, email or chat.

Medicare beneficiaries are often on a fixed income, and help through whiskerDocs may be helping some avoid a trip to the veterinarian, according to Perry.

“Again, it’s all around the well-being of the individuals,” she said.

Perry said whiskerDocs nominated Health Alliance for the Human Animal Bond Innovation award it received.

The Human Animal Bond Research Institute recently presented three awards, with the one going to Health Alliance in the product and services category.

The awards recognize innovative programs to advance the human-animal bond and help create a more pet-friendly society, according to the Human Animal Bond Research Institute.

Perry said some Health Alliance Medicare Advantage members may have overlooked the launch of the whiskerDocs service in their annual enrollment information, so the company plans to mail information about it to members soon.

“We want to make sure people are aware of the service,” she said.

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