Georgia Counties Extend Health Insurance to Pets

Some public employees and residents now get 25 percent off all types of veterinary services.

Flickr CC/The White House
While Washington has spent the last three years fighting over health-care reform for humans, several local governments have not only increased their coverage options for workers, they’ve extended benefits to other species as well.

Here’s the back story. Ross King, executive director of the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG), says that legislative advocacy has become “so contentious, so polarized” these days, that it’s been difficult to keep members. “Benefits,” he says, “have become an opportunity for associations to underscore the value they can bring members.”

For the ACCG, that has meant creating a new paradigm that supplements advocacy and policy work with civic engagement, leadership development and member services programs. For that last part, King says, “It was important to move into new areas of interest,” such as workers’ compensation, risk management, retirement services, retail discounts and, yes, health care.

The ACCG is one of seven state associations of counties to offer the Coast2Coast Rx card (the others are in Alabama, California, Illinois, Minnesota, Mississippi and Utah). Cardholders, which include both public employees and residents in participating counties, get 50 to 80 percent discounts on prescription drugs; dental, vision and hearing care; diabetes testing supplies; and lab and imaging services.

And, doggone it, 25 percent off all types of veterinary services. “I have to admit, that’s the one I wasn’t sure would have as much traction or interest,” King laughs. “But some key county officials made it clear they were very interested in that part and they marketed it.”

“One county manager told me that what really caught his eye was helping folks with pets,” adds Randy Hartmann, the ACCG’s membership services director, noting that approximately 35 vets in the state are currently participating.

As of October, about 15 of 159 Georgia counties were under contract with the Coast2Coast program. Three more contracts are pending, and 20 or so counties are reviewing the package. The program is entirely optional, and there is no charge for using the Coast2Coast card. But there can be substantial savings. The program was first rolled out in Augusta-Richmond County, Ga., in January, and according to Hartmann the savings from January through August totaled $377,371, or 59 percent, just from the prescription drug component.

Offering members consumer discounts isn’t really new for the ACCG. King says the association partnered with Verizon about six years ago to help members save on equipment and calling plans. That has been followed with deals on Dell computers, Enterprise rental cars and room rates at the Marriott Marquis in Atlanta. But the bigger shift toward a set of broader and deeper goals began in May 2010 when King became executive director. “That’s when we decided we needed a new strategic plan to be able to stand on the shoulders of our core strength, which is advocacy,” he says. “We wanted to add value in areas like training and lifelong learning programs.”

King was only looking to save on health care in general when the ACCG partnered with Florida-based Financial Marketing Concepts Inc., the company behind the Coast2Coast program. “Lo and behold, pet care was part of the overall plan,” he says. “It’s one more menu item we can offer to our constituents.” King himself has a pet -- a 2-year-old Labrador retriever -- but he hasn’t used the card yet. “I’m not sure if my vet is participating,” he says, sheepishly adding, “We also have a deal with a local credit union. I do use that.”

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.