Media elites behind Dodo, NYMag, Vox stay silent as insurance partner Petplan slashes discounted coverage for vet professionals
This story has been updated to reflect that the AVMA provided an email response soon after publication through a spokesperson.
The blog best known for viral videos of rescue pigs, three-legged dogs, and swimming cats, The Dodo, is now partnered with a pet insurance company – Petplan — that is cutting costs by slashing coverage for veterinary professionals who seek care for their own pets!
Petplan, which formalized a partnership with The Dodo in late 2021 and has since rebranded as “Fetch By The Dodo,” is rolling out a policy exclusion that slashes coverage for veterinary professionals who seek care for their pets through their employers. Heavily discounted veterinary care by one’s employer is a standard employee benefit in the industry, which is why the exclusion targets veterinary professionals. If you are a licensed veterinary technician at a VCA or BluePearl veterinary hospital, this means your employer is Mars, which has a network of over 2,000 veterinary hospitals, which theoretically means you’ve just lost 2,000 hospitals from your coverage map (or that you’re about to lose them). Moreover, those are the hospitals where you have the employee discount.
The exclusion has already been approved by regulators in several states, including New Hampshire, Virginia, Illinois, Montana, Wyoming, and TCR is still determining the total number of states. The exclusion is not on its face intended to target any specific group. The exclusion seems intended to apply to anyone and, in fact, the first two exclusions – for care supplied by the owner of the pet or by a family member — are standard. It is the final exclusion, one’s employer, that’s unprecedented. TCR is not aware of any other pet insurer with such an exclusion. The reason is even more ironic, given Petplan’s new partnership with The Dodo:
Why Would Petplan Slash Coverage For Veterinary Professionals?
Are veterinary professionals not the people a pet insurance provider would want on its good side for client referrals? Actuary data shows that veterinary professionals tend to adopt “what we consider ‘lemons’ as their companions,” explained Margi Tooth, the President of Trupanion, a Petplan competitor which does not have the same exclusion. “What this inevitably means,” she added, “is that their pets have a higher rate of utilization than the average pet owner. There’s no conspiracy here – it’s a profession that can’t face putting a pet to sleep that could be saved – so when an owner walks in with a sick pet that they can’t afford to treat, they’re often adopted by the team in the hospital. These folks are heroes on many levels.”
Founded in 2014 by former PETA board member Isabelle “Izzie” Lerer, who is the daughter of Huffington Post co-founder and former Buzzfeed chairman Kenneth Lerer (Mr. Lerer was also a key member of AOL’s leadership), The Dodo is now owned by Vox Media, which acquired Ms. Lerer’s brother’s company, Group Nine Media, the former parent company of The Dodo. Vox Media also acquired New York Magazine in September 2019.
Ms. Lerer’s brother, Benjamin Lerer, the co-founder of Thrillst, sits on Petplan’s board of directors as Group Nine’s chairman (Group Nine is The Dodo’s parent company, which was acquired by Vox). According to The Wall Street Journal The Dodo-Petplan deal included an equity stake for Group Nine.
Petplan CEO Paul Guyardo refused a series of requests to comment as has his spokeswoman, Robin Shallow. Isabelle Lerer, The Dodo’s founder, has also declined to respond to emails sent to her personal address, including whether she supports Petplan’s policy exclusion impacting veterinary professionals. Brother Benjamin Lerer has also refused to comment. Jim Bankoff, Vox’s chief executive officer, has also refused repeated requests for comment (Vox is now the parent company of The Dodo), as has Vox president Pamela Wasserstein.
As TCR reported last year, Petplan’s Guyardo is the VC-installed CEO who replaced the company’s mission-driven founders, the Ashtons, whom investors forced out because they failed to deliver suitable profit margins.
Vets’ Group Stays Mum
More bad news for the veterinary profession: The organization one would expect to be most outspoken about the policy exclusion, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the largest trade association for veterinarians, also had no comment for this story. Neither Dr. Gail Golab, the AVMA’s chief veterinary officer, nor Isham Jones, the AVMA’s general counsel, answered requests for comment.
Shortly following publication, AVMA spokeswoman Lisa Howard provided the following statement in an email:
The AVMA is currently reviewing the exceptions and their potential impacts on veterinarians, other veterinary team members, and practices.