The Making – and Unmaking — of Forbes’s Insurance Rankings

 

Quotation MarkWhat an honor!” Brian Macias, the president of Embrace Pet Insurance, posted to his LinkedIn page.

Macias
Brian Macias, president of Embrace Pet Insurance, celebrates Embrace’s #1 Forbes ranking with his 5,000+ followers.

Indeed, it was. 

letter About a year ago in September of 2021, a relatively obscure pet health insurance company with less than ten percent of the total U.S. marketshare according to Willis Towers Watson, an insurance advisory firm that provides proprietary research and data, began to celebrate a major endorsement from a global financial news institution. 

Forbes, the venerable financial journalism brand and website, had ranked Cleveland, Ohio-based Embrace Pet Insurance the number one pet insurance carrier in the magazine’s first-ever insurance rankings, presented as “America’s Best Insurance Companies for 2022.”

“In order to determine which companies qualify as America’s Best Insurance Companies,” Embrace Pet Insurance president Brian Macias proclaimed to 5,908 followers on Linkedin, “Forbes partnered with Statista to survey more than 16,000 customers and get their feedback on insurance company performance across eight metrics including overall satisfaction and whether they would recommend them to family and friends.”

“Embrace’s commitment to its customers is receiving national attention,”  the company’s November 2, 2021 press release declared, “with the company  recently awarded the top spot for pet insurance on the Forbes list of America’s Best Insurance Companies 2022.”

The 2022 rankings are no longer online – more on that later – so TCR is providing screenshots and an offline PDF version here:

  • In September 2021, Forbes published its first-ever rankings of “America’s Best Insurance Companies” for 2022, including a pet insurance sub-category

  • Forbes’s 2022 insurance rankings are no longer online, including its pet insurance rankings.

rankings forbes
1. Embrace 2. Petfirst 3. PetPremium 4. AKC Pet Insurance 5. Pets Best

2023 Insurance Rankings Abandon Pet 

pet insurance rankings
As this story was being completed, we discovered that the 2022 pet insurance rankings had been removed from Forbes’s website entirely following a final inquiry we sent to Forbes CEO Michael Federle with the senior editors copied.
Chief of communications Bill Hankes acknowledged that the 2022 rankings had, indeed, been removed, saying that this was standard when a new version is produced of the same material, citing the Forbes 400.
However, the example does not quite apply in this case: There are no new pet insurance rankings.

The rankings may have been published over one year ago in the fall of 2021, but Embrace’s Facebook page continues to feature the Forbes “#1” badge prominently.

One aspect of the relationship not mentioned anywhere by Embrace is the fact that Embrace paid Forbes a licensing fee for what Forbes refers to as a “badge.”

There was a lot to celebrate, to be sure, not the least of which is that the Forbes rankings produce a Google search bonanza, calling attention to the ranking whenever someone searches for pet insurance.

Again, Embrace could not only brag about being ranked number one by a global financial news brand. It also could take advantage of the two notable absences among Forbes’s five top ranked pet insurers: the two leading insurers who control at least half the market, Nationwide and Trupanion. Both companies told TCR through their spokespeople that Forbes did not approach them at any point during the production of the rankings. (Nationwide, coincidentally, dominated the rankings in other insurance categories, but in the pet insurance category, Nationwide Pet Insurance, formerly VPI, had apparently been outranked by 16,000 U.S. citizens.

According to market research firm IBIS World, Petplan and ASPCA are the third and fourth-largest pet insurance providers. The four – Nationwide, Trupanion, Petplan, and ASPCA Pet – had 84 percent of the pet insurance market in 2020, according to IBIS.

I’m surprised [Embrace] made #1 because every time I tell people I have Embrace, they haven’t heard of it,” Katie Gonzalez wrote last December in a comment she posted to a pet insurance Facebook group discussion of Forbes’s rankings. To be fair, Ms. Gonzalez also said that she was most satisfied with her experience thus far with Embrace: “I’ve had Embrace for 11 years and no complaints. Their policy has covered everything that life has thrown at us,” she added.

Perhaps, but customer satisfaction in this kind of survey does not explain Nationwide’s absence given its dominance of the market share of an already uniquely small market.

Embrace Facebook banner
Embrace FB page banner touts the company’s Forbes #1 ranking.

One aspect of the relationship not mentioned anywhere by Embrace is the fact that Embrace paid Forbes a licensing fee for what Forbes refers to as a “badge.” What’s a licensing fee? Based on a cursory glance at Forbes’s website, revenue generated from licensing fees appears to be a substantial portion of the company’s book. “Showcase your accomplishment by utilizing the logo…” Forbes’s sales pitch teases would be licensees, followed by a list of examples of how a business might consider leveraging a “Forbes #1” logo: “In print and digital marketing, On your company website; In social media posts; With PR campaigns…” Forbes is emphatic that nobody can buy his or her way on to a list, but there’s a problem with dismissing the financial transaction, which is that it constitutes a conflict of interest that would require disclosure in other contexts.

TCR takes the position that the press has a special obligation to be transparent, in  order to be credible, which is why proactive disclosure of potential conflicts would seem appropriate in this regard. In other words, if the badge fees are irrelevant and have no influence on the editorial results, why not be proactive about making readers aware that the company ranked #1 purchased a badge?

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“Thank you to the pet parents who decided it and our amazing team members who make it so!” Brian Macias of Embrace exclaimed on his LinkedIn account.

Accompanying Embrace in Forbes’s pet insurance rankings were PetFirst at #2, PetPremium at #3, AKC Pet Insurance at #4, and Pets Best at #5.

Forbes’s Rankings vs. What We Know About the Market

 In email exchanges (for supporting materials such as emails exchanged between TCR and story subjects, see below by scrolling to the bottom  of this document) between The Canine Review, Forbes’s Vice President of Licensing and Syndication Douglas Lopenzina, and researchers at Statista, the firm Forbes engaged to do the survey,  we pressed for an accounting of the results which seemed bizarre, at best. The notion that the explanation was data-driven seemed ludicrous. 

Statista analysts Jowita Grala and Felix Kopel, whom TCR was able to reach for comment before Forbes “pulled the plug” (their words) were emphatic that the rankings are objective and that insurance companies are unable to influence the results. 

“The list is based on an independent survey from a vast sample of over 16,000 U.S. citizens spread across the nation,” Grala, a Statista analyst, told TCR in an email.

“Companies have no possibility to influence the results, as only registered online panel respondents are able to take part in the survey using a unique, personalized link. Their answers are then subjected to various qualitative checks. This is a procedure that we have been using successfully for years for various consumer surveys. In this way, we create top lists for various areas together with Forbes and other renowned media partners. 

Once the ranking has been finalized, we contact the awarded companies and inform them about the distinction and the possibility to purchase the logo for marketing purposes. Of course, even if the company rejects the offer, it still remains in the ranking.”

   Where’s Nationwide???

Centrally at issue in our inquiry was Nationwide’s absence from Forbes’s pet insurance rankings despite the presence of a particularly obscure company called PetPremium which had somehow earned Forbes’s #3 ranking despite not even selling insurance by the time TCR began reporting this story last October 2021.

Spokespersons for both Nationwide and Trupanion, Karen Davis and Michael Nank respectively, confirmed to TCR that neither company had been contacted by Forbes regarding the 2022 pet insurance rankings.  Both company spokespersons also confirmed to TCR that neither company had been contacted at any point about Forbes’s 2023 rankings, which abandon the pet insurance category. 

The pet insurance category in the United States is still relatively new. Just under three percent of U.S. households buy pet insurance and of that small percentage (compared to 25% in the United Kingdom), Forbes’s survey-based rankings somehow produced five results that do not match any products in the top five for the market, including critically two companies in the #2 and #3 spots – PetFirst (now MetLife) at #2 and PetPremium at #3 – the latter of which is especially obscure.

PetPremium was no longer operating as an insurance product when we started reporting this story in October 2021, just after Forbes listed it as #3. However, a wide body of industry market research indicates that those brands are, indeed, lesser known than Nationwide and Trupanion, the two leaders in the field in terms of market share.

If Statista’s first question, for example, to those surveyed is to ask them which companies they have heard of, it would seem that Nationwide and Trupanion would get a sufficient number of mentions.

Statista analysts noted that the companies do not need to file any kind of request or application to be included. When asked why they thought the two leaders in the market would not be included in the rankings while more obscure companies are included, Grala wrote:

“The ranking is created on customer satisfaction and recommendation. Market share is not a relevant metric in this ranking. The list with pet insurance brands that received enough votes is longer. That is why Nationwide and Trupanion are not featured in the Top5.”

Ms. Grala’s answers did not address our questions about PetPremium’s presence on the list.  No consumer or pet industry participant with whom TCR spoke for this story during the course of nearly a full year of reporting had heard  of PetPremium with the exception of two people, both currently working in the industry. When TCR reached out directly to PetPremium about policy availability, a representative responded by email, “We are not offering enrollment for any pets at this time.”

At one point in our back and forth before they were barred from speaking to us, the Statista analysts revealed that there was a minimum requirement of 50 respondent mentions of a brand for the brand to be considered in the survey.

But if that meant that the first question to those surveyed was to ask them which companies they have heard of, how could it be that Nationwide and Trupanion had failed to get a sufficient number of mentions?

 

Pay To Play Runs Wild

Our reporting on a product which Forbes purports to be purely data-driven raises alarming questions about the landmines consumers face when they endeavor to research products using popular online search engines, like Google. 

Consider the deluge of unabashed “pay-to-play” rankings and review websites that appear at the top of search results when one searches for “best pet insurance” on Google. Notably, among the top results are “consumeradvocate.com” and “consumeraffairs.com,” both seemingly intended to impersonate Consumer Reports, whose search results are nowhere near the top. 

Consider the saturation of advertising on social media for aggregate sites such as “Pawlicy” and “PetInsuranceUniversity” along with the fact that many veterinarians and consumers often mistake these websites for dispassionate, objective journalism. There are no depths to which the marketing tactics of the pet insurance industry will not sink, and the unaccountable, unregulated marketing practices in the industry is largely what attracted this reporter to  this story.  There’s pet.valuepenguin.com/router; moneyinc.com/best-pet-insurance-companies/; top5.com/reviews/best-pet-insurance; and the list goes on forever.  Why would there be a pet insurance review sub-section for “This Old House” ? Where is the Federal Trade Commission and why is it any mystery why consumers have apparently given up on trying to navigate a product with so many pitfalls and so much abuse in an industry that already has a bad name?

The Mystery of PetPremium:

How did a company no longer selling insurance get #3 in Forbes’s insurance rankings?

On its Facebook page, PetPremium describes itself as “a pet portal that supports you in every step of your pet parenting experience. We provide you with many reliable services, products, information and quality articles…” However, pet health insurance is not among those service offered by PetPremium. How had this entity been ranked the number three pet health insurance carrier by more than 16,000 Americans?

PetPremium

When TCR contacted the address on PetPremium’s website to inquire about policies, a customer service representative responded, “We are not offering enrollment for any pets at this time.” Had so many customers for a product that this company does not sell really mentioned Pet Premium as a top choice?

PetPremium’s parent company, according to its website, is Crum and Forster, the same company that administers and underwrites insurance for ASPCA Pet Insurance, Spot, and Prudent Pet. Crum and Forster declined repeated requests to comment when asked about PetPremium’s presence on Forbes’s list. Edward Navarro, who is listed as the current CEO of Florida-based PetPremium, reached by telephone, declined to speak when asked to explain PetPremium’s presence on Forbes’s list, saying he would only speak on background. One piece of information Mr. Navarro did provide on record is that he recalls – but insists he cannot be sure – telling whomever approached him about the insurance rankings that PetPremium was going in a “different direction” and would no longer be selling insurance policies.

Mr. Navarro declined to discuss anything else. Crum and Forster also declined comment through spokesman Travis Reynolds.

In Pursuit of Any Explanation for PetPremium’s #3 Ranking

Still unable to understand any possible motivation an entity or individual would have for placing PetPremium as the number three ranked pet insurer if the company was not even issuing policies,  we continued to pursue this line of questioning for months. Finally, an executive with an online insurance brokerage now competing with PetPremium who would only speak on background and not for attribution offered his theory: the reason someone would want to list PetPremium would be to generate foot traffic to PetPremium’s website. It made sense in theory, but why would Forbes’s editors believe nobody would question how the rankings were produced and how PetPremium had earned the #3 ranking? petpremium

Now an online brokerage and referral site, PetPremium needs brand awareness. This, one industry stakeholder hypothesized, is why the company would seek a spot on Forbes’s pet insurance rankings.

Forbes Muzzles Partner Statista

When TCR continued to press the Statista team over email for an explanation for PetPremium’s presence on the list, among other peculiarities, Statista  suggested a conversation over Zoom. It was around the same time that Forbes’s press office was alerted to our reporting and canceled our interview with Statista.

Quotation MarkWe shouldn’t have pulled the plug on your interview w/Statista (or at least someone from Forbes),” communications chief Hankes wrote later in December 2021.

“So I’m sorry about that. As you know we partner w/them like many other media companies and we should be able to speak to the data and the methodology ourselves….We’d like to try and make up for that,” he continued, and “get you on the phone this afternoon w/ the editor who oversees these lists, Diane Brady who’s an Assistant Managing Editor, and me.”

Cutting us off from Statista is especially notable given what a Forbes’s vice president for licensing and syndication, Douglas Lopenzina wrote:

“The answers relating to the statistical data and survey results that lead to inclusion of a particular company on a ranking will have to come directly from Statista. They can better answer any questions related to specific companies that may or may not appear on a ranking,” he added.

As this story was going to press, TCR, again, pressed Forbes CEO Michael Federle and the editors for clarity and to confirm that they remain undeterred in their decision to decline to provide even a summary of the data upon which they based the pet insurance rankings last year. 

Forbes’s partner, Statista, had scheduled a Zoom interview which we want to emphasize because there was never any point at which the Statista analysts tried to evade our questions, even if the answers they were providing us were insufficient if not creating more questions.

Jason Bisnoff, the reporter whose name appears in the byline of the 2022 rankings, has since left Forbes – he declined to comment when asked if his departure was related in any way to the insurance rankings and Bill Hankes would only say that Bisnoff left “recently” when we inquired about his byline which was now listing Bisnoff as “Former staff” as early as August 2022.

Diane Brady, the assistant managing editor with whom we spoke in late December for a telephone interview, continued to decline to discuss any aspect of the “deep dive” that the magazine had supposedly undertaken in light of TCR’s inquiries. Even though Ms. Brady stated several times during our interview that she believed the questions TCR was raising were legitimate, referring to the inquiries multiple times as “red flags” which necessitated a “deeper dive,” neither she nor Mr. Hankes would discuss any such diving endeavors, or the basis of the magazine’s later statements to TCR that Forbes stands by the rankings as published and why Forbes declined to make any changes or updates to the rankings.

Forbes: U.S. News Ranks Embrace Highly, Too

“I’m not sure what you’re point is about Embrace,” wrote Forbes’s communications chief Bill Hankes, “but I’m sure you noted that they have been ranked highly on other lists as well, e.g., U.S. News & World Report.” This answer was puzzling for several reasons, chief among those being that the rankings Mr. Hankes refers to places another relatively obscure product called Spot at #1. U.S. News has disclaimers on its website acknowledging potential financial conflict (s) of interest because of its affiliate revenue model (publisher gets paid a commission for products sold to consumers coming from publisher’s URL).  There’s an important distinction here for consumers to be cognizant of, which is what a publication is purporting to be. Mr. Hankes characterized the rankings as an “editorial” product in emails and multiple times during the interview. This is consistent with how the product appears, which is seemingly unvarnished, objective, dispassionate: data-driven and journalistic.

Quotation MarkMy kids gave me a ‘world’s best dad’ medal on my birthday last week…”

– Embrace president Brian Macias, comparing Embrace’s #1 ranking by Forbes to a “World’s Best Dad” medal from his kids

#1 in Forbes—like “World’s Best Dad” Medal

forbes

Embrace’s president Brian Macias declined repeated requests to provide the dollar amount the company paid Forbes for its winning badge or discuss the presence of #3, PetPremium, which, again, was not an insurance carrier at the same time we began reporting this story in October of 2021.

We appealed to Mr. Macias by asking him about Embrace’s core values of being “open and honest.” Asked if he would disclose the fee Embrace paid for the badge as well as the point at which the fee is first mentioned – was there any discussion at all prior to learning of the #1 ranking? – Macias continued to decline our requests for comment. He also did not respond when asked if he thought it was misleading to use the ranking in marketing materials without disclosure of a financial relationship.
The response Mr. Macias did offer was surprising: he drew an analogy between a #1 Forbes ranking and a “World’s Best Dad” medal from his kids.

Here are my final thoughts for you re: our recognition from Forbes and Statista…

My kids gave me a “world’s best dad” medal on my birthday last week. I have two similar trophies from them from years past. I’m not overly versed in the criteria for the win, how many dads they considered, nor why my neighbors and friends weren’t ranked along with me. Overall, I intentionally strive to be the best for them I can possibly be. I’m sure I often fall short, but overall, I know I care a lot and work hard. As such, I’m happy to accept and display those trophies and that medal proudly. In a world with 7B other people, depending upon the criteria, I’m confident their are other great dads out there, too.

We’ve shared the criteria shared with us from Forbes and Statista. Like my dad accolades, I’m happy to accept and proudly display their results. We’re a company filled with people who care and work hard. Over 15 years, our clients share their pleasure with us through surveys, rankings, adding more pets, and renewing their policies. We have an underwriter rated as A+ by AM Best. So with all other indicators pointing to us delivering a great experience, I’m happy and proud to accept the award from Forbes and Statista. It seems in line with our other gauges.

We’re proud to have hundreds of thousands of pets and pet parents who trust us to protect them. There’s about 83 million more who don’t have any pet insurance at all. That to me is the story! Whether through Embrace, or any of our reputable competitors, I believe all pet parents are better off with our industry, our products, and our services. So that’s where our time and effort are focused.

The industry has real opportunities to innovate, to increase awareness, to increase satisfaction, and to increase the number of folks who don’t have to choose between financial hardship and the best care for their pets.

Consumer Liaison Says Embrace Pet President’s Answer is “Non-Sensical”

Reacting to Mr. Macias’s analogy between Embrace’s number one Forbes ranking and a number one Dad medal, Brendan Bridgeland, a consumer liaison at the Center for Insurance Research called Mr. Macias’s example “non-sensical:

Quotation MarkThe #1 Dad [medal] example is non-sensical, because there is no commerce transaction attached. You aren’t trying to sell anything using that [medal], so there is no misleading or deceptive conduct.

However, if you tout the award – saying I’m the number 1 Dad – in order to get someone to invest in your new daycare business, then there is a financial harm. You are using that to get money from someone else, and that is a problem under consumer protection laws which prohibit unfair and deceptive conduct. There is no fraud for having a [medal] sitting on your desk. When you use that [medal] to falsely obtain money from investors is where a problem arises.

“Embrace Pet Insurance did not pay to be a part of the list,” Embrace spokesperson Sara Radak told TCR in an email. She added: “The only payment Embrace made to Forbes was after the ranking was independently determined and published. The fee was for the license to use Forbes’ brand assets to share our win; which is customary in these types of awards.”

‘We Stand Behind the Results’

After “pulling the plug” on the interview with Statista, Forbes eventually agreed to a telephone interview instead with Forbes’s assistant managing editor Diane Brady and communications chief Bill Hankes. 

The interview in late December 2021 lasted more than one hour, but it yielded little insofar as filling in the blanks. Ms. Brady stated, several times, that she was not directly involved in assembling the data or in producing the rankings, but that the questions TCR was raising appeared to be reasonable. Therefore, she said, Jason Bisnoff, the reporter whose name is in the byline of the rankings, had been asked to go back and do a “deeper dive.” 

Quotation MarkIt’s another red flag you raise, so he’s looking into it…He’s got the raw data and he’s looking at it.”

Diane Brady, Forbes Assistant Managing Editor (12/23/2021 interview with TCR)

“In all honesty, I’m not the person who did that list,” she explained. “With things like pet insurance, I think Jason [Bisnoff, a Forbes reporter who is now listed as “Former Staff” in his byline] is taking a closer look at the data. He’s the one who wrote about the insurance company ratings. And so, I think he’s basically doing what, you know, it, it’s another red flag you raise, so he’s looking into it. And it’s not, you know, this, this is the sort of thing we do with our lists all the time is we go through–my understanding when I spoke to Statista about it is that they were in business at the time that the research was done. But, I’d see, uh, you know, again, the deeper dive is something– he’s got the raw data and he’s looking at it.”

However, Forbes continued to decline TCR’s requests for access to Statista, as well as to Bisnoff, the reporter. 

Brady and Hankes both declined repeated requests to explain PetPremium’s presence in the magazine’s insurance rankings. Brady would only answer that they “reached out to Statista.” Forbes declined repeated requests to allow TCR to speak with Bisnoff, the reporter.

“Statista presents us with a very elaborate spreadsheet with all this data,” Ms. Brady said of the data which Forbes declined repeated requests even to summarize for us.

For weeks after that conversation, TCR continued to follow-up with Brady, Hankes, and Bisnoff. We pressed them for any information about the “deeper dive” Brady referred to throughout our interview but declined to provide any details about. 

We were still in the dark as to how people were selected for the surveys, for example. Brady would only continue to say TCR’s questions were “completely legitimate,” and continue not to answer them. “I hope you don’t feel like we’re obstructing you in some way, because it’s actually been – Jason has gone back to Statista and said, ‘Look, I need to do a deeper dive on this.’ Because, you know, you’ve raised these issues…[Statista] presents us with a very elaborate, you know, spreadsheet with all this data. That he’s [Jason] now going through. So, I think it’s, I think it’s fair for you to ask the questions. I mean, the whole goal here of these things is to make people smarter about the choices that they make. Like that’s-That’s why we do it.”

Back in January, Brady had also written an email to TCR that appeared to contradict our discussions in which she had said, repeatedly, that the rankings had red flags and that required that deeper dive:

“Jason forwarded your email. I just want to confirm that, as I said during our conversation, we took another look at the ranking and can confirm that the data and methodology are sound. There are no red flags, and we stand behind the results.”

Asked for the basis of standing behind the results, Forbes’s editors refused to elaborate.

Another Badge, Another Survey, Another Ranking

endorsement
Trupanion celebrates #1 ranking

In September 2022, Trupanion, a major competitor of Embrace, began celebrating a new endorsement across its social media platforms, too.

Trupanion's new marketing hire celebrates a DVM360 endorsement.
Trupanion marketing celebrates a DVM360 endorsement “from veterinarians across America.” In fact, 1,000 vets participated and nowhere here or on any official Trupanion platform is there a disclosure about Trupanion’s payment to DVM360 to license a badge.

Unlike Forbes’s pet insurance rankings,  the results of the DVM360 survey touted by Trupanion is consistent with what we already know from other similar survey data. And DVM360 offered a thorough accounting of how it got its numbers. In fact, the data is published whereas Forbes’s editors would declined even to provide a summary of its data or even the data upon which PetPremium’s ranking was based.

(For full email exchanges between TCR and DVM360, see PDF index beneath this story and “DVM360.”)

Here is how DVM360 responded to TCR’s questions with the caveat that it took nearly a month of incessant requests for comment from nearly every person having anything remotely to do with the publication before we were able to get the information, although that response is not unusual in this kind of reporting work:

Kim Scaffidi, a paralegal and contract manager with DVM360, wrote the following:

This is our first year publishing this survey data. They survey was conducted independently by Healthcare Research and Analytics (HRA). None of the manufacturers/providers of the products included in this year’s survey were aware of the survey until it had been concluded. While Trupanion is an advertiser on dvm360®’s media channels and of our live events, their previous investments were not tied in any way to this survey and its results. Once Trupanion was notified of their ranking, we mutually agreed to the license of our badge and claim (as shown in your email).

As far as methodology, HRA conducted an online quantitative survey targeting companion animal veterinarians for the purpose of determining which products they recommend for their patients. The sample was nationally representative covering the 5 US regions (Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, Southwest, and West) to subscribers of DVM360 veterinary publications. Veterinarian responses were voluntary and incentivized with a sweepstakes drawing for a chance to win one of two $500 VISA gift cards OR one of five FETCH Conference 2022 passes (valued at $500 each). A screener was used to ensure that all respondents qualified to participate in the survey. The median completion time of the survey was between 10-15 minutes.

Ms. Scaffidi added: “For each category in the survey, the respondents were given several choices as well as a free text field where they could enter their choice when it was not a given option.”

Trupanion CEO Darryl Rawlings told TCR that he believed that DVM360’s survey was legitimate and that Trupanion had won the survey, even offering TCR recent market research to substantiate it. For this reason, he asserted, the badge was not deceptive in any way. He also said that if he thought for a moment that Trupanion was engaging in deceptive marketing practices, he would personally intervene. We’ll hold him to that. 

Unlike Forbes, DVM360’s survey published the data  (seen above) on which the results were based. Ironically, it was TCR’s reporting and vetting of the survey that alerted Trupanion to the fact that data was publicly available. In other words, our checking process went well for Trupanion. Moreover, the results in the DVM360 survey showing about 50% of veterinarians favor Trupanion is consistent with other survey results including recent proprietary data provided to TCR to corroborate the DVM360 survey. Finally, DVM360 also answered our questions in full with the exception of the dollar amount paid for the badge Trupanion is now displaying on its social media platforms.

survey results

Disclose The Payments

Still, neither insurer disclosed to consumers that the badges were purchased. And, when asked about the badges by TCR, again, neither insurer would disclose the amount paid. Most important, neither insurer discloses anywhere on any of its platforms to its audiences that the badges were purchased. But let’s be clear: the blame here is mostly on the media publications who provide the platforms and sell the badges, making the decisions to forego certain ethical standards for revenue. And, equally to blame are lawmakers for a totally ineffectual regulatory environment, which we were going to address in this story until we realized that story needed its own server. 

No Surveys, No Badges

It’s also worth noting that Consumer Reports absolutely forbids entities from using its logo. Here is their policy:

Objective, impartial testing, reviews, and ratings lie at the heart of consumer choice—and at the heart of Consumer Reports. Since our founding in 1936, Consumer Reports has had a no commercial use policy restricting the use of its name or its content in advertising. This stemmed from a belief we still hold today: that consumers should enjoy the full context of our information and not hear about our ratings and reports through the language of salesmanship.

cr

Despite its high standards, there is a downside to Consumer Reports if you’re shopping for pet insurance: The magazine has largely avoided the category entirely with only an article comparing different carriers in 2010 followed by an article about the utility of the product, itself, in 2020. “If you don’t want to pay for pet insurance, consider starting an emergency savings fund for pet care instead,” the magazine says. With the cost of veterinary rising exponentially, no informed discussion of pet insurance in the United States should still be exploring the bank account or “rainy day fund” concept as a viable payment plan for veterinary health care.

The New York Times axes its pet insurance rankings, too

And, at The New York Times, we noticed that Wirecutter, the review site The Times acquired several years ago, is also not a source for ranking insurance carriers, although Wirecutter had ranked pet insurers in the past. By the way, Trupanion was ranked #1 by Wirecutter before those rankings were pulled down.

Asked about the apparent removal of The Times’s pet insurance rankings, the paper’s longtime standards czar Philip Corbett, whose official title is “associate managing editor for standards,” declined to speak for this story. Linda Zebian, a spokesperson for The Times, said in an email:

Quotation MarkWe updated the article to be more of a service piece rather than naming the best pet insurance. Our rationale is explained in the article under the heading, “How to find the right insurance for your pet.” It states, “Previously, we recommended Trupanion, Healthy Paws Pet Insurance, and Figo Pet Insurance to our readers, and we still think those are good insurance providers to consider. However, their prices and coverage varied wildly depending on your location and the specifics of your pets, so we couldn’t recommend them for most people.”

U.S. Pet Insurance Regulatory Work Inches Along

The Times’s restraint is admirable and not without basis, especially considering how relatively new the pet insurance industry is in the United States. Although the first policy was sold in 1982, the first significant piece of legislation for the pet insurance market was only completed this past summer – yes, as in 2022, after a three-year drafting process. Moreover, it’s model legislation which means it must now wait for states to take it up, one by one.

Perhaps a more encouraging developing is this  draft of new reporting requirements for pet insurance carriers.

This week, a newly formed NAIC group will meet to continue working on it. If this seems too far into the weeds, step back and ask yourself if Americans love their dogs less than people in other countries. If we all agree it’s unlikely that Americans are not exceptionally hateful towards dogs and, instead, perhaps the reason for America’s less-than-3-percent population of insured pets has to be something about the nature of the U.S. pet insurance market, let us consider the regulatory environment, or lack thereof:

A continuing absence of basic data reporting requirements is one more reason the pet insurance market is a less transparent, accountable environment for consumers today than most other insurance categories, making one’s chances for successfully navigating a Google search – and we hope this story has demonstrated the perils of “best pet insurance” search results – especially bleak. Because, here, we have a publisher purporting to be a pure product of objective survey data and journalism. If Americans can’t trust survey data, whom can they trust? Logic would seem to suggest that the answer is that the market is not transparent and, therefore, untrustworthy, which may explain at least in part, the trouble the industry is having with selling it to American consumers, already cynical from their collective experience with America’s broken private sector health insurance market for people.

Forbes Pulls Down Pet Insurance Rankings — Without a Replacement

But there is a sign that Forbes has since thought the better of its foray into pet insurance. In yet another follow-up email conversation about one month ago, Hankes, the Forbes communications chief, told TCR that pet insurance would not be in the 2023 insurance rankings. He declined to provide a reason, except to say that some categories fail “to get traction.”

Then, as this story was being completed, we discovered that the 2022 pet insurance rankings had been removed from Forbes’s website entirely following a final inquiry we sent to Forbes CEO Michael Federle with the senior editors copied.

Hankes acknowledged that the 2022 rankings had, indeed, been removed, saying that this was standard when a new version is produced of the same material, citing the Forbes 400.

However, the example does not quite apply in this case: There are no new pet insurance rankings.