The Value of Pet Insurance

I have become a fan of pet health insurance. More clients are asking about the benefits and limitations of policies, and we have seen a number of pets receive care that the client would otherwise have not have been to provide. It is not a panacea for healthcare, and there are limitations, but understanding the available programs may assist you in keeping your dog or cat healthy for years to come.

Nearly every insurance plan works on a reimbursement basis: the client receives a bill for the veterinary services and pays the bill with a credit card or other means. The client then processes the claim with the insurance company, which reimburses the client either through a checking account deposit or by mailing a check. In special cases the insurance company may reimburse a veterinary hospital directly, but such an arrangement must be made with the veterinarian and the insurance company in advance.

What’s covered? It depends upon the insurance carrier selected and the plans offered. Most plans cover accidents and illnesses that occur after the insurance is purchased, and several have wellness components. When evaluating the plans, check to see if pre-existing conditions are covered and whether there are breed or hereditary-condition restrictions or age-of-enrollment maximums. Ask if there are waiting periods. Several plans have a two-week waiting period before coverage is effective, and most restrict the coverage for hip dysplasia or knee problems. Remember, this is insurance, and the companies want you to enroll before there are problems.

There may be a maximum age at which you can enroll your pet. But a pet enrolled before said age may have the policy renewed for life. This helps keep the pool of healthier pets larger, pushing down the overall costs of the insurance plans.

Reimbursement for accidents or illnesses will generally include the exam fee, bloodwork, X-rays, medications, treatments, hospitalization, and surgery. Many plans even include rehabilitation services and alternative medicine modalities such as acupuncture or laser treatment.

You must navigate pre-existing conditions carefully. Read your pet’s full medical chart for any prior findings of abnormalities. If your pet has had a knee problem or skin disease or upper-respiratory infections, you may not be reimbursed for such problems in the future. Some companies will review your pet’s medical records in advance and detail any problems with coverage. I highly recommend such a service, especially if your pet is older or has had issues in the past.

Differences exist among plans. Some are comprehensive and cover everything, others only illness. Most plans have an annual deductible and possibly an annual or lifetime limit that is paid by the insurer. Ask what the deductibles are and if there is a per-incident or per-disease or per-condition deductible or reimbursement. It is usually best to avoid per-incident deductibles as these can limit the amount paid out, even if you meet your standard deductible. For example, the company will only pay $2,000 for a condition, but the actual bill is $3,000. You are left paying the difference. It is also important to be certain that, so long as you keep the policy in good standing, chronic conditions that develop while insured will continue to be covered every year.

Several companies offer wellness endorsements to their policies. There are disadvantages to wellness plans, but if you know how to navigate them you can save yourself a few dollars. They pay up to a certain amount for routine vaccinations, heartworm testing, preventives, and dental procedures. A wellness plan works like a health savings plan: you put money in, and any payout is larger than what you put in, usually by 20 percent.

Although we don’t endorse a specific company or plan, we are happy to chat with you about insurance and your pet. Research what plan is best for you and your friend and feel free to ask us for advice.