Veterinary hospital revenues are being negatively affected by many changes brought on by the sluggish economy. To save money, people are using online pharmacies, mobile vaccine clinics, and spay and neuter clinics. The down side to this is that when your pet is sick, the cost of veterinary care will likely be more costly. Due to these increased costs, pet insurance will be more important than ever. With so many new pet insurance companies to choose from, it is important to do your homework and research which company and policy is best for you and your pet. The United States is lagging behind other countries in insuring their pets with only 2 percent of U.S. pet owners having pet insurance, compared to 42 percent in the U.K., 33 percent in Germany, 27 percent in Spain, and 23 percent in France.
The most common policies offered initially were for accidents, injuries, and/or serious illnesses. Today, preventative care policies are also available that will cover vaccines, heartworm and flea preventatives, prescription diets, and even dental cleanings.
While there are some similarities in pet insurance versus our health insurance, (deductibles, monthly premiums, waiting periods, pre-existing conditions, etc.) there is a huge difference that must be realized before you purchase a policy. In the human health care system, many doctors have a staff to file claims for you, and if there is a remaining balance, then you get a bill and pay the balance. This is not the case in veterinary medicine. In veterinary medicine, full payment is required at the time services are rendered, and then you submit the claim to your pets insurance company. After the insurance company reviews the claim, they will reimburse you for only the services covered minus your deductible and/or the percentage you are required to pay (co-insurance).
So how do you choose which pet insurance company and policy is right for you and your pet? Below are some questions to ask when researching these companies.
Are pre-existing conditions covered?
Are congenital/hereditary conditions covered for specific breeds? What are the waiting periods?
Is there a waiting period, and if there is, how long is it for both an illness and/or an accident (there may be different waiting periods for these)?
Is there an annual deductible or a per incident deductible, and what are they? Are there percentage choices for the annual deductible?
What are the per incident. lifetime, and/or the annual limits of the policy?
Does the policy cover wellness and preventative care like vaccines, dental cleanings, and heartworm and flea preventatives?
Does the policy cover prescription diets, and if so, for how long?
Is a physical exam needed for enrollment or renewal?
Are current medical records required for all claims?
Are there any advertising benefits and/or rewards if your pet is lost?
Is there a multiple pet discount?
Are the benefits a percentage of the veterinary bill or is there a limit to what will be paid for each diagnosis?
Are knee (cruciate) injuries and orthopedic repairs included? (Cost today at a referral practice is about $2500 to repair one cruciate ligament rupture.)
Are there age restrictions?
Can you choose any veterinarian?
Do premiums increase over time due to inflation or age of the pet?
Is there a monthly processing fee?
Are behavioral issues covered, and does the pet need to see only a board certified behaviorist?
Is cancer covered, and if so, what are the specifics?
Can the insurance company terminate a policy at-will?
How long does reimbursement take?
Are there optional add-on coverages (additional premium fees for hip dysplasia (hip replacement,) acupuncture, physical therapy, behavior training, transplants, cataract surgery?
Are dietary supplements covered and do they have to be FDA approved?
Are there extra charges for covering chronic conditions?
Is there coverage for aids or medical devices like carts (important for dachshunds)?
Is their coverage of illness or injury caused by another animal residing or cared for in the same household?
Are emergency and specialty services covered?
As you can see, there are a lot of questions that should be asked when researching pet insurance. Your veterinarian may have a pet insurance company that he or she recommends, but since there are so many today, it is important that you do your homework as well. Policies change all the time, so it is important to call or go on line to research the pet insurance policies at the time you are about to purchase them. A recent survey by the American Animal Hospital Association showed that 76.3 percent of veterinarians believed that pet insurance ensured better care for their patients and 62.3 percent believed that pet insurance led to fewer euthanasias.
Kim Donovan, D.V.M. is employed at Oakhurst Veterinary Hospital in Seminole. She has over 15 years experience. Her special interests include dermatology and feline medicine.