Thinking About Getting Pet Insurance?

By Jeanne Breneman

Medical insurance for animals has been available in the U.S. since the early 1980s, and it has become increasingly popular in recent years. Pet owners are now looking at pet insurance a little differently than when the concept was new. It’s no longer about protecting an investment; it’s about protecting the health and well-being of a beloved family member.

In California, pet insurance companies are required by law to clearly disclose such information as coverage limits, deductibles, exclusions, reimbursement, and pre-existing condition rules. These laws were put in place to help improve transparency in the pet insurance industry in the state. Not all states have this consumer protection currently, but there are efforts underway to standardize many aspects of pet insurance nationwide.

Fun fact: Did you know that the first U.S. policy was written by a subsidiary of Nationwide Insurance on a dog playing TV’s Lassie? That was back in 1982!

Medical insurance for pets is increasing in popularity in tandem with the increasing expectations of pet owners when it comes to the health care of their pets. Veterinary medicine has become more sophisticated, right along with human medicine, making advanced medical procedures and drugs for pets available. Insurance helps pet owners afford access to these treatments. Another factor is that the current shortage of veterinarians right now is driving the cost of veterinary care up. Projections indicate this trend will continue. At the same time, more competition in the pet insurance industry has resulted in competitive pricing, and more choices in policy types and coverage. 

Medical insurance for your pets is something you might want to consider if any of the following are true for you:

  • Your pets are family.
  • You would like to be able to provide your pets with whatever medical care they need without it being cost prohibitive.
  • You prefer a predictable monthly cost over unplanned and emergency expenses.

How Does Pet Insurance Work?

With pet insurance, there are typically no “family plans”—each pet has an individual policy. You pay a monthly or annual premium, and typically, there is an annual deductible. Once your claims surpass the amount of your deductible, the provider reimburses you for a portion of your additional expenses according to the terms of the policy.

You can use your own veterinarian. Usually, you pay your pet’s medical expenses and then submit to the pet insurance provider for reimbursement. There are a few exceptions where the provider will pay your veterinarian directly.

Different types of policy are available. Some cover only accidents. Some cover all illness and injury. Some comprehensive policies cover wellness care in addition to illness and injury.

Pre-existing conditions are typically not covered.

Is Pet Insurance Worth the Cost?

Like all insurance, pet insurance is meant to be a safety net–so your finances at a given moment don’t dictate whether your pet gets the medical attention she needs.

Because you do typically need to pay the pet’s medical bill up front, pet insurance works best in conjunction with something like CareCredit (veterinary financing) or a credit card you keep open for veterinary expenses. That way, you’re good to go, even if you don’t have cash on hand.

Veterinary emergencies can be expensive. If your pet is hit by a car, bitten by a rattlesnake, eats something toxic, or experiences a gastric dilation volvulus (twisting of the stomach), to name just a few possibilities, you would have to seek immediate treatment, possibly at a veterinary clinic that is open when your regular vet is closed. When you’re worried about your pet’s life, it can be a relief to not also be worried about the cost.

You might want to discuss pet insurance with your veterinarian to see what they’ve learned about what the various providers cover and what clients say about their experiences. At Vet’s Here, we strongly recommend pet insurance, and we generally recommend Nationwide or Trupanion, based on client feedback.

Consider the Case of Roxie

Roxie is an active border collie who tends to explore her world with her mouth! When Roxie’s face started to swell up on one side and she was showing signs of pain, her owner took her to see her vet. It turned out she had a broken molar that had become infected. With anesthesia, surgical extraction, and post-surgical medication, the bill came to $1300. 

Roxie was insured and her annual deductible had already been met. Her owner was reimbursed for all but $130 (10%), according to the terms of the insurance policy. Roxie quickly received the best possible care and was restored to her curious pain-free self without her owner having to scramble to pay for it. This is a real example, but remember, the percentage of covered expenses that can be reimbursed depends on the company and the policy.

Rueben is Another Real Example

Rueben is a German shepherd mix who seems to have springs in his legs. One day, he suddenly stopped jumping—no jumping for thrown toys, no jumping onto the couch (he was allowed there), no jumping into the car—no jumping at all. This was so unusual, that his owner turned to his veterinarian. A lameness exam and radiography led to a diagnosis of spondylosis deformans, a chronic condition involving bone spurs on the spine. Rueben was experiencing a flareup that was causing him pain when he tried to jump. The veterinarian recommended temporary pain medication to get Reuben over the flareup plus lifelong monthly injections of Adequan to slow down progression of the condition. Rueben’s owner agreed to this plan and the first several doses of Adequan were included in the bill.

Rueben’s owner submitted a claim to the pet insurance company for $1172. After substracting Rueben’s annual deductible of $250, the insurance company reimbursed $829.80, according to the terms of the policy. The ongoing cost of the monthly Adequan will be a covered expense as well.

The interesting thing about this case is that often, spondylosis goes undiagnosed until much later in life. The flareup was actually a good thing because it brought the condition to light while Reuben is young enough for the monthly Adequan to have a significant effect on his quality of life later on. And because he has insurance, the cost of that ongoing treatment is not going to be a problem for his owner.

Choosing a Provider and Policy

At Vet’s Here, our clients tell us that the customer service their insurance provider delivers is important to them. Customer service includes things like getting a free quote quickly and easily, getting questions answered without having to endure an aggressive sales pitch, a clearly written explanation of benefits and exclusions, convenient options for paying premiums, quick and easy claim submission, prompt claim payment, friendly and knowledgeable problem resolution, and so on. Some providers even have a smart phone app. In other words, it’s a good idea to consider more than just cost and coverage when choosing a provider. For the intangibles, have a look at customer reviews and the Better Business Bureau website. Ask around to see which insurance companies are being used by people you know and how they would characterize their experience.

When you are looking at costs and benefits, comparison tools are available on various websites. Some are sponsored by an insurance provider, but the information they give you is verifiable.

Things to consider when comparing policies include:

  • Cost of the premium.
  • Size of the deductible.
  • Breadth of the coverage.
  • Exclusions.

Usually, you can choose your premium payment plan, so you don’t have to be locked in for a long time. If you pay the premium monthly and you find that the customer service you receive is not satisfactory, you can simply switch companies.

Feel free to discuss pet insurance with your Vet’s Here doctors and staff. We would be happy to share what we have learned from our customers.

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