Rapidly growing technological advances in veterinary care are extending the lives of our canine pets and adding to their quality of life. Where once pet diseases such as diabetes, cancer, or heart disease were undiagnosed or untreated, today the technology exists for testing, diagnosis and treatment of these diseases as well as many others. Critical care veterinary hospitals are opening their doors across the country. These advanced care facilities offer extraordinary, state of the art, lifesaving care for seriously ill dogs.
As pet owners we are pleased that these advanced services are available to our beloved pets and we all want the best possible care for our furry friends who are an integral part of our families. Unfortunately, this advanced care comes with a hefty price tag. A one night stay in a critical care veterinary hospital can often exceed more than $1000.
For many pet owners these costs create an unexpected financial strain, and a difficult emotional choice between going into debt to provide the best possible care for a beloved dog or life-saving declining treatment. An aging or chronically ill dog requiring frequent hospitalizations or expensive medications can incur staggering costs. The need for pet health insurance is as great as that for humans. Pet owners need to protect their bank accounts as well as protect the health of their dog.
Although pet health insurance has been sporadically in existence in some countries for close to a century, the first pet insurance policy in the United States was written in 1982 to protect the health of the TV canine star “Lassie”. It wasn’t until 1997 that pet insurance was offered to the general public in the U.S. By 2009 about 1 million pets in the U.S. were covered by pet insurance policies. In 2010 approx $13 billion was spent on veterinary costs as pet insurance policies became more popular. That trend continues to grow today with a myriad of different policies available enabling pet owners to provide good health care for their furry friends without breaking the bank.
Pet Health Insurance companies have begun to advertise their plans in Veterinary offices, pet supply stores, on Television and online. Pet health insurance woks much the same way as health insurance for humans, there are many different types of policies available offering a sometimes confusing array of coverage and costs. The following characteristics are important items to consider when comparing policies and prices.
Deductibles: Are the deductibles levied per visit, per medical condition, per year or is there a lifetime deductible?
Co-Payments: Are the co-payments a reasonable percentage of the costs and do they fit within your budget?
Policy Limits: Are there maximum lifetime benefit payouts or maximum payouts for each and every illness or accident? Many pet insurance contracts include a lengthy list of medical conditions with payout limits.
Exclusions: Does the insurance carrier exclude specific conditions or illnesses? Certain breeds of dogs are predisposed to medical conditions that may be exempt from coverage. Also some common canine conditions for all types of dogs, such as hip dysplasia, may be exempt.
Pre – Existing Conditions: Does your dog have a pre-existing condition? Some policies will deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions or increase a policy’s premium for these dogs. Policies should contain a list of pre-existing conditions that will not be covered.
Add On Fees: Are there additional fees charged for first time enrollment in a plan or additional fees for paying premiums monthly rather than annually? Check carefully for all additional fees.
Reimbursement Time: With most plans, you are required to pay the bill in full at the time of service and wait to be reimbursed by the insurance company. What is an average wait time for reimbursement?
Reimbursement Amount: Are reimbursements based on the actual amount charged by your veterinary office or on what some carriers refer to as “reasonable costs” which may be much lower than the actual charge? Reasonable costs are determined by insurance companies who assert they hire an independent third party to determine the average costs of treatment of specific services in your geographical area. However, there is often a time lag for determining these costs which may make them less current and even much lower than today’s prevailing treatment costs. This practice can surprise you with a higher than expected bill and no recourse.
Coverage and Costs: What is the extent of coverage your dog actually needs? It is estimated that the cost of routine visits for a healthy dog runs around $250 per year. There are those that believe that if you are disciplined enough to set aside a dog care emergency fund to handle unexpected illnesses and injuries you may save money in the long run. Knowing your dog’s health, age and risk of injury makes this an important individual decision.
Contracts: Do you fully understand all of the features of the contract you are considering? According to the Better Business Bureau most disputes regarding Pet Health Insurance center around confusing and misleading contract language.
Age, Breed and Health of Your Dog: Is your dog elderly or suffering from chronic health problems? If so, your dog will be considered high risk and the premiums for pet health insurance for your dog will be high. Policy premiums will vary according to the age, health and breed of your dog. For elderly dogs, specific breeds with tendencies toward hereditary or genetic conditions, and dogs with pre-existing conditions premiums will be increased.
Pet Health Insurance policies, the same as health insurance policies for humans, often contain legal terminology that can be confusing and sometimes misleading. It is important to buy a policy from a reputable company and to have all your questions thoroughly answered. Purchase only the policy features you actually need and don’t be misled by add-ons that you won’t use.
Enlist the opinion of your vet who is familiar with your pet’s health and should be able to help you identify the policy features that would benefit you and your pet the most. Your vet’s office may also have some insight into Pet Health Insurance companies that pay claims promptly and at reasonable rates. Word of mouth is the best way to find a reputable company. Ask other dog owners about their experiences with pet health insurers and listen carefully. A personal experience is invaluable.
Avoid being put in the position of having to choose between your dog’s life and your finances. Do your research, purchase the right health insurance policy for your pet or set up an emergency pet care fund and have peace of mind knowing your beloved dog’s health is protected as well as your budget.