When Spike the bulldog was hit by a car three years ago, his injuries were serious and life threatening. His condition was critical for over a week, requiring a stay at the Emergency Center, surgery to repair damage to his internal organs, blood transfusions and 24-hour supportive care. Once it was obvious he would recover, Spike still needed an additional surgery to repair a broken leg and months of follow up care. By the time he was declared completely healed, Spike’s vet bills totaled more than some people spend on their cars. Fortunately for Spike’s owners, Spike was covered by a pet insurance policy, and they were reimbursed for a large percentage of the costs.
Pet insurance policies vary widely in what they cost and what they cover. Does your pet need insurance? Here are eight points to consider.
1. TYPE OF COVERAGE–The cost of your premiums will depend heavily on what kind of coverage you opt to purchase. Some companies offer comprehensive packages that cover emergencies (such as being hit by a car or ingesting poison), hereditary conditions (such as Cushing’s Disease or epilepsy) and illness (such as gastroenteritis). Other plans may exclude hereditary conditions, or pay only for catastrophic accidents. Yet other packages cover routine care such as vaccines and basic dental care. What kind of coverage are you looking for and what kind of premium can you afford? Does your young and healthy dog need coverage for illness? Do you have a purebred dog that is prone to certain genetic diseases? Some companies don’t cover exams, but will pay for tooth extraction or medications that come from that exam.
2. MAXIMUM BENEFITS–Is there a per condition or per year maximum benefit? Is that maximum sufficient coverage for the premium you will pay? Are you required to pay a copay? What percentage of costs will you be reimbursed for?
3. WAITING PERIOD–Some companies will only pay out after a waiting period after initial enrollment. Read the fine print carefully so you know exactly when your pet’s coverage takes effect.
4. FILING A CLAIM AND REIMBURSEMENT–How easy is it to file a claim? How soon after filing a claim will you be reimbursed? It is also important to note that even if you have pet insurance, you are still required to pay your bill in full at the time of services. Your pet insurance company will reimburse you depending on the specifics of your plan afterwards. Your vet’s office will need to sign off on claims, but no money is exchanged between your vet’s office and the insurance companies.
5. HOW EASY IS THE COMPANY TO WORK WITH? Ask your vet staff if there are any companies that they find difficult to work with. Do any companies routinely reject claims? Are any companies difficult to get on the phone?
6. LENGTH OF COVERAGE–As long as you pay your premiums on time, is continuance of coverage and ability to renew guaranteed? Or can the company decline to continue to insure your pet if he develops a hereditary condition and your policy expires?
7. SURGICAL CONDITIONS–Some policies will cover routine surgery like spay/neuter, but not preventative surgeries like gastropexy that are typically performed at the same time as a spay/neuter. If your pet requires an orthopedic surgery on one limb, does that disqualify him for the same surgery at a later date on another limb? (For example, large dogs that tear the ACL in the knee have an increased risk of injuring the other knee in the same manner later in the future. Some pet insurance companies will pay for the first surgery, but not the second, even if the injury occurs five years later.)
8. EXCLUSIONS–Does the policy cover injuries from natural disasters? Are hereditary conditions, or chronic allergy conditions covered? There are hundreds of conditions caused by faulty genes. Ask about the restrictions for existing and developing conditions.