What to Know
As September draws to a close, we’ll look at how pet insurance works, and how to shop for a policy that best fits your family’s needs.
Several weeks ago, we kicked off Pet Health Insurance Awareness Month by discussing the benefits of insuring our furry family members. As September draws to a close, we’ll look at how pet insurance works, and how to shop for a policy that best fits your family’s needs. Here are some questions pet parents need to ask when shopping for pet health insurance.
What exactly is covered?
Many hospitals offer in-house wellness plans. With this type of product, routine services such as dental cleanings and vaccinations are discounted, or even free, in exchange for a monthly premium. While there is nothing wrong these plans, clients are often surprised to learn that expenses incurred due to illness or injury may or may not be covered.
Personally, I would rather budget for the predictable expenses that are due on a regular basis, and put my insurance dollars toward a plan that will cover unforseen expenses and emergencies. Such turns of bad luck can cost thousands of dollars, which many Americans simply do not have. Should you find yourself listening to a pitch for hospital’s wellness plan, be sure to find out exactly what the plan includes.
How much does pet insurance cost?
Like our own health insurance, pet insurance premiums vary according to a number of factors. If you choose a plan with a low or deductible, expect higher premiums. Similarly, expect lower monthly premiums for a high deductible plan. This is where the “catastrophic loss” rule comes in handy. If you are able to cover a one-time, unplanned expense of $500 or $1,000, consider making that number your deductible.
This will result in lower premiums and a more manageable cash flow. While some plans do offer coverage for routine wellness, holisitc treatments, and complementary alternative medicine, such coverage usually comes with higher monthly premiums. In other words, the more extensive the coverage, the higher the premium will be.
Some of my clients opt for zero deductible plans, and while their premiums are higher, they rest easily knowing most of their pet’s care is covered. These are the numbers to discuss with a representative when shopping for pet health plans.
Your costs will also vary in accordance with your pet’s species and age. Cats are generally cheaper to insure than dogs, and premiums are higher for adults and senior pets,regardless of species. It is therefore highly recommended to buy insurance when your pets are young.
Puppies and kittens are prone to misadventure and notoriously lacking in impulse control. And insuring them at a young age means conditions diagnosed later in life will be covered, as opposed to being excluded as a pre-existing condition. Which segues nicely into the next question insurance shoppers should ask..
Does pet insurance cover pre-existing conditions?
While some insurance companies cover pre-existing conditions after a substantial waiting period, most of the time the answer to this question is no. All the more reason to shop for insurance while your pet is young, or at least has a clean bill of health.
Does pet insurance cover congenital disorders?
Simply put, congenital disorders are conditions with which your pet was born. Some of the more common congenital disorders affect the liver, heart, pancreas and urinary tract. They often manifest early in the pet’s life, and can be fatal without prompt surgical intervention. This leads us to the next question a pet parent must ask before purchasing an insurance plan.
Are there any waiting periods that need to expire before filing a claim?
Many plans do not allow policy holders to file claims until the policy has been in force for a specific period of time. The length can vary from as little as ten days to as long as thirty days, and may be applied to all types of claims, or claims for certain conditions.
Such waiting periods most commonly apply to the types of disorders described above, and a puppy with a compromised heart valve cannot wait thirty days for life-saving surgery. Look for a policy with no waiting periods for any type of conditions.
Are breed-specific disorders covered?
It is common knowledge that purebred dogs and cats can have medical problems specifically related to the breed. Be it retinal atrophy in Bengal cats, hip dysplasia in German Shepherds, or Intervertebral Disc Disease in dachshunds, these conditions can be extremely expensive to treat.
Additionally, pet insurance companies can be very clever when it comes to labelling a pricey problem breed specific. In order to avoid countless appeals and battles you may not win, make sure the policy you purchase covers all conditions to which your pet’s breed are genetically predisposed.
How exactly does my pet’s bill get paid?
Generally speaking, pet insurance plans are indemnity contracts, meaning the policyholder pays the bill in full, only to be reimbursed by the insurance policy. The upside of this arrangement is that there are no concerns that a practitioner or facility may not accept your insurance. It can be used anywhere. The downside is that not all pet owners have the cash flow flexibility to wait for reimbursement.
Some companies expedite claims so that the pet owner only pays the copay at the time services are rendered, while the lion’s share of the bill is paid directly to the veterinary facility by the insurance company. Many of my clients have these types of plans and they love them! Should you choose to pay up front and wait to be reimbursed, make sure you know how long you will wait for payment before signing on the dotted line.
As I mentioned in the previous installment, my wife and I have insurance policies on both our dogs. Between knee surgery, advanced dental surgery, and kidney stones, we’ve submitted roughly $13,000 in claims. That small monthly payment goes a long way toward providing us with the peace of mind of knowing our pets will be okay should the unthinkable - and unaffordable - come to pass.
Dr. Kupkee is the lead practitioner at Sabal Chase Animal Clinic.
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