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Pet Health Insurance

What’s right for your pet?

The Assurance of Pet Insurance

Pet insurance is a great option when budgeting for your pet’s medical expenses.  It can be extremely valuable when faced with unforeseen medical emergencies and expenses.  Generally, the premium cost for a good policy is low when compared to the peace of mind and financial help it can provide.  However, sorting through the various plans and their options can be daunting.  The following information should help you make sense of the process.

It’s All About Your Needs

There is no cookie cutter insurance policy that works for every pet owner.  It is important for you to take a look at your own budget and decide what you need in an insurance policy.  For example, do you want help with paying for routine care such as wellness exams and vaccinations, or are you more concerned about being able to afford emergency care for accidents or sudden illnesses?  Perhaps you want assistance with both?  Different insurance companies have different benefit packages.  It is important to research insurance companies until you find the one that best meets your needs.  Basic plans typically offer coverage for accidental injuries and illnesses.  Comprehensive policies tend to include coverage for routine care as well as accidental injuries and illnesses.  In some cases, insurance reimbursement for routine care expenses over the course of a year can significantly defray the cost of the annual premium.

Avoid Sticker Shock

Find out how the insurance company sets their premiums.  Do they change from year to year, or do they stay the same?  For example, some companies offer low initial premium payments when your pet is young, but then increase the premiums exponentially as your pet ages.  Other companies may increase your premiums based on the number of claims submitted.  Some policies offer high deductibles, which in turn lowers the premium cost.

Read the Fine Print

Make sure you know what any insurance policy excludes before you purchase one.  Find out if your prospective insurer has limitations on pre-existing or congenital conditions.  It is important to ask if there are age limits for coverage, some insurance companies exclude older pets leaving your pet without coverage when he or she may need it most.  Other policies may charge more based on the breed of your pet or if you live in certain areas of the country.  Be sure that your policy does not limit your choice of veterinarian.  It is also important to know if your policy offers coverage for any needed specialty care, such as a visit to a veterinary dermatologist, ophthalmologist or other specialist.

Examining Exclusions

If your pet has a pre-existing condition or is a member of a breed well known for specific health problems, such as hip dysplasia, selecting an insurance policy can be a bit more complicated.  However, even if your pet’s pre-existing or congenital condition is excluded; pet insurance may still be valuable.  It’s important though, to question company representatives carefully on how the presence of a pre-existing or congenital condition may affect reimbursement for other types of problems that may be considered related.  Make sure to document responses in writing.  There are some insurers who will insure a pet for a pre-existing condition provided enough time has elapsed since the initial incident or if a cure can be documented.  Also be aware that some policies “reset” at renewal, meaning that a chronic illness that has developed during the course of the year will be considered a pre-existing condition and will no longer be covered.

Assess True Value

The only way to assess the real value of your policy is to determine exactly what you will get in return for your premium payments.  A prospective insurer should be “transparent” about what they will pay for and how much.  Find out how the company determines reimbursement amounts.  Are they based on a straight percentage of your bill, do they use a customary fee schedule, or a combination of both.  If they use a fee schedule, you may want to verify it with the veterinary costs in your area, otherwise you may pay more out of pocket than you realize.

What’s the Limit?

All insurers have a lifetime maximum on how much they will pay for healthcare costs over the course of a pet’s lifetime.  These amounts may seem quite generous but keep in mind that one or two major surgeries or illnesses over the course of a few years may significantly deplete this amount.  Insurers also have different guidelines on how those limits are reached.  For example, insurers may limit how much they will reimburse by claim, by diagnosis, or by total incident.  Generally, the simpler the guideline, the easier it will be for you to track and estimate what reimbursement amount to expect.

In Conclusion

Owners must decide which policy best fits their particular needs and it is essential to understand the details of that policy.  Regardless of whether or not insurance coverage is elected, pet owners are urged to plan in advance for their pet’s expenses in order to reduce the financial and emotional stress of an unexpected medical emergency.

Sources: Vetstreet, Grand Rapids Family Magazine August 2009 edition.

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