Pet insurance from a Vet Tech’s Perspective.

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If you have pets, you know how expensive their vet care can be. Even if they never become ill, annual vaccinations alone can climb into the hundreds. But, sometimes, they do become ill, and suddenly you have a monstrous bill with very limited options for payment. You may have wondered if there is insurance for our furry friends like there is for us.

Fortunately, as pets become more popular, companies have created health insurance of sorts for them. How does it work? Pet insurance isn’t identical to our own health insurance. In fact, in some ways, it is very different. I began to dive into different pet insurance options to see just what exactly is out there.

Pet insurance is relatively new, and unfortunately not all species are covered. Most insurance companies only cover dogs and cats. Nationwide is the only source I’ve found thus far that will protect and cover other species such as birds, reptiles, and small mammals. This means your options are severely limited if you are looking to cover a different animal besides your furry canine or feline friend.

 

General Insurance Coverage

Let’s focus on what’s available. There are plenty of companies that will cover cats and dogs, so what’s included? What if your dog eats his favorite toy, and suddenly he can’t keep anything down? Is his laparotomy covered? What if your cat has been drinking a lot more lately, and her urine looks almost clear? Will you pay out-of-pocket for her bi-weekly fluid therapy? How much do pet insurances cover? What about wellness visits or vaccinations?

After browsing the web, I’ve found there are a ton of pet insurance options for cats and dogs. So, what do these companies cover for your fluffy pal? After some research, I have found most will cover “the unexpected”. What exactly does this mean? Many insurance companies offer coverage for situations such as accidents and injuries (a swallowed foreign body, torn ACL, hit-by-car, etc) or illnesses (kidney disease, cancer, pancreatitis). This means if it was unforeseen, it may very well be covered.

Illness or Injuries

            Coverage for sudden illnesses or injuries is great for pet owners. If your pet has ever been hospitalized, you know how fast your cost can accrue, even if it’s only for a few days. Things like catheters, fluids, lab-work and x-rays can reach into the hundreds in no time. There are also medications for pain, antibiotic injections, and many other treatments that may be a concern. Your pet insurance could cover a vast majority of these charges.

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Chronic and Heredity

Pet insurance can also cover chronic and heredity illnesses—provided they aren’t pre-existing but we’ll talk more about that later. Kidney failure can include frequent diagnostic testing such as bloodwork, as well as treatments including continual fluid therapy and prescription diets. Liver disease also needs diagnostic monitoring as well as supplements, diet change, and more. These sorts of illnesses, if not acute, are often needing continuous management throughout your pet’s life, in which insurance may be a large benefit.

Typically NOT included

What about what isn’t included in these companies’ coverages? It seems for the most part they exclude wellness visits and treatments. While some plans offer additional coverage for this, most companies do not. Things this would include are: vaccinations, routine surgeries such as spays and neuters, dental prophylaxis, etc. Most companies also exclude examination costs from their policies. Regardless of illness, the examination fee is not typically covered by pet insurance. Again, there are some companies such as Petfirst or Petplan that do offer coverage of exam fees, and other companies such as Nationwide and Healthy Paws that offer coverage for wellness visits and treatments at an additional cost.

Pre-existing condition

Another important exclusion of all pet insurance companies is pre-existing conditions. What is considered a pre-existing condition? Trupanion defines this as “any injury or illnesses that your pet shows symptoms of before coverage begins.” This means that if your Labrador Retriever has already been diagnosed with food allergies before you purchase your insurance, the company won’t cover any costs regarding them. If one of your Staffordshire Terrier’s cruciate has ruptured, the other may not even be covered. This is called a bilateral exclusion. These omissions can be a huge drawback for owners looking to insure their previously diseased or injured pet.

Parasites are another common exclusion amongst insurances. From what I have read, the most popular answer as to why is sort of obvious: prevention. Anthelmintics, or dewormers, are readily available at a low cost from your veterinary care provider, so parasitic infections—including hookworms, giardia, heartworms, and more—fall under the category of preventative treatment. This means that if your dog contracts heartworms, the $1500+ bill is not covered by insurance.  I did speak with a representative of HealthyPaws to find out about secondary diseases such as tick-borne illnesses. This sort of scenario seems case-by-case, but provided your pet was given tick preventatives, they may be covered. Another parasite, sarcoptic mange, may also be covered. While there are technically preventatives for this, as some flea prevention’s can be used to kill scabies, the representative let me know that treatment is covered.

Age Limit

Age is also a concern for pet insurance. Some insurances will limit coverage based on your pet’s age, or may even exclude certain illnesses, such as hip dysplasia. Other companies may offer a much higher rate for your senior friend. While some companies mark age as an important factor, though, others have little or no restrictions against older pets. 

Overall, most insurance companies cover the unexpected for your pet. But how much do they cover? Out of the companies that I have reviewed, 80% cost coverage seems to be the average, while some companies offer up to 90%, and as little as 60%. This means that if your puppy developed parvo, and treatment total is $1200, your insurance would cover up to $1000 of your expenses, minus the initial visit, of course. This is revolutionary for pet owners, as many find themselves in debt over illness expenses.

dog and cat

General Pet Insurance Cost

What exactly is the cost of pet insurance? The short answer is: it varies. There are plans as low as $9 monthly, while others reach past $100. On top of that, there is usually a deductible, which is a set amount you must pay before your insurance begins covering any cost. The renewal of the deductible is dependant on the company. Some offer annual deductible renewals, while others offer a one-time deductible per illness. For example, if your American Bulldog develops congestive heart failure, you will only pay your deductible once for anything related to the condition (i.e chest x-rays, heart medications, etc). After that, your insurance will continuously cover their cost without renewing your deductible for that condition.

Deductibles

Deductible cost ranges from $50-$500+, depending on the provider and policy. This is a rather important factor when determining what insurance and plan you will choose. It can also be a disadvantage for policyholders, as your expenses may not exceed your deductible before it renews. Let’s say you have a $250 deductible (being the most common policy cost) that renews annually, but your Basset Hound’s otitis diagnoses and treatments only reach $200 yearly. Your insurance isn’t covering any of that cost.

Of course, that isn’t the sole purpose of pet insurance. If that same Basset Hound induced a $3,000 bill after rupturing his cruciate ligament and needing surgical repair, your insurance would cover a large sum of that cost after your deductible is paid. So, while chronic illness may be better off with a one-time deductible, the annual deductibles are suited to benefit more acute illnesses that are cost-consuming.

You know your insurance has got your pet protected, but how does the payment arrangement work? Most companies will have you file a claim, with proof of your bill, after which they will reimburse you. This means you may still have to pay your vet upfront until you are reimbursed. Some companies offer alternatives. For example, some companies have established “networks” of sorts, in which the insurance company will cover cost up front at selected veterinary practices. This means your only cost to the vet is your deductible. There are limitations on this, however, as not all vets are within network. Others offer arrangements such as taking a photo of your bill and sending it within an app. Some companies will write you a check, while others offer direct deposit.

There are plenty of pros and cons to pet insurance. The monthly cost is relatively low for the amount of coverage they offer, but there are certain exclusions that can leave you feeling the insurance unnecessary. However, if your pet injures itself or develops a costly illness, coverage for your pet can be financially life-saving.

The fact is, you never know when something major is going to happen. In this day and age, almost no veterinary practices offer payment plans. There are alternatives, such as Care Credit, but not everyone can qualify for these credit-dependant solutions. For a small fee every month, you can rest assured that when life strikes, your pet is protected. While pet insurance may not help with preventative care costs, it can certainly aid in emergencies or illness.

Which insurance is best? There are plenty of sites that will tell you which insurance provides the “best” coverage, but the truth is each insurance company is different. Each offers different coverages and exclusions. It is best for you to research your insurance company and find out what is covered and what isn’t. Your pet is unique—so is her insurance. Find one that best suits you and your pet’s lifestyle needs.

Is pet insurance worth it? As a veterinary assistant of four years, I have seen a lot of costly accidents and diseases. Some of these scenarios would have benefited greatly from insurance. Coverage of your pet can save you hundreds, even thousands, in just one year. While not everything is covered, many common, costly procedures and treatments are. You may very well have to pay these costs upfront and then be reimbursed, however there are alternative options for many companies. Overall, pet insurance seems just as important as our own health insurance. You never know when you may need it, so why not rest assured that you’re covered? 

Looking for more information? Take a look at our in-depth research of top 6 major pet insurance companies. 

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