|Article Author: Nicole Feliciano|
by Nicole Feliciano
Few of us like to think about our beloved pets becoming ill or being injured in an accident. But the sad reality is that each year, millions of pets end up at the veterinary office in need of major medical care.
Increasingly owners are turning to pet health insurance to help defray the costs of veterinary care. While the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) doesn't endorse any particular insurance provider, they have come up with a list of guidelines for pet owners interested in pet health insurance:
Make sure the insurance company is licensed in your state.
Talk to your veterinary care professional and confirm he or she accepts the insurance you are considering.
Read and understand the terms and conditions and amount of coverage in your insurance policy, and your financial obligations when it comes to co-pays, deductibles, surcharges and exclusions.
If you are considering buying medical insurance for your fur family, you'll need to understand insurance lingo. Here's a handy guide to the basics:
Amount of coverage
This defines the total amount of care to which your pet is entitled. When reviewing amount of coverage you should research:
The number of doctor visits your pet is allowed each year.
The lifetime amount of monetary coverage your pet can receive.
The amount of coverage per category (a category could be diabetes care, heart disease, intestinal surgery, etc.).
Amount payable by the insurance company to a pet owner when he or she suffers a loss.
A request by an individual to an insurance company for the insurance company to pay for services obtained from a health care professional.
The amount an owner is responsible for on a veterinary bill. Co-payment is a predetermined fee that a pet owner pays for health care services, in addition to what the insurance covers. For example: Some insurance policies have a $10 "co-payment" for each office visit, regardless of the type of services provided during the visit.
The dollar amount of medical expenses a pet owner is responsible for, prior to insurance covering any costs. For example: You purchase insurance for your golden retriever with a $50/per incident deductible. When your golden is being treated for diabetes, you will be responsible for the first $50 of treatment costs. Often, insurance plans are based on yearly deductible amounts.
Medical services that are not covered by an insurance policy (also known as the fine print). Here some exclusions to look for:
Some insurance companies dictate a specific veterinary office for your pet's care. This can be problematic if you've established a long-term relationship with a veterinarian that isn't in your pet insurance plan. (Note: this type of program may work for owners who are getting their first pet or are moving to a new area).
Some insurers only cover emergency care and do not offer monetary assistance for routine checkups.
Some insurers do not cover breed-specific tendencies (for example, Labrador retrievers with hip dysplasia).
Some insurers do not provide insurance for preexisting conditions (a condition your pet developed prior to insurance).
An additional charge, cost, or tax added to a health insurance policy. Surcharges may be added for circumstances such as: additional pets, elderly pets, or breeds with a predisposition to illness and disability.
Make sure you are comfortable with all the terms before signing on to a policy. That's not to say that insurance companies are out to swindle pet owners, quite the contrary. Dr. Shelly Rubin has a thriving veterinary practice in Chicago (Blum Animal Hospital) and describes himself as a big proponent of pet insurance.
Dr. Rubin suggests getting insurance as soon as you bring the pet into your family, regardless of the pet's age. Accidents can happen to young animals. For example: Perhaps your playful puppy swallows a sock and needs intestinal surgery - a procedure that can cost $6,000. And let's not forget older animals, geriatric treatments can be quite costly.
Insurance provides the financial help necessary to allow owners to go ahead with expensive treatments without reticence. Pet insurance allows me to practice medicine as it should be - never having to euthanize a pet because of finances, says Dr. Rubin. When he diagnoses an illness, Dr. Rubin often refers his clients to special clinics (such as a veterinary oncologists to treat cancer). The costs of a pet's cancer treatment can be exorbitant, but with insurance, suddenly treatment options become financially viable.
We've compiled a list of a few well-known providers for you to start your search:
In 2001, PetCare Insurance started a unique program, the ShelterCare Pet Insurance Program. The ShelterCare Gift of one month's pet insurance is provided to all new owners of adopted pets from participating shelters. Under ShelterCare, 1 million pets have been insured and over $4,500,000 in claims has been paid.
The ShelterCare Gift was specifically designed to offer new pet owners coverage for the 11 accidents and illnesses that are most common to recently adopted pets, including dog kennel cough, ear infections and mange. Sue Howard, the Marketing Manager of PetCare Insurance, says, "The ShelterCare Gift of insurance helps initially to crystallize the adoptions. However, given the specific nature of the coverage under the ShelterCare Gift, we encourage new pet owners to move into one of the other PetCare Pet Insurance Programs as soon as possible to ensure that their new family member remains covered for life."
PetCare offers a range of programs that offer either comprehensive coverage for all accidents and illnesses (including hereditary conditions) or selected coverage for listed accidents and illnesses such as ingestion of a foreign body (again back to that puppy who ate a sock) or a motor vehicle accident.
Policy prices are based on the amount of coverage and the type of dog being insured. QuickCare Gold 70% is a popular policy starting at $22.95 per month for a crossbreed dog. This particular plan covers 70% of medical expenses (the remaining 30% is the owner's responsibility). With QuickCare Gold 70% a pet owner receives unlimited lifetime accident coverage ($3,000 per incident), and a $36,000 lifetime limit on illness coverage ($3,000 per category). PetCare Insurance coverage is accepted in 49 US states and 10 Canadian provinces.
Pet Assure offers an alternative to pet insurance. A pet owner who was trying to get insurance for his dog started the company. Unfortunately, due to a pre-existing condition the owner couldn't find insurance. Frustrated with his lack of options, the founder decided to start his own company and structure it like a discount dental network.
Today there are nearly 150,000 pets receiving the benefits of the Pet Assure program. Pet Assure provides dog owners:
25% savings on veterinary care (including offices visits, dental work, shots, surgery and other extras) at designated veterinary offices. Note: medicine, heartworm and flea treatments may not be covered.
Savings can range from $50-$2,000 per visit.
5-50% savings are offered on pet supplies and services.
Lost pet recovery service.
Pet Assure has no health or age exclusions--pre-existing conditions aren't denied. The discounts are provided right at the time of payment so no paperwork or claims are required. One thing to consider: You must use a veterinarian in the Pet Assure program. So if your beloved family vet isn't a member of the network, you won't receive the benefits.
Pet owners can search through the Pet Assure directory by typing in their zip code to locate a provider in their area. And it's probably a good idea to check this out prior to signing up for a program. Unfortunately Canadian dogs will have to wait for this service, as it is only provided in the States right now.
Pet Assure offers two plans: $99 annually for a single pet or $149 annually for up to 4 pets.
Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI) is the largest pet insurance provider in the US, insuring close to 400,000 pets. Brian Iannessa, the Public Relations Supervisor at VPI, recommends insuring pets as soon as you bring them home, The earlier you insure a pet the better. This way, the chances of pre-existing conditions manifesting before enrollment are limited. VPI excludes pre-existing conditions from coverage.
Pet owners opting for insurance aren't rich; instead they are trying to protect themselves from a medical emergency that could wipe out a lot of savings. Reid Gerlach's, a VPI policyholder, had two pets one, with a heart condition and the other with diabetes. Without pet insurance, Gerlach says her annual medical expenses would have soared to $10,000. On her fixed income as a retired veteran, Gerlach says she never would have been able to cover the bills. With insurance (the average cost of insurance is $25 per month), Gerlach reports she was able to provide the best care for her pets and she recommends pet insurance to all of her dog and cat-loving friends.
VPI policyholders can visit any licensed veterinarian, veterinary specialist or animal hospital in the world. Depending on the policy, routine care can be provided in addition to accidental injuries and illnesses. A VPI Pet Insurance medical plan will pay 90% of the benefit schedule allowance (each condition has a separate allowance) during each policy term after a per-incident deductible. For 2006, the maximum allowances are as follows:
VPI Standard Plan - $9,000 in benefits with a $50 per-incident deductible per policy term (12 months).
VPI Superior Plan - $14,000 in benefits with a $50 per-incident deductible per policy term (12 months).
Now that you know the basics, it's up to you to do the research necessary to find the right insurance for your needs. And remember, even if you decide insurance is right for your pet family, please keep an eye on that curious puppy around your sock drawer!
For more information about these companies, please visit their websites:
Pet Assure www.petassure.com
PetCare and ShelterCare www.petcareinsurance.com