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Pet Health Insurance

All About Pet Health Insurance

Sasha and Sierra are large, tan, short-haired dogs with amber eyes; they dwarf Ana, the petite woman who rescued them. They are a picture of canine health, but ask Ana about the trouble two active dogs can get into and she describes this scenario: a beloved pet, a late night trip to the emergency veterinary hospital, and then�the bill. Consumer Reports reports that the 143 million American dog and cat owners spent over 18 billion dollars on veterinary care in 2001. Complicated surgeries, new tests (e.g. MRIs and CAT scans), new medications, and high-tech therapies like dialysis and organ transplants have increased the lifespan and well-being of many pets; however, these options have also increased veterinary costs for their owners.

So how does a pet owner cope with the costs of vet care, particularly if he or she would like the option of providing high-tech, high-cost care for a pet? One possibility is to purchase a pet insurance policy. These policies can provide coverage for your annual well-pet care and help you manage costs in the event that your pet suffers a catastrophic accident or illness.

What Is Pet Health Insurance?

Pet health insurance is much like human health insurance. The owner pays a premium, and the insurance company reimburses a portion of health care costs. Coverage, deductible, and co-payment options vary between insurance companies and among plans a single company may have.

Ana started insurance for Sasha shortly after adoption. “It’s great; I would recommend having pet insurance for every pet owner.” Their policy covers most of Sasha’s healthcare, including heartworm and flea prevention medications. Reimbursement is simple: Ana sends in her receipt and a short form signed by her vet, and a reimbursement check is promptly mailed to her.

Choosing Pet Insurance

So, should you have pet insurance? If you are uncomfortable with the idea of having a pet euthanized if he or she develops a serious illness or is injured, pet insurance might be a good fit for you. However, before enrolling in the first plan you find, check out some other reasons to forego pet insurance:

  • If your pet is elderly or has a pre-existing condition, he or she may not be eligible for most pet insurance policies. Ana couldn’t get a policy for Sierra because Sierra of a mild pre-existing condition, benign tumors that must be removed regularly.
  • If you have an exotic pet, like a chameleon, your veterinary costs may be limited because healthcare programs have not yet been developed for them. A year of health insurance may cost more than the care available. Your vet can help you determine whether this is the case.
  • Do you have other options to help cover your pet’s health needs? Liz, the owner of two tabby cats and several snakes, purchases her vet’s “care package”: an annual payment which covers many basic care costs.
  • Is your animal companion likely to need frequent emergency care? A working dog may be exposed to other animals frequently; a territorial cat may need stitches after a bout with an intruder to his yard. A sedentary indoor pet, by contrast, may not need expensive services regularly.
  • If you have decided to purchase a policy for your pets, think about your financial situation and your pets’ needs.
  • How much can you spend? Pet insurance premiums can range from less than $100 annually to more than $500.
  • What sorts of problems would you like covered? Motor vehicle injuries? Preventive care?
  • Do you have a young, healthy pet? Some policies are renewed yearly with little additional cost as your pet ages; it may be worth paying the premiums while your pet is young (even if they exceed the cost of care) so that the higher costs of elder-care will be covered. Your vet, and owners of senior pets, can help you estimate the length and cost of your pet’s golden years. Conversely, some insurance companies place stringent limits on care available to elderly pets, increase premiums as a pet gets older, or do not renew policies for older pets at all.
  • Is your pet prone to a genetic disease? Some insurance policies limit or deny coverage for certain breeds because of the risk of illness, for example, dog breeds that are prone to hip dysplasia. Check with your vet and reputable breeders to find out what conditions your pet might get..

Once you have some policies in hand, read the fine print. While brochures and company websites can provide some information, make sure that you have details in writing before choosing among policies:

  • If you have more than one pet, is there a discount for insuring all of them?
  • Will you have to change veterinarians? If you and your pets have a good relationship with your vet, make sure your policy will recognize him or her.
  • Is the insurer reliable? Make sure they’ve been around a while and have a large roster of active clients.
  • Is the company is registered with your state insurance regulatory board? Certain companies are not licensed to sell insurance in all states; make sure that the company you are considering can provide policies in your state.
  • What’s the deductible for each type of treatment or procedure?
  • Are there caps on the amount of coverage for individual events or particular treatments?
  • Are there co-payments? Find out when co-pays will apply and how much they are.
  • Will the policy cover elective procedures? Are grooming or microchip implants covered, and what is the cost?
  • Is there a waiting period? Some insurance policies do not take effect immediately.

Final Thoughts

For Ana, pet insurance gives her peace of mind as Sasha moves from puppydom to adulthood. Many pet owners like her, concerned about the possibility of another sudden, expensive, late-night trip to the emergency care facility find that pet insurance is an option worth considering.

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