PET HEALTH INSURANCE ABCs
A. What is Pet Health Insurance?
We are familiar with the concept of health insurance for people, but maybe not so much for pet health insurance. There are some similarities and some very major differences. Pet insurance has been around for more than 100 years, although it started in the US back in the 1980s with one company. Now, there are more than two dozen companies offering pet insurance, and their policies vary widely.
In general, policies require that you pay the vet bill, then request reimbursement. The premiums will go up each year as your dog gets older. Insurers can refuse to cover older dogs or dogs with certain conditions (pre-existing conditions are rarely covered), even certain breeds. Some may also not cover chronic or hereditary illnesses/conditions. As a rule, the policy term is one year, and must be renewed from year to year. If you start with an insurer when your dog is young, they generally will not cancel the policy when your dog gets older.
Here are some things to consider before you sign up for pet health insurance.
B. What will your pet need?
Think about what your dog’s potential for health problems is during their lifetime. What are the conditions that he’s most likely to develop? For instance, Greyhounds have a high incidence of cancer, and to a lesser extent, dental problems. Your veterinarian can be a great help in identifying problems that are likely to crop up with your dog. Will these conditions be covered if treatment is needed? Your vet may also be able to share which insurances their clients prefer.
Consider what you do with your dog, too. If you plan to do sports with your dog (agility, lure coursing, dock diving), for example, look carefully at the coverage for orthopedic injuries.
What sort of coverages should you look for? The more of these options that are covered, the larger premium you can expect to pay.
- Injury/Accident coverage
- Illness coverage
- Wellness coverage
- Prescription drug coverage
- Alternative and/or complementary treatments
Each of these coverage types may have exclusions to be aware of. It will be worth your while to do some research before committing to a policy.C. Questions to help inform your decision
All companies offer price quotes through their websites and/or over the phone. Once you have determined the type and level of coverage you want for your dog, and you have some price quotes in front of you, call the companies whose plans you are considering and ask the following:
- What are the age limits? Some companies require puppies to be at least eight weeks old before coverage starts. Others will not cover older dogs.
- What is your waiting period? How long after you purchase the policy will you have to wait before all of the benefits kick in?
- What are your exclusions for pre-existing health conditions? How do you determine what is pre-existing?
- Does the company exclude certain breeds, charge more for certain breeds, or exclude breed-related, genetic conditions from coverage?
- Exactly what is covered and not covered in the policy? Checkups, spay/neuter, accidents, alternative therapies, preventative care, prescription drugs, dental care?
- What are your coverage caps or ceilings? Do they apply per incident, per body system, per illness, per year, or over the dog’s lifetime?
- How do you cover chronic or recurring illnesses? Does coverage continue for repeated treatment of the same condition?
- What triggers an increase in premiums? The dog’s age, filing a claim, built-in annual increases?
- Does the policy pay benefits based on a pre-determined schedule of charges or on the actual vet bill you pay? Try to get reimbursement based on the actual cost, not a schedule of fees.
- What are my co-pay choices? What percentage of my cost will the policy pay? Will my co-pay amount increase as my dog ages? Will my co-pay increase if I visit an emergency or specialty veterinarian?
- What are my deductible choices? Are deductibles different for visits to primary care veterinarians than for treatment by emergency or specialty veterinarians?
- Can I get a multi-pet discount?
- How do I file a claim and how long after filing a claim will I receive reimbursement? Or does the veterinarian have to fill out the claim?
- Can I use my usual primary care and specialty veterinarians, or must I use an in-network provider to receive benefits?
Pet health insurance companies are evolving, as are policies. More flexibility in the policies allow pet parents to add or remove coverages, and tailor the insurance to meet their needs. Online and app pipelines for submitting claims and auto payment processing are streamlining the whole process, as companies look for ways to differentiate themselves in the marketplace. This is good news/bad news for pet parents: you can customize coverages, but it takes a bit more research to determine the best company/policy for you.
Try to find a policy without monetary or treatment limits, and read the whole policy to be certain you understand the exclusions. If you have a wellness rider, understand that it usually has to be used or the unused balance forfeited at the end of the contract year.
If you decide that it would be a good idea to get pet health insurance for your houndie, check here for a list of companies that are members of the North American Pet Health Insurance Association: naphia.org/find-pet-insurance.
But if you find that pet insurance is not the answer for you, there are still some things you can do. If you are a disciplined saver, you can have a Health Savings Account for your pet. Just put the money that would have gone to premiums in a savings account for emergencies.
The other possibility is a dedicated credit card with special terms for unexpected vet bills like Care Credit. For details on this program, check out this article:
Please share your experiences with pet health insurance in the comments below. Your fellow Greyhound parents will thank you!