Pet insurance: Weigh your options

This entry is article 4 of 5 in the October 2013 issue

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, expenditures for veterinary services doubled between 1980 and 2005, largely due to huge technological advances in veterinary medicine. The majority of clients pay for veterinary fees with discretionary income, and yet only 3 % of American pet owners hold pet insurance policies. Now might be a good time to look into whether pet insurance makes sense for you and your family.

Let’s say your pet suffers a fracture. You take her to the vet. The vet looks her over and says there are two options. Option A: We repair this surgically, which gives the best chance for a full recovery and will cost $3,000. Option B: We try a cast or splint and see if it’ll heal. It might, and it might not. Which option would you choose?

“At Tufts, we offer clients a variety of choices for treatment with different costs,” Armelle M. De Laforcade, DVM, DACVECC explains. “We find that having pet insurance can influence a client’s decision to pursue treatment.” For example, in the scenario above, $3,000 may be beyond the financial capability of a client, but with the contribution of pet insurance, pursuing Option A, the medically preferred option, might become affordable.

Often times we usually have a conversation about pet insurance with a pet owner when a complicated illness strikes and the cost to make a diagnosis and treat the disease are high. This can make it difficult to consider the options of pet insurance.  The right time to consider pet insurance is with the arrival of a new healthy pet. “We are slowly seeing more and more pet owners having pet insurance,” according to Virginia Rentko, VMD, DACVIM, medical director of Tufts Veterinary Medical Center. “Veterinary and medical care for animals has become much more sophisticated over time. As such the cost for care has also grown—but so has our ability to treat and care for animals.” Pet insurance allows for the more advanced treatment options to be a viable option for a wider range of people.

Pet insurance operates in a similar manner as health insurance for people. There are a variety of companies available, and you pick a plan with an appropriate deductible and pay a premium every month. Most companies offer accident or injury plans, and some cover wellness visits as well.  Depending on the policy, some exclusions apply such as pre-existing conditions or congenital defects.  If your pet requires surgery or otherwise requires care, typically you would pay the veterinarian and then submit reimbursement forms to the pet insurance company. Recently, at least one insurance company processes the claims and pays the veterinarian directly. Unlike health insurance for humans, there generally isn’t a copay .

If pet insurance is easy to obtain, makes financial sense, and allows pet owners the ability to provide more effective, comprehensive care for their family pets, then why don’t more people have it? “One of the difficult parts about pet insurance,” explains Dr. Rentko, “is that you have to think about it proactively.” Your pet may not be sick now, or you may see an accident as a slim possibility, so selecting an insurance policy is not top of mind.  Many clients with pet insurance report that only one complicated illness in their pet affirmed their decision that insurance is a good idea.

When you research pet insurance companies, pay attention to the details of the policy, advises Dr. Rentko. “You need to know what you’re getting coverage for and what you’re not.” Historically, some breeds are more likely to get certain diseases, for example, so some insurance companies won’t cover those diseases. In addition, you will want to know whether having multiple pets can decrease your premium or if and when your premium would increase, as some companies charge more as your pet ages or if you make a certain number of claims.

With adequate pet insurance that makes sense for your animal’s breed, “the treatment costs are less of a factor in making a decision,” Dr. de Laforcade said. “Sadly, in veterinary care, we do euthanize animals because owners can’t afford the care that is needed.” Pet insurance provides some protection from that outcome, and the relief of mind that comes with it.

For a list of companies that provide pet insurance, visit the American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) website at https://www.avma.org/public/petcare/pages/pet-insurance.aspx. Also the AVMA has draft guidelines on what standards pet insurance companies should follow.

If you decide to look into pet insurance policies further, there is a handy online guide of questions you may want to ask at http://veterinarybusiness.dvm360.com.

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