Should I get pet insurance for my dog?
Pet insurance provides medical coverage for your dog’s health. Both routine and emergency medical care for dogs can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars. In today’s economy, visits to emergency veterinary facilities average approximately $1,000 per incident, and in some cases thousands more. These large, unexpected bills could mean having to make difficult decisions regarding the treatment of beloved pets.
During the quarantine periods of the COVID-19 pandemic, our dogs have become even more like family members. The uncertainty of employment and availability of veterinary services has made purchasing an insurance policy for your dog more important than ever. The rising cost of veterinary care has led to the increased cost of pet insurance. Many pet-insurance policies include expensive procedures such as sonograms, MRIs and chemotherapy treatment. When choosing an insurance policy for your dog, you should know your options.
Are there different types of pet insurance?
There are as many different pet-insurance plans as there are companies that offer them. You can choose from different levels of care, some with higher coverage amounts or higher deductibles. Check out several companies to determine which plan best suits your needs. Do not make the mistake of choosing a plan only because of the price. Many less expensive options exclude coverage for exams, hereditary conditions, dental disease and preventable illnesses (such as parvovirus or heartworm disease).
Most plans have an annual deductible that you have to meet before the insurance coverage kicks in. Some companies offer what is called a “per condition” deductible. That means you will always have to pay a portion of the bill that meets the deductible for that specific condition before insurance pays anything.
There are basically three types of pet insurance coverage: accident-only, comprehensive and wellness policies.
Accident-only insurance plans cover the cost of veterinary treatment in case of an accidental injury. These plans do not cover the cost of treatment of disease or illness, and do not cover any wellness or preventive care.
Comprehensive insurance policies cover accidents and illnesses as well as preventive care.
Wellness plans cover routine visits, vaccinations and some annual tests. These tests can include heartworm and parasite detection, as well as deworming. Some plans also cover microchip insertion and grooming services.
Policies that only cover routine visits to the veterinarian may carry higher premiums and, in the long run, cost more than the actual vet bills. I encourage you to do the math first to see which coverage is the best for your dog. Factors such as where you live, and the age and breed of your dog, should be considered when choosing a policy.
Can I choose different levels of coverage?
It is important to choose the right level of coverage for your dog. Look for a plan that provides at least an 80 percent reimbursement of a wide variety of medical treatments or illnesses. You may think that since your dog is young and healthy, you don’t need coverage for conditions that usually affect older dogs. However, once a plan is selected, it is only possible to reduce the coverage, not expand it as your dog grows older and requires more medical care. Senior dogs are more likely to need expensive surgery or ongoing medical treatment for chronic conditions that develop.
You will get the most out of your insurance policy if you buy insurance when your dog is young. Providers may have a minimum age requirement, but it is advisable to insure your pets as soon as they pass this age, which is usually no more than a few months old.
When choosing a policy, try to estimate the medical care your dog may need in the future. This could be based on the common health problems of his particular breed. Find out what hereditary conditions may affect your dog and choose a plan that specifically covers those, since some insurers do not cover hereditary diseases.
Another consideration for choosing insurance coverage is the way a “pre-existing condition” is defined. Most plans consider treatment for a condition that occurred at any time before coverage “pre-existing,” and they will not cover any costs associated with it. In other cases, a condition may be deemed “pre-existing” if the dog had treatment for it in the last three months, but not if it was a one-time problem more than 12 months ago. Sometimes referred to as the “curable conditions clause,” this allows treatment for previous conditions if they have been “cured” and the dog has been symptom free for a set number of days. The usual time frame is 90 to 180 days. You have to read the fine print.
Are there limits to how much the insurance will pay?
There are four types of benefit limits. With policies that have Unlimited Lifetime limits, once you pay your deductible there are no caps on what a provider will pay to cover your dog’s veterinary bills. Lifetime Maximum limits are the maximum amount a provider will cover over the lifetime of your dog in total or for a specific condition.
With Annual Maximum limits, the provider sets a cap on how much it will cover each year. Annual Per Incident is the maximum amount the insurance will cover per year for a particular procedure, illness or medical condition.
How much does pet insurance cost?
Pet insurance can range from $10 to $100 per month, with the average policy costing about $50 per month. Pricing is determined by a number of factors, including where you live, your dog’s breed and age, your deductible amount and the reimbursement percentage.
Can I see any veterinarian I choose?
Usually, yes. Pet health insurance is different in this way from human medical insurance. There is no in-network or out-of-network care. Most pet insurance companies allow owners to see any licensed veterinarian or take their dog to any emergency hospital in the United States.
How does payment work?
Once you have purchased your policy, you will be able to call and get pre-approval for any medical procedure your dog is undergoing to make sure the provider covers it under the policy. Some insurance companies provide money upfront to cover veterinary costs. Most plans, however, will reimburse you for the costs you incur. You would submit a claim form with receipt from your veterinary office. The pet insurance company then reimburses you for their portion of the amount according to your insurance plan and coverage amounts. Most veterinarians will help by promptly filling out your claim forms and providing medical records when requested. I do not know of any practices that bill directly to the insurance company.
The deductible is the amount you will pay before your insurance provider begins to cover expenses. As with other types of insurance policies, you determine the deductible amount. With a higher deductible amount, your premiums will be lower.
Reimbursement is the percentage of the veterinary bill that the pet insurance provider will pay. Similar to deductibles, you can choose the percentage for your dog’s plan. The amount of time it takes to get reimbursed varies. The best providers try to process claims within a few days.