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A Vet’s Guide to Buying Pet Insurance

Pet insurance

Goliath – Photo by Arnold Roufa

by Jessica E. Downing, DVM, Valley Cottage Animal Hospital
Many dogs and cats go through life without needing much more than an annual checkup. They eat well, get plenty of fresh water and exercise and do not need much medical care. Others, however, can run into health concerns including diseases, illness or accidents, and age-related health challenges. When pet owners are faced with treating their dogs, regardless of how much they love them, the inevitable question they will ask their veterinarian is, “How much will this cost?”
This question should be discussed in advance of any treatment. A responsible veterinary office should provide you with an estimate of services and the associated costs. Knowing in advance help eases the double shock of having to treat a pet for a possible life threatening illness and then having to pay for it.
But most pet owners don’t realize their pet will qualify for pet insurance.  But the reality is that most do. And pets that are covered can also include birds and reptiles. There are many health insurance plans available.  Insurance plans can cover everything from annual wellness care costs (vaccinations, spay/neuter, etc.) to accidents and illnesses.  Insurance plans will even reimburse you for that costly dental cleaning that you know your pet needs!  Some policies will cover hereditary and congenital conditions which is wonderful for owners of purebreds. Alternative medicine, such as acupuncture, is also covered under some policies. So do your homework and find out which plan is best for your pet and your budget.  Prices are reasonable and the options are plentiful.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

Get an insurance policy for your pets as soon as you add them to your family, before visiting the vet.

This includes getting insurance for puppies, kittens, and newly adopted older pets.  If a health condition should be diagnosed by your veterinarian prior to your pet having health insurance, it may be considered a “pre-existing condition,” and may not be covered under your insurance plan. Pet owners can also get insurance for older pets.  However, insurance premiums will be higher and any medical conditions noted in the patient’s medical records will likely be considered “pre-existing” and generally will not be covered.

Decide what you require of your pet’s insurance plan.

Do you want all veterinary expenses covered? Are you willing to cover the costs of wellness exams and vaccines, but want serious illnesses and injuries covered?  Do you want 100% of the bill covered or can you pay for 50% of vet expenses out-of-pocket? Do you want alternative treatments, such as herbal supplements and acupuncture included?  By knowing you want from your insurance policy, you can choose the best plan for you.

Never drop your pet’s insurance plan.

If you are fortunate, your pet may be healthy for the first several years of its life and you may be tempted to discontinue the plan.  You should keep in mind that as your pet ages, the incidence of illness and injury increases.  You want your pet to have an insurance plan in place before these things occur to avoid the “pre-existing condition” clause.

Give your veterinarian a copy of your insurance claim form to keep in your pet’s file.

This way, your veterinarian’s office can fax a copy of your pet’s medical records and bill to the insurance company and you can receive reimbursement as quickly as possible.

Do not rely on a saving’s account to cover your pet’s medical expenses.

As we all know, life has a way of interfering. Unexpected expenses may keep your pet’s savings account from growing as much as we would like it to.
When people question the cost of veterinary services, it is important to keep in mind that like human medicine, new diagnostic tests, new treatment procedures, and new medications are being developed each year for our furry friends.  Once-fatal diseases are now treatable. Osteoarthritis can now be managed with a special prescription diet instead of medication.  There is a pill available for dogs that now treats certain cancer types.  A single injection of antibiotic can now save you from having to medicate your cat at home for two weeks!  Therapeutic laser therapy is available to treat your feather-plucking cockatiel.  Unfortunately, these advances in medicine are not free.  Veterinary schools still require their students to pay tuition and pharmaceutical companies require veterinary hospitals to pay for antibiotics, life-saving heart medications, and cancer drugs.
The pet health insurance industry continues to evolve and choosing the right policy can be challenging.  Your veterinarian may have specific information they can provide you with to help guide you in your choice of insurance. Valley Cottage Animal Hospital, Dr Downing201702Valley Cottage Animal Hospital has a helpful comparison chart of the major pet insurance companies.  It is available to anyone who wants one. Feel free to stop by and pick up a free copy.
Dr. Jessica E. Downing has been a general practitioner and emergency veterinarian at the Valley Cottage Animal Hospital since 2005. As a co-owner of the hospital, Dr. Downing oversees the emergency side of the practice. Dr. Downing grew up in upstate New York and completed her veterinary education at the New York State Veterinary College at Cornell University.

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