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Posted by Pam Reihs ● December 27, 2019

What Do I Need To Know About Pet Insurance?

Close up of a gray dog

Insuring the health and well-being of our furry friends is not a new concept. The first insurance policies covering animals were written over 100 years ago, however these early policies focused on loss risks associated with horses and livestock. Those old enough to remember the television show “Lassie” will not be surprised to learn that the star-pooch had an accidental injury and major medical insurance policy of his own. (Yes, Lassie was actually played by 9 different male collies over the years, even though the character was written as a female dog.)

Can anyone purchase pet insurance?

Many pet owners today are surprised to learn that pet insurance is widely available and affordable and is no longer limited to covering only dogs and cats. Policies can be written to cover any number of more exotic pets, including birds and reptiles.

Note: It is important at this point to differentiate animal mortality indemnification—blood stock—such as policies sold to cover horses and livestock, from “pet” insurance, which is designed and marketed to cover medical treatments for animals kept as pets.

Unlike human health insurance policies, plans that cover pets are actually a form of property insurance, and typically reimburse the policy owner after a pet receives care and a claim is submitted. While most consider their pets to be part of the family, legally a pet is considered personal property and is insured as such. Policies function much like their human health insurance counterparts, with monthly to annual premiums, deductibles, and copayments. Most include an annual maximum for most types of coverage and the premium is calculated based on the animal type, breed, age, location, gender, and general health.

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Does pet insurance cover everything?

Preexisting conditions in pets are still an underwriting factor and are either excluded or covered after a designated waiting period has been satisfied. Other exclusions may include preventive care, dental care, behavioral issues, obedience training, breed-specific hereditary conditions, prosthetic limbs, and elective procedures. Other excluded coverages:

  • Boarding
  • Treatment for conditions deliberately caused by the animal’s owner
  • Treatment for conditions caused by racing, commercial guarding, or organized fighting

Common coverages include emergency treatment for accidents, broken bones, illnesses, poisoning, surgery, x-rays, lab work, and hospitalization. Some policies include end-of-life expense coverage as a sort of life insurance for the covered animal and may even include bereavement counseling. Others may focus on wellness care and include preventive care, vet exams, flea & heartworm prevention, and vaccinations without a deductible.

What should I ask if I want to buy pet insurance?

The consumer definitely has options when it comes to pet insurance coverages, plans, and premiums. Questions to ask when shopping for a policy that works include:

  • Can any veterinarian be used, or are only certain facilities included in a network?
  • What is the deductible and copay?
  • Does the policy cover annual wellness exams?
  • Is there a dollar limit for office fees?
  • Is there a discount for multiple pets or for paying the premium annually?
  • Are prescription drugs covered?
  • Are alternative therapies and/or rehabilitation covered?
  • Does the policy cover spaying or neutering charges? Is there a discount if the pet is already spayed or neutered?
  • Is there a waiting period before any coverage begins… or before certain coverage(s) begin?
  • Does the pet need an exam to qualify for the policy?
  • Is there special coverage if a pet is stolen?
  • If a pet has a pre-existing or chronic condition, is it covered or excluded?
  • How long is the way for claims to be paid?
  • Does the plan cover end-of-life benefits?

Other items of note:

  • Some vet offices offer their own wellness programs for treatments typically excluded by pet insurance.
  • Likewise, certain pet insurance plans offer wellness programs as a stand-alone plan to help policy owners pay for routine care.
  • Some national discount plans offer vet service discounts for a monthly membership fee.
  • Pet pharmacies may offer discounts.
  • Some homeowner/tenant policies provide limited coverage for pets.

Topics: Personal Lines, Property & Casualty, Insurance

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