Veterinary Professionals

Ask a Vet: Is Pet Insurance A Good Idea?

January 14, 2016

If you’ve been considering pet insurance, or have just discovered it now, this sound advice from a veterinary professional may help you to make the leap and secure the best possible care for your pet. Tracy Sands gives an explanation of how insurance differs between humans and pets, and then offers her personal tips on how to make a decision about pet insurance, which is ultimately about being a responsible pet parent.

Pets are quite special in our families, and options for quality veterinary medical care are improving every year.

Therefore, the choices for pet insurance are better than ever. Pet insurance policies can range as far as premiums and coverage, so it is important to understand how to evaluate the right policy for you.

Did you know that there are many specialty fields, including veterinary oncology, orthopedic surgery, cardiology, dermatology and more? I bet you even know at least one friend whose dog had knee surgery or whose kitty had terrible urinary disease.

Even if your pet never needs a specialist, as your beloved companion, I know that you want to provide the best possible general veterinary care (or what I like to call family medicine) for them. With quality annual care, we can have our pets as a part of our family for 10 to 20 years!

This medical care does not come without bills, as drug prices, laboratory fees, student loans and equipment costs are on the rise. We, as veterinarians, know these costs can be difficult to face but also do not want to sacrifice quality of care in order to keep the bills the same as they were years ago.

Therefore, we are pleased that there are options in pet insurance to help owners defer the costs of providing the best care for their pet. Pet insurance is a very reasonable option to help make medical care attainable for all pet owners.

There are several differences between human and pet insurance. With many human policies, you pay a co-pay and wait to find out what costs are covered, but with most pet policies, you pay your entire veterinary bill and then are reimbursed by the company. However, reimbursement is often timely, rather than lengthy battles about coverage.

Another significant difference is that veterinarians are not governed by insurance. Unlike human medicine, my decisions are not influenced by how the insurance company feels that I should approach treatment. Conversely, pet insurance removes the owner’s financial status from the treatment planning and allows me to medically choose the best option.

A similarity is concern over pre-existing medical conditions. Many clients whose pets suffer from chronic disease ask me about pet insurance. At this time, I sadly say that insurance is unlikely to cover them. However, if the owner has already procured a good insurance policy and their pet ruptures their cruciate ligament (ACL) or develops allergies, we can gladly pursue the best treatments, since the owner knows a good portion of their costs will be covered.

When choosing the plan for your pet I recommend you research carefully and even ask your veterinarian’s opinion so that your premium money will be wisely spent. The following questions should help you compare policies:

1. Does the policy cover genetic conditions? (Hip dysplasia, eye, or even heart disease can be considered genetic.)

2. What percentage of my fees are reimbursed? (I have seen everything from 90 percent to 5 percent.)

3. Is my deductible yearly or over the life of the pet? (Lifetime deductibles are often best.)

4. Does the policy cover vaccines? (You often pay lower premiums if you pay wellness care out-of-pocket.)

5. Have others been satisified with this company?

When a client asks me if insurance is right for them, I ask them these simple questions:

1. If your pet needed an emergency procedure costing anywhere from $1,000 to $6,000, would you be forced to make a very serious decision based on your available funds on that day?

2. If I recommended some very specialized testing and treatment, would you rather pay 10 percent or 100 percent of the cost?

If you have a furry family member of any kind, pet insurance may be right for you. As a pet owner myself, I would compare whether the premium I chose would be easier to afford monthly than an unexpected emergency bill would be. As a veterinarian, pet insurance takes cost off the table and out of the discussion when I am treating a pet.

Would you rather our conversation be about finances or about the best way to care for your pet?

Republished from The Sentinel, written by veterinarian Tracy Sands.