What You Need to Know About Pet Insurance

From veterinarians to government spokespersons, more and more experts are recommending pet health insurance. The key take-home message? Make sure you shop around for a policy that works for you and your pet, and read the exclusions so that there are no surprises down the road.

For many of us, our beloved pets are like family. They give us love, and in turn, we’d do anything for them if they got sick or injured.

Veterinary medicine has come so far that you can treat your pets for cancer, diabetes, even torn ACLs – but the bills can add up fast.

Unexpected Health CostsJust ask Peggy Coppin, who now has six dogs, including two who are seriously disabled.

“Over $6,000. His shoes were $2,400, the wheelchair was about $800. It’s $100 a week for physical therapy. Then he was ill a couple of months ago in the vet’s office … that was $2,400,” Coppin told ABC10 News, tallying up her recent spending on her foster dog Clinton.

Clinton’s case may sound extreme, but many animal lovers now elect to have expensive surgeries to save their family animals’ lives. Pet insurance is one way people can save significant cash on their pets’ veterinary bills, and it’s on the rise.

A 2012 report by the Freedonia Group said purchase of pet insurance was likely to increase by more than 11 percent annually through the year 2016.

Dr. Karl Jandrey, a professor at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, said pet insurance can affect the decision owners make when faced with their pet’s injury or illness.

“Pet insurance is really helpful in the owners’ minds when they meet a financial challenge with their patients, [or] their animal has a diagnosis that may be much more intense or more expensive than anticipated,” Dr. Jandrey said. “Pet insurance may make it easier for the owner to decide to move forward with therapy, versus doing sub-standard therapy or euthanizing the patient because of financial concerns.”

But pet insurance isn’t exactly like health insurance for humans. Many pet insurance policies won’t cover animals for treatment for pre-existing conditions, which doesn’t help animals like Clinton (or people like Coppin).

Even with insurance, owners will almost always pay the full cost of treatment upfront and receive reimbursement later, after submitting documentation to the insurance provider.

This makes it even more important for people to understand what their insurance policy covers – and what it doesn’t.

“Because you don’t want the surprise later that [the treatment] wasn’t covered, so now you’re out of pocket for those expenses, and it can be really difficult. The easiest thing is to go to the exclusions section and look at what’s not covered – it’s usually in pretty plain language,” California Department of Insurance spokesperson Nancy Kincaid advised.

Have you recently signed up for a policy that’s not a good fit? A relatively new California law gives consumers the right to cancel and get a full refund in the first 30 days of a policy, which provides some peace of mind.

As for costs, policies can vary dramatically, depending on the level of coverage and the pet in question. Industry group NAPHIA said that in 2014, the average annual premium for accident and illness plans for dogs came to $473, while the average cost for the same level of coverage for cats was $284. The average bill for accident-only coverage for dogs was much lower, at $157, and the same policy for cats came to $132.

Above all, Kincaid and NAPHIA agreed that it’s important to shop around for the right policy. NAPHIA has an exhaustive list of pet insurance companies in the U.S. on its website.

Republished from ABC 10 News