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As technology and research advances in the medical field, people today are able to live longer healthier lives.  The same is true for the veterinary profession.  Veterinarians are able to treat many conditions; however, the costs can be very expensive for some families to manage. Pet insurance plans are designed to help reimburse pet owners some of these costs.

In the United States, where pet insurance has been available since the early 1980s, less than 3 percent of pet owners carry insurance.

Most pet policies cover unexpected and emergent medical and surgical conditions, as well as chronic illnesses, making them a good investment for pet owners. With a variety of plans from which to choose, pet owners can find one that is not only affordable to them, but which also covers their pet’s annual medical needs.  Pet health insurance is not only far cheaper than the human medical insurance, but it also lacks the administrative complexity. Instead, pet insurance functions on a reimbursement basis. Policyholders pay for veterinary bills out of pocket and are reimbursed by the insurance company upon submitting claims after treatment has been performed.

When evaluating pet insurance companies and policies, pet owners are advised to apply the same scrutiny they would to any other insurance policy:

  • Compare coverage to actual and probable needs given the animal’s breed and its associated health risks.
  • Understand the costs. Each company has a slightly different cost structure in terms of co-payments, premiums, deductibles, reimbursement percentage and annual and lifetime limits. Verify whether the premiums remain the same throughout the life of the pet or increase with age.
  • Know the coverage limits and exclusions. Different insurance companies apply different exclusions. The list of policy exclusions must be reasonable to meet your individual needs. Pre-existing conditions are never covered.
  • Broad coverage. The policy must cover all illnesses, accidents, surgeries, cancers, catastrophic situations, chronic diseases, advanced testing, medications and hospital stays. This should include congenital and hereditary conditions, because some of these problems only become evident as the pet ages.
  • Avoid benefit schedules. Choose a policy that reimburses a flat percentage of the bill (percentage of invoice), not an amount preset by the insurer based on a fee schedule (percentage approved). Benefit schedules preset by the insurer (percentage approved) pay pennies on the dollar.
  • Avoid policies that specifically only cover “reasonable,” “usual” or “customary” charges. Policies won’t guarantee the actual charges will be fully covered using this terminology.
  • Be able to choose your veterinarian and seek the care of specialists at your discretion.
  • Consider your pet’s age and breed. There may be other factors taken into consideration as well, including where you live and whether your pet lives indoors or outdoors.
  • Check with other pet owners you know that have pet insurance and with your regular veterinarian for recommendations and personal experiences.

No matter the size, our pets are members of our families and we want our furry family members to live long and healthy lives.  One of the best ways to ensure this happens is by investing in a pet insurance policy. Having pet insurance can make doing so that much easier.

Written By: Dr. Garrett Levin, DVM, Diplomate ACVS

Dr. Garrett Levin is a board certified surgeon at Burlington Emergency and Veterinary Specialists (BEVS) in Williston, Vermont.  Please visit www.bevsvt.com/blog for videos and additional blog topics.

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