What is HELP FIDO?

Humane Education Leads to Progress
For Informed Dog Owners

Vision Statement: We envision a society free from discrimination, where responsibility, education, love and compassion allow humans to fully respect and understand man's best friend.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Shopping for PET INSURANCE

As a veterinarian I get questions about pet insurance on a daily basis from my clients. Questions about what company is best, what policy/plan is best, should a cancer rider be added, cost, etc.? In a nutshell, pet insurance can be a wonderful, helpful option for our pets, but there is a lot of research and homework that should go into choosing a provider. My personal opinion on pet insurance is that it is not absolutely necessary to have for your pet, but it certainly helps a great deal when illness or surgery occurs when least expected. For the most part, it works very similarly to our own health insurance.

Generally, most pet insurance companies will cover a small portion of the basic yearly costs incurred with pet care/preventive services, such as vaccinations, fecal analyses, heartworm tests and heartworm and flea/tick prevention if that type of coverage is purchased. Although their reimbursement of these costs is usually minimal, they do help offset some of the routine veterinary fees. The real benefits of pet health insurance come with unexpected illnesses, emergency surgery, dental services and the like. But it all depends on the company and plan you choose. Like human health insurance, most pet insurance companies will not cover pre-existing medical problems. So, if you choose to insure your pet, it's a good idea to do so when your critter is young. Puppies and kittens are usually the least expensive to insure.

Cost of a policy is normally based on the level of coverage you want your pet to have. Generally there are caps on pay-outs for a single diagnosed illness and/or chronic illness. The way reimbursement usually works is as follows: You bring your pet to the veterinarian, along with a claim form provided by the insurance company. You pay the veterinarian for services. After the visit, your veterinarian fills out the form, which is then submitted along with a copy of the invoice from the visit. Submissions can usually be made by fax or mail by the policy holder or the veterinary office. Occasionally insurance companies will ask for further information about the diagnosis or procedure or even request full patient records for review. Once the carrier reviews the claim, the pet/policy owner receives reimbursement for a portion of the cost of the veterinary services.

Depending on how extensive a plan you would like for your pet, you may choose to add additional coverage. For example, a cancer rider (an add on to the policy that covers for services related to a cancer diagnosis in your pet). This may be indicated if you have a breed of dog or cat that is more prone to certain types of cancers. Depending on the insurance carrier they may have many options to choose from, many levels of coverage to offer, and several coverage add-ons.

Here are some questions to keep in mind when shopping for insurance coverage for your pet:

  • Does my veterinarian recommend this provider?
  • Does the provider employ certified and trained professionals, and are the provider and person selling the policy licensed in your state?
  • How does the provider handle renewals (for instance, if your pet develops a chronic condition over the course of a year, will it be considered a pre-existing condition when the policy comes up for renewal?
  • How do the complaint and appeals processes work?
  • Is there a money-back trial period for new subscribers?
  • Are there any exclusions for pets of a particular species, breed or age?
  • Will I be able to see my own veterinarian or do I have to go within the provider's network?


  • What exactly does the policy cover? What do I expect/want it to cover?
  • Will I be able to afford the monthly premium, deductible and required co-pay?
  • Is there coverage (and how much) for chronic, hereditary or pre-existing conditions?
  • Are there policies for preventive care, and are the worth paying the additional premium?
  • Are there any types of accidents, illnesses, or other health problems that are NOT covered?
  • How are claims submitted and how long does it take to be reimbursed?
  • How is reimbursement determined? Does the policy pay up to a certain amount based on "usual and customary fees" and are these amounts in line with what my veterinarian actually charges?
  • How often does renewal occur and are any additional fees assessed annually? Is my premium "locked in" or am I subject to annual increases in premiums?
  • Is there a discount if I purchase more that one policy (eg., multiple pets)?

There are MANY companies out there providing insurance policies for pets. ALWAYS, ALWAYS do your homework. Ask your veterinarian what providers they recommend, (most vets will have pamphlets or handouts in the office for one or more companies). Talk to more than one provider before deciding on purchasing a policy. Work out your finances ahead of time to determine what you can comfortably afford. Make a list of questions you would like to ask a company representative.

That's all for now....GOOD LUCK!!

1 comment:

Lisa said...

I never have used pet insurance. I am sure it would have come in handy a couple of times. We usually just tell people to start a Pet Emergency Savings account and toss the amount of the pet insurance into the account so they will have a nest egg when emergencies arise

These are the dogs of HELP FIDO...our dogs...this is why we are here...