Pet Health Insurance Part 1

“Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.”

To insure or not to insure? That is the question – with no easy answer. Your five-year-old dog may have suffered one brief bout of diarrhea after eating some unknown goody – otherwise, nothing. Maybe little more will ever happen. Or he may contract Lyme disease, or injure himself chasing a wayward Frisbee. How comfortable will you be, counting on your good luck and his good health?

There’s no easy answer. Pet insurance has been around for decades, yet there are still plenty of us who would rather keep our fingers crossed than sign up. As more insurers enter the market, there are ever more options to consider: coverage for alternative therapies, for example, such as acupuncture or behavioral problem-solving.

In this article, the first in a series, we look at some of the likeliest options your potential insurer might offer. Our goal is to provide you with the tools to make informed, thoughtful decisions.

Deductibles

If you’ve ever insured a car or a house, you’ve encountered deductibles. A $250 deductible means that your insurer –or YIC (for Your Insurance Company) — won’t pay the first $250 of your costs. You will. You might skid on a nasty patch of black ice one wintry night and wind up with your car partially squashed against a utility pole. Happily you’re not hurt, but your car will need $1,500 worth of repairs. Because of your $250 deductible, the most YIC will reimburse you for will be $1,250. In addition to the amount of your deductible, YIC might also have offered you another choice: annual or per incident deductible. If you selected annual, and something else goes wrong with your car in that same insurance year, you won’t have to pay that $250 again. With a per incident deductible, you’ll pay that first $250 each time something new goes wrong.

You’ll probably also need to select your reimbursement level (sometimes called a “co-pay”). If you chose a 100% reimbursement level for your newly pleated car, YIC will pay you the entire remaining $1,250 on your repair bill. If you chose a 90% level, YIC will pay you 90% of the $1,250 it owes you. Please note – this is not 90% of the original cost to repair the car, but 90% of the cost after the “deductible.” With a 90% reimbursement level, your payment from YIC is now down to $1,125. And that’s assuming they accept the repair bill as reasonable.

Most pet insurers offer similar options. However, veterinary care is not as cut and dried as car repair. So when you’re ready to consider individual insurers, we suggest talking to your vet(s) and fellow dog trainers about their experiences, including how picky a company has been about veterinary costs and recommended procedures. Do yourself a favor: take careful notes. Each insurer will vary from the next one, but hardly any will vary in the same way. The more details you record, the easier your decision will be.

Of course, each choice you make will affect the annual premium you pay. The lower you make the “deductible,” the higher your premium will be. The lower you make the reimbursement level, the lower your premium will be. It’s a balancing act. And unless you’ve learned how to predict the future, it’s not much better than an informed gamble.

Finally, keep in mind that every pet health insurer excludes “pre-existing conditions.” So once you’ve signed on with YIC, if your dog should develop a chronic condition or a degenerative disease (such as dysplasia), you’ll probably be stuck with YIC.   That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s something to consider when you’re asking others about their pet insurance experiences. Fortunately, you can make changes in other areas. Most insurers allow you to modify your options when you renew. Renewals are usually done annually, but some insurers allow you to modify an option at any time.

Next time, we’ll look at more options. Please let us know if there are aspects of health insurance you’d like us to explore sooner than others, or if you have any questions. We’ll address as many of those as we can, depending on space as well as relevance to our readers. Contact us here.


Barbara Silverstein is an editor of Chew on This

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