By Dr. Becker
Currently, there are over a dozen companies in the U.S. and Canada offering pet insurance, and if you’ve tried sorting out the differences between them, like many pet owners, you probably wound up more confused than when you started.
As is the case with insurance of any kind, pet healthcare coverage is a wonderful thing to have if you need it -- and providing there are no big surprises when you submit a claim for reimbursement.
Here’s the scenario you want to avoid: you faithfully pay your monthly premium for years and enjoy peace of mind knowing your pet’s health care will be paid for in the event of an expensive illness or emergency. When that dreaded day unfortunately arrives, you submit a claim to your pet insurance provider for reimbursement… and learn that the illness or injury your companion has suffered isn’t covered by your policy.
So now you’re out thousands of dollars in premiums, and the substantial debt you’ve just incurred to treat your pet or save her life is your burden to bear, and yours alone. Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence for people who don’t fully understand the exclusions and other limitations of their pet insurance coverage.
The 5 Most Important Things a Pet Insurance Policy Should Cover
Here are five things every pet owner should consider before investing in healthcare coverage for furry family members.
- Chronic disease
Chronic diseases typically appear in middle-aged and older pets and are considered incurable. They include problems such as heart disease, chronic kidney or liver disease, diabetes, endocrine system disorders like Cushing’s or Addison’s disease, etc.
Look for a plan that covers chronic diseases, preferably without exclusions. Chances are good that if your furry companion lives long enough, he’ll develop a chronic health problem of some kind. Your pet healthcare plan should be designed to cover such eventualities.
Also be sure you’re informed about any limits on reimbursement for specific diseases.
- Ongoing coverage for chronic disease
Just as you want your plan to cover chronic diseases, you also want to make sure it covers ongoing diagnostic testing and treatments for any chronic illness your pet may develop. Some policies only reimburse for tests and treatments for the year in which the condition was diagnosed, which means you assume the full cost after the first year.
Imagine your beloved pet develops chronic kidney disease, and after a year has passed, you’re still paying your monthly insurance premiums PLUS all the expenses incurred to treat her ongoing illness. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, so try to avoid plans that limit continual coverage reimbursements.
- Congenital and hereditary disease
Your pet healthcare plan should cover congenital and hereditary conditions – the kind that are present at birth, as well as those that develop later in life. Examples include hip dysplasia, patellar luxation (floating kneecap), entropion (a disorder of the upper eyelid), liver shunts, etc.
Try to avoid plans that cover one but not the other, as some pet insurance providers consider congenital conditions “pre-existing.” A good rule of thumb: the more confusing the language in the policy, the less likely you are to be reimbursed. If you’re having trouble deciphering what is and isn’t covered, come up with some “what if” scenarios involving your pet, then call prospective providers and ask if those situations will be covered.
And again, pay attention to maximum payouts and any limits on reimbursement for specific diseases.
- Breed-specific and species-specific disease
Many breeds of pets, dogs in particular, have medical conditions they are more prone to than other breeds. For example, Golden Retrievers are more likely to develop cancer than other breeds; small and toy dogs are more prone to patellar luxation.
Also, dogs as a species are more likely to acquire certain conditions like arthritis, while kitties are more apt to develop hyperthyroidism or chronic kidney disease.
Your policy should provide coverage for problems that may arise specific to your pet’s breed or species.
Sadly, cancer is common among veterinary patients these days, especially certain dog breeds. And it isn’t exclusively a disease of old age. Traditional cancer treatment for pets (typically surgery and/or chemotherapy and other medications) can get very expensive, so make sure the pet insurance you’re considering provides coverage in this area.
Insure you understand reimbursement limits, and especially if your pet is a breed genetically predisposed to cancer, consider opting for a plan that provides the most comprehensive coverage available.
Also, keep in mind that older pets and those with pre-existing conditions may not be eligible for full cancer coverage, so you’ll want to get those details nailed down even if it requires phone calls to various providers.