If you're considering getting pet insurance for your dog or cat but don't know where to start, you're not alone! Pet insurance has become a big business in the past decade, which means there are many different companies and plans to consider. This gives you a wide variety of options, but it also makes for a difficult decision making process when it comes to choosing the right company for your pet! We know how overwhelming it can be to choose a pet insurance company, so we've compiled the answers to a few frequently asked questions to help you get the basics.
Does my pet really need insurance?
In short, no. Pet insurance is not for everyone. Many people would rather save money in a rainy-day fund than pay a monthly premium for pet insurance, and there's nothing wrong with that. However, pet insurance can be a lifesaver in the event of a large or unexpected veterinary bill, or in the event that your pet is diagnosed with a chronic condition. Advancements in veterinary medicine have improved the lifespan and quality of life of pets dramatically, but this care comes at higher cost than we might be able to anticipate when our pets are young and healthy. By getting medical insurance for your pet, you reduce the financial barriers to giving your pet the very best care available throughout his or her entire life.
How does pet insurance work?
Pet insurance functions very differently from human health insurance, so it's important to know what to expect from your insurance company. Unlike with human health insurance, where you often go to the doctor and pay only a small copay at the time of the visit, pet insurance requries you to pay your full veterinary bill at the time of service. Once the bill is paid, you simply submit your paid invoice along with your claim form to request reimbursement from your insurance company. The downside of this system is obvious: you're stuck paying out of pocket even though you have pet insurance! However, the upside of this system for pet insurance claims is significant, in that this system allows all veterinarians to work with all insurance companies. This means that you can take your pet to any veterinarian at any time without having to worry about whether or not they accept your pet insurance plan. Need help submitting a claim? Just ask! We're more than happy to help guide you through the process, fill out forms with you, and even submit claims for you.
How do I choose an insurance company?
All pet insurance companies are different, so it's important to do your research and ask questions to determine which company, if any, is the right fit for your needs. Most pet insurance companies now have fairly comprehensive websites, including helpful answers to frequently asked questions, and this can help spare you a few phone calls as you begin your search. We recommend narrowing your search down to two or three companies, and then calling each company to ask more questions and get an idea of the quality of their customer service. Below are some questions to ask your prospective insurance provider as you begin your search.
- What are my choices of deductible, and will my deductible be per issue or per year? (For example: If my dog has a chronic condition such as heart disease, but also gets ear infections, will I pay a deductible for each condition once, and then never again, or will I pay into a single deductible for all of his medical conditions once a year?)
- What will my monthly premium be?
- Will my monthly premium increase as my pet ages? Will it increase if I make a claim?
- Are hereditary and congenital conditions covered? (For example: hip dysplasia in large breed dogs)
- What do you consider to be a preexisting condition? (For example: If my cat had an eye infection two years ago but has been healthy ever since, would you deny my claim if he got an eye infection today?)
- Is there a limit to how much money you'll reimburse me for veterinary care each year, or a limit to how much you'll reimburse me over the lifetime of my pet?
- Do you reimburse me for care based on the actual amount of money I paid my veterinarian, or based on a benefit schedule?
- Can I have a procedure or treatment pre-approved so I know how much you will pay before I agree to the procedure? How long does it take to receive an answer once I've submitted a request for preapproval?
- How quickly will I receive reimbursement once I've submitted a claim?
- Do you cover the cost of dental care for my pet?
- Do you cover routine/wellness care (such as wellness exams, vaccines, or spay/neuter surgery)? If so, how much will my monthly premium go up if I add wellness coverage to my policy?
- Do you cover nutritional supplements and prescription drugs? Is this optional coverage, or is it included in my standard policy?
- When will my coverage begin? Are there waiting periods for accidents or illnesses? (For example: If my puppy develops an ear infection 10 days after I enroll her in your policy, would her treatment be covered?)
- Is there a separate waiting period for orthopedic conditions?
In general, you're looking for an insurance company that provides good customer service and offers a variety of plans built with the needs of their clients in mind. If they seem like they're going to catch you on every technicality, take a month to process your claim, or if the quality of your pet's plan will decrease as he or she ages, they're probably not the best fit.
How do I get the most out of my insurance policy?
The goal of having pet insurance is not necessarily to get your money's worth out of your insurance policy. In the same way that we carry insurance on our cars but hope we never have to use it, many people take out a pet insurance policy but don't ever need to use it because their pets are just too healthy! We always hope that our pets will be 100% healthy throughout their lives. Pet insurance simply serves as a backup plan in case this dream of lifelong good health doesn't come true. That said, if you do choose to take out a pet insurance policy, there are a few things you can do to make sure you get the most out of your policy.
1) Know your policy: Know what your plan covers, what your deductible is, and whether you pay that deductible once a year or pay it each time your dog is diagnosed with a new condition. As vets, we do our best to educate ourselves about the various pet insurance companies, but with so many different companies and plans out there, it's impossible for us to know everything. The more you know about your pet insurance policy, the more likely you are to get the most out of your policy. For example, if you're visiting your vet because your pet is having yet another ear infection and you're not sure whether or not to do additional testing to pinpoint what might be causing those infections, it's helpful to know whether you've paid down your deductible already. If you know that you've already paid your deductible, you know that you can move forward with additional testing knowing that your pet insurance company will reimburse you for most of the cost of that testing. If you haven't, you might elect to hold off on testing and pursue it sometime down the line if it proves to be truly a necessity.
2) Advocate for yourself (or have your vet's office do so for you): If your pet insurance company rejects your claim or doesn't pay you what you were expecting, feel free to call them and ask questions, or ask your vet's office to do so for you. It never hurts to understand more about your policy, and you might just get a little more reimbursement as a result!
3) Ask for help submitting claims: In order to get reimbursed, you must first submit a claim! If you're anything like we are, you have enough to do in your daily life without adding pet insurance claims to the mix. The easiest way to solve this problem is simple: Ask your vet's office if they can submit your claims for you! You'll save yourself time and ensure that your claim has the highest possible chance of being processed as soon as possible.
4) Take out a policy when your pet is young: There is nothing that prevents pet insurance companies from refusing to cover pre-existing conditions, so it's best to take out a pet insurance policy when your pet is young. Some pet insurance companies will no longer consider a condition to be "pre-existing" if your pet has gone 18 months without an incident, but it's best to get a policy before any conditions have a chance to appear.
5) Be aware of any waiting periods: Waiting periods can be an expensive problem for the unlucky few. If your pet insurance company includes a waiting period (often 30 days from the start date of the policy) during which they won't cover any illnesses, there's not much you can do to get around it. Because of this, we recommend setting up your pet insurance plan as soon as possible if you do choose to take out a policy for your pet. By signing your pet up early, before any signs of illness appear, you do as much as possible to ensure that your coverage is fully active before your pet needs to use it. It's also helpful to note that some companies will waive the waiting period if you sign up for a policy within 24 hours of a healthy visit to your vet, so it's worth asking your vet if they know of any companies that extend this offer. Even if you only use that company as a backup while you wait for your pet's waiting period to be over at the company of your choosing, it's worthwhile to have as a backup plan in case your dog or cat becomes ill or injured during your policy's waiting period!
Pet insurance can be helpful but also incredibly complicated, so don't hesitate to ask questions of your insurance company or your vet's office if you're overwhelmed. They might not have all the answers you're looking for, but they can often find an answer easily and save you the headache of doing so yourself!
Wishing you all good health and a happy summer season!
The CVH Team