Pet insurance 101

Thanks to developments in veterinary care and quality nutritional products, pets are now enjoying a longer lifespan. Pets are also now, more than ever, a part of our family unit and when illness or tragedy strikes, veterinary bills do not always fall within our ever-tightening budgets. 

Pet insurance takes the sting out of unexpected veterinary bills so that you can focus on getting your pets the medical care they need.

Choosing the right pet insurance plan can be a daunting experience. It is important to look beyond the cute photos and marketing hype and examine the policy details to find the best option suited to you and your pets.

Here are 10 important points for you to consider before signing the policy:

  1. Enrolment rules

A young, healthy pet will qualify for any plan, but some plans won’t allow you to enrol senior pets. Once you’re enrolled though, most plans will offer coverage for life as long as you continue paying the premiums.

Generally, puppies and kittens must be at least six to 10 weeks old, depending on the insurer.

If you have a pure breed that is prone to medical problems, ensure that you will be covered for these conditions.

  1. Types of incidents covered

Some pet insurance companies offer accident-only plans as well as more comprehensive plans covering both accidents and illnesses.

An accident-only plan covers treatment of injuries after a mishap, such as a car accident, poisoning, dog fight, etc. If you have an accident-only plan, the insurer won’t pay for illnesses such as upset stomachs, itchy skins, or ear infections. Ensure that you know upfront what type of cover you are looking for.

  1. Types of treatment covered

Below are a few of the areas where coverage can vary among plans and insurers:

  • Holistic wellness cover (alternative, physiotherapy, and behavioural treatment) 

Some plans cover behavioural consultations and a wide range of holistic treatments, such as acupuncture, chiropractic care, and animal physiotherapy. Others don’t cover them at all.

  • Chronic treatment

If your pet develops a chronic condition, some plans won’t extend coverage therefor in the year after your policy renews and most won’t cover you past three months of treatment.

  • Chemotherapy/radiation

Some insurers won’t cover any cancer treatment costs.

  • Dental cover

Some plans won’t cover any dental costs while others cover only dental trauma as part of an accident/injury. Some plans will say they cover dental costs but they’ll have a low payout limit.

  • Preventable diseases

Some insurers won’t cover any preventable diseases (uterus infection, parvovirus, kennel cough, etc.).

  • Routine and wellness care

Most basic plans won’t cover the basics such as annual health check-ups, vaccinations, sterilisation, parasite control, and annual teeth cleaning. Some insurers, however, do offer the option of adding such coverage at an additional cost.

  • Prescription diets and supplements

If your pet needs to be on a supplement or a specific veterinary diet for his/her condition, some companies cover the cost of those more expensive foods for a certain period, but most insurers do not.

  1. Payout limits

Most plans have some form of maximum payout limit. It is, therefore, imperative that you read the policy language carefully. There may be a payout limit for the year, for your pet’s lifetime, or a type of incident, condition, or even for a treatment type. There may also be a combination of sub-limits.

  1. Excess

This is the amount you have to pay in the event of a claim. Every insurer has a different excess amount. Ensure that you know exactly what yours is for the various treatment and condition types. 

  1. Pre-existing condition definition

A pre-existing condition is a medical condition that first occurred or showed symptoms before your pet’s insurance policy began. No insurer will cover pre-existing conditions, but the definition of “pre-existing” may vary. Some companies may include conditions that first occur during the waiting period of three months for illness cover. Some plans may cover past conditions that have been cured/resolved for a certain number of months.

  1. Exclusions

Besides pre-existing conditions, some plans exclude coverage for certain illnesses and conditions. For example, some insurers won’t cover any congenital or genetic disorders (e.g. hip dysplasia). Some insurers won’t cover certain breeds or even some common conditions in young dogs/kittens (e.g. parvovirus in puppies).

  1. Waiting periods

Pet insurance plans have waiting periods for coverage to commence after you’ve signed up. Typically, the coverage for injuries from accidents begins within a day or two. The waiting period for illness coverage may typically be 30 days and for major surgery, it is usually longer (six months to a year).

  1. Reimbursement/claiming

Read the details of how reimbursement works. Some companies will preload money onto a card for you which you can use directly at the vet but most companies will reimburse you after you have sent them a claim form.

Choose an insurer and a plan that has developed a claims system that is easy to use and, more importantly, easy to question. Choosing an insurer that has veterinary trained personnel in the claims team is often far more valuable than a “call-centre” type system. 

Find out how often and why your premium will increase and when you could upgrade or downgrade plans if desired. Ask your insurer if the number of claims you submit will affect your premium and whether they have a no-claims bonus. Some insurers will offer a multi-pet discount.

In closing, vets often see the heartache and financial distress that comes with unforeseen veterinary expenses. Pet insurance is highly recommended, but it is important to choose the pet insurance that works best for you, your budget, and your pet. Decide what you want coverage for and ensure that you read and understand the fine print of your policy to safeguard that you will get what you are paying for.

Authored by Dr Karin Wilson (not a SAFREA member)

Proofread and Copyedited by Delilah Sao Joao (SAFREA member)

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