What Pet Health Care Plan is Best for Your Pet?

by Kathryn Carlson, DVM

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Your choice of insurance plan may depend on such factors as your dog’s lifestyle, age, general health at adoption/purchase, and, of course, your budget.

Choosing pet health insurance can be a confusing challenge. Plans are now offered by car insurance companies and home insurance companies, and there are many pet-specific insurance companies. How can you sort through the plans to make sure your pet is covered? Here are some tips for comparing and suggestions about what to watch out for when you are shopping for your pet’s health care plan.

The Basics

The first thing to know is that in-house wellness plans are not insurance, and pet insurance plans are available with and without wellness coverage.

Most insurance plans have some similarities:

■ Require a “waiting period” between the time you insure your pet before it is covered

■ Allow you to use the veterinary practice of your choice

■ Offer different tiers of reimbursement level and deductible, helping with monthly payments

■ Monthly billing for insurance premiums

■ Have you pay the veterinarian, then file a claim and get reimbursed per your plan

■ Do not cover pre-existing issues Where the plans differ:

■ Coverage

■ Deductible structure and amount

■ Claim limitations

■ Reimbursement schedules

There are three main categories of insurance plans available:

  1. Accident-Only Plans. These types of plans only cover injuries or emergency care due to an accident.
  2. Major Medical Plans. These policies cover both unexpected illnesses and accidents. There may be exclusions, such as pre-existing or hereditary conditions, and prescription medications may not be included. Routine check-ups and care are normally not covered.
  3. Wellness Plans. Coverage for wellness items are available as an add-on plan which covers annual exams, basic wellness tests, vaccinations, spay/ neuter, flea/heartworm preventation and dental cleanings, or can be combined together in one main policy.

There are a myriad of different inhouse care plans. These plans cover many basic pet care needs, although, they are not usually health care insurance plans covering injuries or major illnesses. Typically offered by veterinarian offices, these plans group together basic health care needs over a specified period of time. Care plans are normally paid annually and cover vaccinations, a well check, basic recommended annual tests, and a specified number of office visits. Care plans may include routine services like spay/neuter or dental, or they may offer a discounted rate for services. It is important to make sure that you agree with all the items on that care plan. These plans can run from $30 to $80+ per month.

Comparing the Basic Plans

The chart on page 80 shows a general comparison of In-House Wellness Plans, Major Medical Insurance With Wellness, and Major Medical Without Wellness. All numbers and costs provided are estimates and are subject to change, based on age, breed, and other factors.

Your choice of insurance plan may depend on such factors as your dog’s lifestyle (active outdoors? Couch potato?), age (puppy or adopted senior dog?), general health at adoption/ purchase, and, of course, your budget. Obviously, a Major Medical plus Wellness Plan covers almost everything, but you’ll want to consider all the above options before deciding which plan is right for you. If you are the owner that will elect annual recommended dentals, and preventative bloodwork, an insurance policy that also includes wellness is a huge advantage. As with any insurance, you are taking a calculated risk based on your expectation that you will need the coverage you’re paying for.

Questions to Ask

Once you’ve decided which type of plan fits your pet’s needs, there are some general questions to ask the insurance company that will also help you decide which carrier will provide the best plan for your needs.

■ What is included in the plan?

■ Do you have different packages?

■ What are the costs for those packages?

■ Is there a discount for items not covered by insurance?

■ Can I cancel at any time? Would there be a penalty?

■ Is there a deductible? Ask if it is annual versus per issue.

■ Is microchipping and membership included?

■ Accidents, emergencies included? X-ray, surgery, prescriptions?

■ Are after-hours emergencies covered? Do I have to go to a different location?

■ Is exploratory surgery covered? Removal of masses?

■ Prescriptions included? Pain medicine, heart medicine, etc?

■ How do I get reimbursed?

■ How soon?

■ Are elective surgeries covered, such as dental surgery?

■ During dental surgery, are extractions covered?

■ Are preventive medications included?

■ Is anything not included, or are there any limitations?

■ Are pre-existing conditions included?

■ Are genetic conditions included?

■ What are the claim limitations on each incident, annually, and per condition?

■ Are there any reasons that would stop my pet from being able to enroll? To renew?

■ Is there anything else that you can tell me about this plan that I need to know?

Pre-existing conditions are not usually covered by health insurance plans, so it is always better to get coverage as soon as you get your pet. A really smart move is to get insurance immediately after adopting a shelter pet, as there are no documented pre-existing conditions, some may require an exam from the vet to make sure there are no pre-existing conditions.

Basic Plans Comparison Chart

Still Need Help?

To help with the process of choosing the right option for you, Dr. Carlson and the staff at Village Park Animal Hospital will be hosting an Insurance Workshop on Saturday, January 27, 2018, 5-7pm. We will be going over the different types of insurance plans in detail and what they cover, making this tough decision much easier. Please visit www.Villageparkanimalhospital.com or www.Facebook.com/VillageParkAnimalHospital for further details of date and time.

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