What can you do if your pet has a serious illness or accident? Veterinarian medical technology has paralleled that of human medical technology in terms of increasing sophistication over the past 10 years. But how can you pay the bills? It's no cheaper for your dog to get medical treatment than it is for you.
How Does It Work?
Pet insurance works a lot like people insurance does. There are traditional Blue Cross/Blue Shield-type plans where you pick the veterinarian of your choice for services, pet HMOs and even discount clubs, where for an annual fee you get a discount on veterinarian services and animal health and grooming products. Ask your veterinarian. He or she may offer a locally-based discount plan for pets, which might be better for you than one of the bigger plans, and unless you are willing to change veterinarians, be sure to ask if they accept any pet insurance plans.
Watch Out For Pre-Existing Conditions
Frequently, congenital and hereditary illnesses, as well as pre-existing conditions, are not covered by pet insurance. So if you have a large dog and it develops hip dysphasia, you might be out of luck. Talk to several companies before you buy. Some will insure sharpies, which are notorious for hereditary problems, with accident-only coverage. Sometimes a 20 percent surcharge is added for large-breed dogs.
Age Is A Factor
Nearly all companies' premiums are based on your dog's age, and some policies will insure dogs for accident-only coverage after they reach the age of 8 or 10 years. Find out before you buy. Elderly dogs are far more likely to be stricken by cancer than young ones, and this is one situation where insurance can make the difference between life and death for your pet.
Some Other Questions to Ask
Will the insurer cover routine wellness care, such as inoculations against distemper, rabies and other diseases, dental care, eye care and flea and tick control. Some insurance companies even pay for prescriptions but only if you add on a" wellness rider" to your existing policy, at an additional cost of about $100 per year.
Watch Out For Deductibles
What are the annual caps on payment? What are the caps for specific illnesses and specific incidents? For example, if the vet charges $1000 for mending Rover's broken leg, and the insurer's cap on bone fractures are $500, you'll have to pay that extra $500 out of your own pocket.
Costs for Traditional Plans
Let's look at two of the larger traditional-style insurance plans -- where you go to the veterinarian of your choice -- available in most states, VPI and Ohio-based Petshealth Insurance Co. Each offers three levels of insurance coverage for your dog. The first, called Basic by Petshealth and Gold by VPI, includes coverage for accident, illness, non-elective surgery and hospitalization, less deductible. Depending on the age and sometimes the size of your dog, VPI charges $101 - $146 for this plan; PetsHealth charges $120 - $144. The mid-range plans, called Value by PetsHealth and Advantage PLUS by VPI, cost $230 -$276 and $171 - $251, respectively. The mid-range plans offer some preventive health care screening services like testing for heartworms, as well as basic accident and illness coverage. PetsHealth has a top-level plan called Choice, costing from $362 - $434. VPI has a wellness rider that can be added on to either of its other plans for $99. Both PetsHealth Choice plan and VPI's wellness rider offer more in the way of coverage for routine veterinary services, such as inoculations, testing and treatment for heartworms, discounts for flea control and the like. Deductible levels may also vary depending on the plan you choose.
HMOs for Dogs?
What if you want to insure your pet, but the breed is known to have congenital or hereditary problems? Pet Assure isn't exactly an HMO, but it offers its members discounts on all veterinary bills and services as well as on many pet health and grooming products. The membership fees for these plans are fairly modest; running about $100 per year, with discounts usually averaging 25 percent for veterinarian visits and treatments. The only catch is that you can only go to a veterinarian who is involved in the program, the equivalent of a "preferred provider physician."
Written by Jerry Hatfield
publisher of www.pettravel.com,
a website for traveling pet owners with tens of thousands of listings of pet friendly accommodations, beaches, even restaurants to make it easier to take your pet along.