The Bottom Line is that Dog Insurance is All About Managing Your Risk
Let’s start off by asking the most difficult question when it comes to Dog Insurance.
Which of these two do you anticipate will cause you the greatest amount of pain?
- The risk that you insure your dog and never need to draw on it – what else could you have done with that money?
- Or, the risk that you don’t insure your dog and an injury or emergency transpires that requires immediate attention but you don’t have the money available and so your dog suffers.
Now, let’s turn it around and ask which of the above do you anticipate will cause your dog the greatest amount of pain?
And that’s the bottom line.
How We Will Help
Our objective in this article is to present to you the questions you need to ask yourself as a responsible dog owner as they relate to dog insurance. We have no view as to whether you should or should not take out a dog insurance plan as only your personal set of circumstances is relevant to the question.
We give you with a list of questions you need to ask any potential dog insurance company if you just want to find out whether dog insurance is for you and your dog. Insurance policies are not equal and neither are the coverage, premiums, benefit limits, annual limits, waiting periods, or exclusions.
There is quite a bit to cover, so let’s get on with it.
The number one reason for taking out dog insurance is that it can be a cost-effective way of ensuring your dog will get the health care needed, when it is needed, in the future.
The number one reason for not taking out dog insurance is the cost to you today.
None of us are able to predict the future and your dog’s medical requirements may result from accidents, illnesses, chronic conditions or emergencies. In general, they are unforeseen, unexpected and highly stressful. And so is the cost.
The reason to take out any type of insurance is that your assessment of the downside risk of loss is that it would leave you significantly worse off. In many insurance scenario’s a loss could cripple you financially in the short term and indeed can have a long term financial impact.
The alternative is that you determine that the downside risk of loss would not impact you in any meaningful way and then further, that the chances of such a loss were very unlikely or low, you may choose to ‘self-insure’ and wear the impact. Instead of paying annual premiums to an insurer you could put that money away for a rainy day.
One concern is that most people don’t or can’t put that money away and even when they do, it gets used for other life ‘emergencies’ that may crop up along the way and then isn’t available for a dog emergency.
Another concern is that dog owners are forced to take out short term loans at high costs to provide their dog with urgent and immediate medical attention. The savings made by not paying for annual premiums up to that point may be moot. Dog insurance would have covered the majority of the cost so you wouldn’t have paid the total cost of the procedure or treatment or surgery. However without dog insurance, you will be liable for 100% of the cost. That 100% is financed resulting in a higher overall cost than the actual procedure or treatment.
So Where to Begin?
As a dog owner you should consider the question of whether dog insurance, which will be an ongoing annual or monthly expense, is necessary for your personal set of circumstances.
There are only two options to ensure your dog will get the medical care needed when it is needed.
- Take out an appropriate dog insurance plan for your dog or
- Self-insure (put aside money on a regular basis for ‘emergencies’ or always have access to savings).
The Health Costs of Dog Ownership
Medical expenses for vaccines, parasitic prevention and routine maintenance will need to be paid over a dog’s lifetime and most owners can afford these as they are routine and minor in dollar terms.
However it is the unexpected injuries, accidents, conditions and illnesses that can cause financial hardship, stress and grief. With the cost of vet care rising, even a non-critical visit to the vet can leave your bank account bruised.
Vets, treatments, surgeries, and medicine that may be required to mend, heal and rehabilitate your dog can run into thousands of dollars. When it’s an emergency your dog cannot wait for you to save or find the money. That is when your self-insured savings or your dog insurance plan can be a saviour, literally, for you and your dog. Make sure your dog is familiar with their own dog crate so that any time or stay required at the vet’s doesn’t cause further distress. Learn more about crates for dogs and how simple it really is.
And that is the risk you need to weigh up when answering the question of whether dog insurance is necessary for your own personal set of circumstances.
How will you cope with the added, and sometimes unexpected, need to pay potentially thousands of dollars to save your dog’s life? Can you afford and access a lazy thousand or so dollars? Having insurance could alleviate the financial burden of vet and treatment bills and ensure that your dog could get what he needs when he needs it.
Every year dog owners are caught out trying to purchase dog insurance after their dog has become sick or hurt. At that point, it’s unfortunately too late to get coverage for that particular accident or illness.
Insurance Plan Confidence
All pet insurance policies are not created equal. We will show you how you can be confident of what you will be precisely paying for when you decide to take out a dog insurance plan. We will show you how easy it can be when you know how.
As you go through The Checklist, remember that not everything will be relevant to your personal set of circumstances. You may be willing to forego a benefit to keep your premiums lower. It’s up to you.
What You Must Ask The Insurance Company
Pet Insurance companies are fully aware that some dog breeds have a predisposition to particular genetic or other known conditions.
Premiums, exclusions and inclusions will be correlated, to some extent, to these and there is not much you can do about this if you already own your dog. However, if you are using the information in this article before you have committed to the adoption or purchase of a dog then you should clearly include medical predispositions in your research.
As an example it is reported that more than 50% of the Cavalier King Charles spaniel breed suffer incurable health concerns. You can read about their many health problems on the Cavalier Health Organisation website, but here are just a few:
Heart disease (1 in 2 Cavaliers develop mitral valve disease (MVD) within their first 5 years, and it is the number one cause of death)
Neurological disease syringomyelia (incurable abnormal skin sensations and sensitivity to touch affects 1 in 2 Cavaliers)
So, let’s get into The Checklist.
There is absolutely no point in continuing to research a particular dog insurance plan if it won’t cover you in your current State or another State or Country if your dog will be relocating with you. Not all pet insurance companies are licensed to sell insurance in all States.
Q1. Does the dog insurance cover my dog nationwide?
Q2. Which States are excluded from the plan?
Insurance Company Stability
Clearly you want the insurer to be around to pay out a claim when it’s needed so make sure you find out how solid the company is.
Q3. How long has the company been in business?
Q4. Who is the ultimate owner of the company? Is it a large insurer which is publicly listed?
Q5. What is the name of the company that is the underwriter of the dog insurance plan? How long has the underwriter been in business?
Illness, Accidental Injury or Both?
Be very specific about what will be covered. It would be tragic to find that your dog is only covered for illnesses when you have a need for emergency treatment.
You also want to know what the % is you get back on eligible vet bills.
Q6. Is the cover for accident injury only?
Q7.If yes, is there a dog age limit to the accidental injury cover?
Q8.And how much, or what percentage, will the plan cover?
Q9.Is the cover for accident injury and illness?
Q10. If yes, is there a dog age limit to the accidental injury cover?
Q11. And if yes, then is there a dog age limit to the illness cover?
Q12. How much, or what percentage, will the plan cover?
This is the amount that you will need to pay the insurance company for your dog insurance.
Dog insurance premiums can be reduced with the careful selection of these options;
- Payment timing ie weekly, monthly or annually. A one-time annual payment can often be cheapest.
- Including a co-payment. The higher the co-payment or your payment, the less the insurer will reimburse and so the premium will also be cheaper.
- Deductibles. Annual and Per-Condition Deductibles can reduce the premium (see the next Paragraph on Deductibles).
- Possible discounts for insuring multiple pets on the one plan.
It is worth checking if you are able to vary the co-payment as this can affect the premium you will pay. For instance you may prefer to pay a slightly lesser annual premium and if there is cause for a claim then you contribute a higher amount to the claim.
Q13. What are the co-payments available?
Q14. What is the decrease in my premium as these co-payment levels are increased?
How Much Will I Be Reimbursed For My Vet’s Bill?
This is the bottom line. You need to know how much your insurer will contribute to your vet’s bill for both illness and accidental injury. The contribution may not be the same for each of these.
An insurer may set THREE DIFFERENT LIMITS on any benefits it may pay.
- The particular incident or service you can claim per incident.
- An annual total for a particular incident or service you can claim.
- The particular incident or service you can claim in total over your dog’s lifetime or the lifetime of the plan.
You will need to know how each of the THREE will apply to each of services, treatments, items that the insurer WILL COVER.
You should be aware that as well as the Benefit Limits the amount the insurer reimburses you may be less than the vet’s bill due to one or more of these variables.
- The inclusion of a “Benefits Schedule” in the plan, and/or
- “Usual, Customary and Reasonable” (UCR) clause in the plan,
- A pre-agreed “Co-Payment” amount, and/or
- Annual and/or Per-Condition “Deductible”.
So, what are all of these and how do they work?
Some pet insurance policies determine the amount of your claim refund using a benefit schedule. In some cases you might get back much less than you expect. You will need to fully understand the limitations when it comes to claim reimbursement to avoid disappointment.
Q15. How is my claim refund determined?
Usual, Customary, and Reasonable (UCR)
Some pet insurance policies determine your reimbursement with reference to UCR which is a way of reimbursing claims based on the actual costs of procedures in a geographic area. The insurer recognizes that actual costs of vet care do vary depending on where you live. For example you could expect to pay more for the same vet service in Manhattan, New York than in Manhattan, Kansas.
Q16. How is my claim refund determined?
What are the Co-Payment and Deductibles?
You can choose to contribute to your dog’s treatment cost to reduce your dog insurance premium. This is known as a co-payment.
There may also be two types of deductibles available so check with the insurer. Basically a deductible is an amount that you specify to pay for a treatment for a condition within the policy year. If you claim multiple times for the same condition your deductible will only be applied once, providing all treatment took place within one policy year. If you file claims for multiple unrelated conditions your deductible will be applied for each claim.
Q17. Do you have an annual deductible?
Q18. What is it and by how much will it reduce my premium?
Q19. Do you have a per-condition deductible?
Q20. What are they and by how much will they reduce my premium?
Here’s a basic example that illustrates the amount the insurer may pay towards your vet’s bills after co-payments and deductibles:
|Insurance Plan with
a 90% reimbursement/10% co-payment and a $100 deductible
|Insurance Plan with
a 70% reimbursement/30% co-payment and a $100 deductible
|Claim for Bella for an ABC||$1,000||Claim for Bruce for a DEF||$1,000|
|10% co-payment||($100)||30% co-payment||($300)|
|Deductible (per condition)||($100)||Deductible (per condition)||($100)|
|Total reimbursement||$800||Total reimbursement||$600|
Discounts for Multiple Pets
Some insurance companies have special policies when you insure multiple animals.
Q21. If you have multiple pets, ask if the insurer has a plan for this.
Q22. If yes, ask how it works. In particular, what if one pet requires more medical care than the other? Do benefit limits apply to the plan or is it per pet?
Be aware that some insurance companies will limit the number of ‘high risk’ breeds they will insure in one plan, or ban these breeds from their insurance plans.
Always be honest with your answers when asked for the details of your dog’s breed.
Knowing that you can keep renewing your dog insurance, regardless of your dog’s age or claims history, will give you certain peace of mind.
Q23. Will there be continuous cover for my dog regardless of his age or claims history?
Insurance companies may increase premiums as a dog gets older, and sometimes if there are many claims filed. You will need to understand how and when insurance premiums can be increased.
Q24. How and when can you increase my dog insurance premium?
Q25. Will it only be annually?
Q26. Or will you review my annual premium during the period of cover if I make a/any claim?
Am I Free to Choose My Own Vet?
The insurance company may only provide you dog insurance cover if you select a vet from their pre-authorised vet list. You need to know this to ensure it will be convenient for you, especially in an emergency situation.
Q27. Can I choose my own vet?
Q28. If I can only use a vet that is on the insurer’s pre-approved vets list for all services then how close is my nearest vet?
It is usual practice for insurers to impose waiting periods for various services.
Q29. What are all your specific waiting periods? (Ask about the general services and for previously diagnosed health issues)
What are my available Premium Payment Options?
Check specifically if there is a difference in the total yearly premium if you choose to pay on a non-annual basis.
Q30. Payment – can I pay weekly, fortnightly, monthly and annually?
Q31. What is the premium for each option? i.e. How does the premium’s yearly cost change if I pay in instalments?
You want to understand how the claims process will work.
Pet health insurance falls under the category of property and casualty insurance, not health insurance. Therefore the contract agreement is between the insurance company and you, not your vet.
Ask these specifics about the claims process:
Q32. How do I make a claim?
Q33. How long do I have to make a claim after the service date?
Q34. How long will it take your company to reimburse my claim?
Q35. What can delay the reimbursement of claims?
Do I Need Pre-Authorization Before My Dog is Treated?
Just for peace of mind. If your dog requires an expensive, but perhaps non-urgent treatment, find out beforehand what the claim refund will be.
Q36. Ask the insurer if they offer pre-authorization of a service.
THE DETAIL – INCLUSIONS, EXCLUSIONS, EXTRAS
This is the nitty gritty of the detail of what your dog insurance will cover you for specifically. You will need to determine FOR EACH OF THESE
Q37. Is this item included?
Q38. What is the per-incident limit?
Q39. How much is the annual benefit limit?
Q40. What is the lifetime benefit limit?
Check the Specific Routine Inclusions
De-sexing and Micro-chipping
Heart-worm preventative medication
Q41. How are pre-existing conditions treated?
Q42. Does the insurer exclude genetic conditions?
Q43. What are these for your dog?
Q44. If genetic conditions are insurable, is the premium at a higher price?
Specific Coverage (this is not an exhaustive list)
Check the plan details for a full list of what IS covered. Here is a starter list for you. Contact the insurer directly if there is any ambiguity or you are unsure of the language or jargon used.
- Are all emergencies like fractures, ingestion of foreign substances, and poisoning covered?
- Is Emergency boarding included?
- Accidental injuries. Check if any accidental injuries are excluded.
- After-hours emergency visits?
- Lab and diagnostic tests – for accident only or accident and illness?
- Hospitalisation – for accident only or accident and illness?
- Radiology – for accident only or accident and illness?
- Medicine and drugs – for accident only or accident and illness?
- Illnesses. Check if any illnesses are excluded.
- Annual paralysis tick benefit
- Heart worm test or blood screen
- Cancer treatment including surgery, radiation and chemotherapy?
- Skin conditions. Does the insurer cover all the common types of skin conditions covered? e.g. allergies, fungal (ringworm) infections, seborrhoea (oily and flaky skin) dermatitis and alopecia?
- Infectious diseases
- Cruciate ligament surgery
- Hip Dysplasia. Ask what the insurer’s policy on bilateral conditions is. A bilateral condition can happen on both sides (right and left) of the body e.g. like hip dysplasia and cruciate injuries. Some companies have restrictions on how much they will cover for these types of conditions.
- Renal dialysis
- Chronic diseases (e.g. Chronic Renal Failure, Heart Disease, Liver Disease, Diabetes Mellitus, Cancer)
- Sudden and severe diseases such as acute Renal Failure and acute Pancreatitis.
- Cardiac Pacemakers
- Euthanasia (elective)
- Euthanasia (essential)
- Please add other items to this list that you think are more specific to your dog.
Check the Specific Exclusions of the Plan
Check the plan details for a full list of what IS NOT covered. Here is a starter list for you. Contact the insurer directly if there is any ambiguity or you are unsure of the language or jargon used.
- Dental procedures – which?
- Behavioral problems
- Elective procedures
- Food and diets
- Pet accessories
- Please add other items to this list that you think are more specific to your dog.
Q45. What are the optional extras that I can add to the insurance plan? e.g. Travel Insurance, Alternative Therapies?
Q46. And what are the benefit payments, annual limits, and specific exclusions and inclusions?
Cancellation of Plan Rules
Q47. How can I cancel the plan? For instance if your dog passes away you would want to cease the plan immediately or receive a reimbursement of any prepayment made for the plan period.
Prevention is Better than a Cure
Preventing your dog’s needs for medical attention will always be a better alternative. Here are a few of our thoughts on what you can do to make sure your dog doesn’t suffer unnecessarily.
Schedule and attend annual vet check-ups.
Keep your dog’s vaccines up to- date. The annual vet check-up will get that sorted for you.
Neuter your dog. Low cost programs are available in many States. Check through the ASPCA.
Teeth – brush your dog’s teeth regularly. Don’t use human toothpaste and ask your vet to show you how at your next visit.
Protect your dog from parasites including fleas and ticks. Use appropriate products only. Ask your vet at your next visit.
Cigarette smoke – avoid smoking around your dog. Keep butts well away also. These are a danger to your dog. Read our recent article on Dog Safety to discover all the other household hazards that are dangerous for your dog.
Feed your dog the most nutritious food that you can afford.
Grooming. Daily, or at least regular, routine brushing of your dog’s hair is essential. Read our recent article on the prevention benefits of DIY Dog Grooming.
Dog Insurance – Where to Next?
Our objective in this article was to present to you the questions you need to ask yourself (and any potential insurer) as a responsible dog owner as they relate to dog insurance. We have no view as to whether you should or should not take out a dog insurance plan as only your personal set of circumstances are relevant to the questions.
Insurance appears complex but when you break it down as we have here you can see it’s quite simple. Yes, it’s time-consuming but once you’ve gone through each of the questions we’ve provided you with you’ll be far more confident that you are choosing the right solution for you and your dog.
What’s Your Bottom Line?
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