It can happen swiftly without warning. You could be walking with your dog in the park today taking in the sun while he scours the park grounds for squirrels, and tomorrow he could be in the veterinary hospital needing life-saving surgery for bloat or a vital blood transfusion for immune mediated hemolytic anemia. Would financial constraints limit the amount or quality of care your dog would get? Would you be able to afford life saving surgery and treatment for your dog if he needs it?
Veterinary care is a basic and fundamental expense for your dog. Veterinary costs have risen dramatically in the past decade especially when it comes to emergency and specialty care. The American Veterinary Medical Association performed a study in which they reviewed expenditures for veterinary services and found that in the last 25 years the cost of veterinary care has nearly doubled. Gone are the days when veterinary care consisted simply of a rabies vaccination for the farm dog.
Emotional attachment to our pets has increased over the last 25 years as well, and now many people consider pets as part of the family. As a result, we have higher expectations for our pet’s health care. Technology and medical knowledge likewise has advanced. Veterinarians can do so much more now for their patients due to new technology such as in-house laboratories, digital radiography and ultrasonography. We have new medications and new surgical procedures that can save and improve the quality of the lives of our furry patients. While the quality of veterinary care has increased the costs have increased as well.
One way to help mitigate the cost of veterinary care is to purchase pet insurance. For the cost of a monthly premium, your pet will be covered to some extent in the event of illness or an accident. Policies can range from ten to a hundred dollars a month depending on the benefits and coverage provided with the average policy costing $30-40 per month. Unlike health insurance where there are networks and additional charges incurred for seeing a physician out of network there are usually no restrictions on what veterinarian you can use as long as they are licensed.
Be aware that pre-existing conditions are usually not covered or if they are, they get only limited coverage. For this reason, it is best to consider pet insurance when you first get your puppy or dog – a time when they are usually healthy. For example, if you have an older dog with diabetes, complications from the diabetes are unlikely to be covered although if he develops something unrelated then the policy will usually cover it.
Some veterinarians offer wellness plans. These are programs where the customer pays a low monthly price directly to the veterinarian which typically covers the annual cost of an exam and immunizations. A wellness plan should not be confused with pet insurance as wellness plans typically do not cover emergency or specialty care and only cover certain basic care from the particular veterinarian that the wellness plan is purchased from.
Pet insurance companies are starting to provide coverage for wellness since a pet that goes in every year for a check up is generally healthier so it pays to shop around. Compare the different companies that provide pet insurance, their costs, deductibles, benefit limits and range of coverage provided so that you can find the plan that is right for you and your dog. As you review the different policies focus on what is covered, how much the policy will cost you per year, check for deductibles and co-pay and read very carefully about any exclusions. In addition to not covering pre-existing conditions, some companies will exclude pets of a certain age or certain breeds that are susceptible to hereditary condition so it pays to read the fine print.
How to file claims. Once you find an insurance company and pet insurance policy, become familiar with how to report claims. Veterinarians are typically paid when services are rendered, then you file a claim and you will receive reimbursement from the pet insurance company at a later date. It helps to be prepared, if you bring the claim form with you when you visit the vet then you can ask them to fill it out and fax it directly to the company. Sometimes when a claim is processed quickly this way, you can end up receiving reimbursement before the balance on the credit card you used for the veterinary transaction is due.
Pet insurance is relatively new and most pet owners have not jumped onto the pet insurance bandwagon yet. It is estimated that only one percent of the pet owning population has pet insurance. Very few of my clients have pet insurance. In the 10 years of practicing emergency medicine I have had perhaps 30 patients that were insured. For these patients, the insurance was usually a godsend saving the owners from the large expense of an unexpected catastrophe. And yet on an almost daily basis, there are cases when one of my patients needs an urgent medical procedure that directly conflicts with the owner’s economic realities. Forgoing treatment or euthanizing the patient end up being the only options left, neither of which is ideal. Pet insurance isn’t for everyone but it may be just right for you.