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Advice on Pet Insurance

By C Ding B.V.Sc. , Cert VP (Vet GP) Dist., M.R.C.V.S.
Nov 5, 2009 - 11:17:20 AM

At Evergreen Veterinary Surgery we strongly advise you to insure your pet. Within the last 10 years we have seen the level of care that clients expect as standard increase considerably. Conditions that were previously considered to be untreatable are now within our reach e.g. chemotherapy for certain cancers or supportive care for animals with liver or kidney disease. We often refer animals for specialist treatment options e.g. orthopaedic surgery or for specialist procedures e.g. C.T .scans. However, all of these medical advances add to the cost. When an animal is insured it allows the decision to be influenced less by finances and more by consideration for the animals welfare.

During the last 10 years there have been considerable changes within the pet insurance field. Originally, there were a limited number of specialist pet insurance companies, such as Pet Plan or Pet Protect. There are now many different companies that provide a range of types of insurance and financial services, including pet insurance. This change has made it harder for us, as a veterinary surgery, to advise and administer claims. Also, in 2005 the FSA introduced legislation that governs the advice we are able to give when discussing policies.

Pet insurance does not operate in the same way as some other insurances, e.g. car insurance. The aim of this article is to explain certain terms and common areas of confusion, so as to allow you to make a more informed decision about insuring your pet.

1) There are basically 3 distinct types of Pet Insurance:-

Cover for life - these policies have an annual benefit that is renewed each year and provides continuous cover for long-term or recurring conditions e.g. if an animal is suffering from a chronic heart condition, he will be covered for an annual amount of say 5,000 for each policy year. When a new year commences the full benefit of £5,000 will be re-instated. These policies tend to be the most expensive.

Maximum benefit - these policies provide a fixed maximum benefit for each condition e.g. a dog may have suffered a chronic skin condition for many years. As he becomes older he also develops a heart condition and arthritis. Each condition can be claimed for up to a set limit. Afterwards, ongoing costs will need to be paid by the owner.

Twelve Month Policies :  these policies provide cover for a maximum of 12 months from the first symptom, not from the first claim. Any fees arising after the 12 month period will not be covered. It is possible to be excluded from claiming without ever submitting a claim or even having any treatment. If transferring to another company, the condition will not be covered as it will be a pre-existing condition.

In general, cover for life insurances give far better cover, especially for chronic problems.

 

2) A pre-existing condition refers to any condition that was present before the animal was insured. This relates to the time that a condition was first noticed by the owner, not the time that treatment began. Insurance companies frequently ask for copies of an animals clinical records to check for pre-existing conditions. This is especially likely if you are unfortunate enough to need to make a claim soon after taking out insurance.

If an animal has already suffered from a particular condition before the insurance begins, the company may place an exclusion on the policy. This can last for either a set period of time from the beginning of the insurance (often 12 months), or they may stipulate that the animal has to be free from a condition for a set period.

3) Insurance companies also usually stipulate a time, after the beginning of the insured period, during which they will not provide cover. This is called the inception period and usually lasts from 10 to 14 days.

Some insurance companies will provide free puppy or kitten insurance for 4 or 6 weeks via the breeder or a veterinary surgeon. This is the best way of ensuring full cover from an early age.

4) Insurance companies usually have an age limit, above which they will not provide new policies. This is often around the age of 8, although there are differences according to the insurance company and also the breed of the animal. The premiums will often increase considerably at this age. Also, some companies will only pay a percentage of the claim for older animals.

5) Your Premiums do not increase if you make a claim. Most clients think their premium is based on their pet’s claims history. They are not. Premiums are based on the average claims history for that age and type of dog.

6)The way in which insurance companies approach a claim varies according to the company. This makes it very difficult for us to advise you about a specific claim. If you need to know in advance whether a particular treatment will be covered, it is necessary to contact the insurance company. If the insurer tells you that you may submit a claim this does not mean that they will necessarily pay you. To pre-authorise a claim a written form will need to be submitted, so that the insurance company will be able to properly assess its merits.

Claiming Procedure.

A claim for veterinary treatment can be submitted once the amount paid is greater than the predetermined excess. Any further treatment is then regarded as a continuation and can be claimed in full whenever the policy holder wishes. Some companies insist on claims being made within 6 months of the treatment.

 

For on-going conditions with a Cover for Life Policy, once a new policy year starts an excess will be deducted and then the claim will proceed as before.

Common problems.

Most insurance companies deduct certain expenses that they think you would have had to pay anyway e.g. food.

Companies vary in their approach to dental treatment. Some require an annual dental check. The claim may be invalidated if an animal has not been seen regularly by a veterinary surgeon, even if the animal has been insured for many years and you have not had to make a claim. At Evergreen a dental examination is performed as part of the annual health check that accompanies annual vaccination. If dental treatment is recommended during that health examination but is not performed this may invalidate a later claim.

If two conditions are treated at the same time they will both be subject to an excess e.g. if an animal is given a general anaesthetic in order to carry out an X ray and a dental procedure is carried out at the same time, both conditions will be subject to an excess. The cost of the general anaesthetic will be linked to one condition, such as the X ray, meaning that the remaining treatment may be less than the excess.

Some companies adopt a similar approach to tumour removal i.e. they will subtract a separate excess for each type of tumour.


Recent Examples

 

4 month old Labrador with a fractured elbow, caused by jumping over a ditch. Initial X rays carried out at Evergreen, followed by referral to a specialist orthopaedic surgeon. Total cost:  Approx £3,000. Arthritis later in life is a distinct possibility

 

10 year old Whippet with an allergic skin condition and cardiac disease. Monthly medication costs:  approx £90 for the last 3 years.


3 year old cat involved in a road traffic accident, resulting in a fractured pelvis. Total cost:  £240.00 Arthritis is almost inevitable as this cat matures.

8 year old Springer Spaniel with lymphoma. Treated by chemotherapy for a period of 7 months.Total cost : £2,500

7 year old cat treated for complicated diabetes melitus. Total cost:  approx £1500.00 for first 12 months then  lower, but significant, ongoing costs.

 

Only Cover for Life Insurance would provide cover all these real life examples.

Perhaps the best independent site to evaluate insurance is www.insureyour pet.co.uk

This site scores insurance companies based on users experiences. The results are quite informative and dramatic. Many companies get NEGATIVE scores!


The critical question:

Can you afford NOT to have your pet insured?