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Is pet insurance right for your clients? 7 questions to ask

With veterinary costs rising, your pet may need insurance just as much as you do. (Bryan Doane/FLICKR)
With veterinary costs rising, your pet may need insurance just as much as you do. (Bryan Doane/FLICKR)

Pet insurance should be a well-researched purchase for pet owners, as there are now more options on the market than ever before. 

Though expensive premiums may be cumbersome for many clients, basic insurance premiums average $50 a month, according to pet insurer Trupanion. Coverages, of course, vary from policy to policy, and range from basic emergency coverage to full "maintenance" plans. The price of pet premiums varies by their span of coverage, species, age and, of course, breed.

Click through the following pages to review the options to consider when looking at pet insurance for your clients.

Conditions

Some of the basic needs for coverage are medication, routine check-ups and emergency services. Common problems for dogs, such as ingesting harmful objects, can cost upward of $1,500 per visit. Cats have medical issues too, and their costs can be similar.

It’s in the best interest of your client to get insurance when their pet is young, to take advantage of more affordable premiums, and also to see if their provider will cover immunizations and neutering or spaying.

Many insurers may reimburse medical expenses for emergencies and services such as X-rays and hospitalizations, but be wary that some also require a waiting period for accidents and illnesses.

Pre-existing conditions

Hereditary issues such as skin or breathing problems can be considered pre-existing conditions in some pets.

“No pet insurance company covers pre-existing conditions,” said Kathryn Clappison, a spokeswoman for Trupanion.

For example, a specific type of dog breed might be notorious for asthma problems, or hip dysplasia later in life, and oftentimes insurers will leave out services that offer reimbursement for medical care related to these conditions.

To be sure of all pre-existing issues, insurers might require a vet to examine your client’s pet before issuing a policy, and it’s important to know what conditions would or would not be covered by the insurance provider. Like health insurance for humans, it can be easy for clients to get confused about what is and is not covered by the new policy. 

Renewable benefits

Some insurance plans may not allow similar services for your client’s pet during consecutive renewals.

If a pet was treated for a medical issue in one year, insurers can claim the illness or problem as a pre-existing condition, cutting the possibility of future treatment. It's always best to check with the insurance provider to see if they offer renewable benefits for your client’s pet before making any assumptions.

Exclusions

In order to keep your client’s costs down, agents should evaluate the overall needs of the pet and tailor the plan recommendation individually. There may not be a need for every service offered, especially if the breed doesn’t require it or if the pet is generally healthy.

Not every pet insurance premium is equal. Sometimes it might be cheaper if routine dental work or preventative care wasn’t included in the policy – sometimes they’re not even offered if they weren’t caused by an accident or injury. Your client’s policy also might be different based on their pet breed and age. 

Reimbursement

In 2009, $12.7 billion was spent on veterinary care, according to the American Pet Products Association. As more technology is being introduced into pet treatment, such as radiation and diabetes treatment, costs are expected to rise, and the financial burden will be placed on pet owners. If those owners have insurance for their pets, they will need to seek reimbursement for these treatments. 

It’s always best to review the insurance company’s benefits schedule for any pet policy. This will break down the payments and applicable fees for your client, such as co-pays and deductibles. Check to see if the insurance company plans to reimburse your client directly, or if they plan to go through the veterinarian. Also ask if the client will need to pre-pay for every service, or if the insurer can deal directly with the vet for some, more basic services.

Veterinarian networks

Similar to human health insurance policies, many pet insurers require that your client go through a network of vets offered through the company to ensure coverage. This can be a make-or-break situation for whatever provider your client chooses, given that veterinarian history with the client’s pet is often important to owners. It isn't always easy to find a new vet on short notice.

Before buying a policy, check to see who your client’s preferred vet is and see if they’re in the insurer's network. More importantly, if they do not have a preferred provider make sure there is one in their area that works with the potential insurer. It may be easiest to call around to different vet offices directly to ask what insurance providers they handle.

Important Questions to Ask

•       Can your client choose any vet?

•       Does the policy cover annual wellness exams?

•       Is there a dollar limit for vet office fees?

•       Are prescription drugs covered?

•       Will the policy cover spaying or neutering charges?

 

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