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Does your pet need pet health insurance?

If your pet was injured in an accident or suffered a fracture, could you pay for the surgery -- a cost that can range from several hundred to several thousand dollars? Having a pet health insurance plan ensures your pet gets the best veterinary care in the event of an illness or unexpected accident. Doug Kenney, a veterinarian in Cordova, Tennessee, pet-health-insuranceand author of the blog, Your Pet Insurance Guide and the book ‘Your Guide to Understanding Pet Health Insurance’ frequently helps consumers sort through the pros and cons of having pet insurance.He spoke to about what these plans cover and what pet owners should look for in an insurance policy.

Does your pet need health insurance?

Should all pet owners purchase insurance for their pets?

Pet owners often aren't aware of the potential costs of diagnosing and treating some of the illnesses or injuries that can affect pets. I've often seen pet owners facing a significant expense they never expected and the anguish it causes when they realize they aren’t financially prepared. Ask yourself, "If something like this happened to my pet, would I be able to pay for it?" If not, then you should consider purchasing pet insurance.

On the other hand, there are pet owners who consider the family pet as replaceable if it becomes seriously ill or injured, and requires more than a few hundred dollars to treat. Pet insurance would be a waste of money for these folks.

Does having pet insurance benefit all pet owners?

Not all pet owners can reap the benefits of pet insurance at this time because it operates according to a reimbursement model, where the pet owner is required to pay their veterinarian in full and then file a claim to get reimbursed for covered expenses minus the deductible and copay (the insured’s portion of the payment). There are many pet owners who can afford to pay a monthly pet insurance premium along with a deductible and copay, but don't have the ability to pay thousands of dollars up front and then seek reimbursement from the pet insurance company.

Some pet insurance companies have provisions in their policies where they will reimburse the veterinary hospital directly in situations when the bill is more than the policyholder can pay out-of-pocket as long as the vet agrees to accept such an arrangement. But not all vets are likely to go along with such a request.

What would you say to a pet owner who is trying to justify the cost of pet insurance?

Most pet insurance companies now offer policies that allow pet owners to choose from a wide range of annual or per-incident maximums, deductibles and copays so they can actually custom design a policy that will fit their budget. Pet owners should be careful not to purchase insurance simply based on who has the lowest premium. You want to ideally buy a policy that would give you an affordable out-of-pocket expense (including the premium) should you have to file a large claim.

Are there any plans that cover pets with pre-existing conditions?

No. But, if your pet has had a condition in the past that hasn't recurred in the past 6 to 12 months (rules vary from company to company), the insurer may not consider it pre-existing. Every pet owner who purchases pet insurance should request a medical record review upon enrollment. This allows the pet insurance company to review your pet's medical record and let you know up front if any past conditions are consider pre-existing and not covered. The last thing a pet owner wants to do is pay months to years of premiums only to have a large claim denied because of a pre-existing condition.

If someone adopts an older pet does it make sense to still get pet insurance?

When you adopt an older pet, you may or may not know the pet's past medical history. If the pet has previous medical records, have a medical record review done. If the new owner doesn’t have previous medical records, the insurer may require a physical examination to determine if there are any obvious pre-existing conditions. I recommend having an examination done and then submit the findings to the insurance company for review. If the adopted pet is deemed relatively healthy, purchasing pet insurance can make sense because as a pet grows older, he or she will most likely develop one or more chronic conditions where there will be ongoing medical expenses.

Tips for buying pet insurance

Kenney also gave the following tips for people who want to buy pet insurance:

Ask if the company's policies offer coverage for chronic conditions and hereditary or congenital conditions. If so, what are the limits on this coverage?

How does the pet insurance company calculate reimbursements? Generally there are three methods - according to whatever the vet charges, what is considered usual and customary for your region of the U.S., or using a benefit schedule based on the diagnosis. This will affect how much you get reimbursed.

Always read reviews on the pet insurance companies you’re considering.

Always read a sample policy from the pet insurance companies you are considering. If you don't understand something, call or email the company for clarification.

Know what your out-of-pocket expense (deductible) will be if you ever have to file a large claim. You don't want to purchase a policy where you end up paying as much or more than the insurance company when you file a large claim.

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