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Written by leading veterinarians to provide you with the information you need to care for your pets.

HealthyAssurance by petMD

Healthy Assurance's mission is simple: To provide pet owners with unbiased, reliable, helpful, and timely information on pet insurance from a veterinarian’s perspective. And what better veterinarian to write this blog than Dr. Kenney, a small animal practioner and author of Your Guide to Understanding Pet Health Insurance

Pet Insurance: A Veterinarian’s Perspective

For years, there was only one pet insurance company that offered policies to pet owners in the United States. I had only a vague idea of how pet insurance worked. So when clients asked me or a member of my staff about pet insurance, it was convenient to just give them one of the brochures the company had sent us.

 

Then about four or five years ago, I walked into an emergency/specialty hospital to check on a patient I’d referred to them. In the reception area, I noticed a brochure about a pet insurance company I’d never heard of. I asked the receptionist if they saw many clients with pet insurance. She had a typical response, "Only a few, but those that do have it seem to be much more willing and able to do whatever is necessary to diagnose and treat their pet’s illness."

Over the next few months, I received brochures from two new pet insurance companies. From looking at these brochures, I realized that there were significant differences in the policies each had to offer. Which company and policies were the best? What would I say to my clients when they asked about pet insurance now that I realized they had a choice of several companies?

This led to my researching the pet insurance industry. Believe it or not, when I first started my research, there wasn’t a lot of information available to pet owners about pet insurance. So, I started where many of you would start if you were trying to find out information about pet insurance. I visited company websites. I called and talked to representatives of each company on the phone and asked a lot of questions. I discovered that pet insurance is a much more complex topic than I ever imagined.

Fortunately, I was able to develop relationships with veterinarians who were on the staffs of several companies as well as the founders and CEOs of other companies. They have generously given me a better understanding of the pet insurance industry and specifically their company’s policies.

What started as a quest to learn more for the benefit of my own clients evolved into the idea of writing a book about pet health insurance, aptly titled Your Guide to Understanding Pet Health Insurance. I felt the book could give pet owners a basic understanding of how pet insurance works, provide some in-depth analysis of the companies and their policies, explain a good way to narrow the search for a company and policy for their pet, and provide worksheets that allow a side by side comparison of the companies. Eventually, I started a blog to further educate pet owners about pet insurance and try to keep up with the changes as they occurred in the industry.

Today, there are at least a dozen company websites and numerous other blogs and websites that focus on pet insurance. It is no wonder pet owners get confused and find the task of choosing the right company and policy for their pet a daunting one.

As humans, our health insurance is usually chosen for us through our employer. We go to our physician or a hospital and they handle the filing of insurance claims for us and we rarely have any personal dealings with the insurance company. We have little need to understand the complexities of our own health insurance policy.

But a pet insurance policy is a contract between the insurance company and the pet owner. When choosing a pet insurance company to cover your pet, you are starting a relationship that you need to be comfortable with and also have confidence that you’ve chosen wisely. Therefore, you will have to do some homework. It is best that you invest the time necessary to make the right choice the first time. Otherwise, if you later become dissatisfied with your choice and switch to another company after you’ve filed several claims, your pet may have one or more conditions (pre-existing) that won’t be covered by the new company.

My goal in writing petMD’s newest blog, Healthy Assurance, is to provide pet owners with unbiased, reliable, helpful, and timely information on pet insurance from a veterinarian’s perspective. Since veterinarians diagnose and treat the problems and diseases that pet owners end up filing claims for, a veterinarian’s perspective is important.

I won’t be recommending specific companies because that is your decision to make, but I hope to make it a little easier for you to confidently choose the best company and policy for your pet.

Dr. Doug Kenney
 

Pic of the day: dog & cat by Yuakri*

Comments  12

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  • Welcome!
    04/28/2011 07:11am

    Welcome, Dr. Kenney!

    I will check the information you've shared today and look forward to your blog posts.

    This is a subject that I've investigated a couple of times in the past, but I have yet to find a company that's affordable for someone with a herd of older critters.

    Insurance seems to be wonderful if your critter gets hit by a car or chewed up by another animal, but so far it seems to be lacking when it comes to serious and chronic diseases. Will they pay for "going the extra mile"?

    Again, welcome to the family! I look forward to your thoughts.

  • 04/28/2011 02:06pm

    Certainly, trying to insure multiple older pets can be expensive.

    Yes, there are companies who now offer good coverage for serious and chronic diseases for a reasonable price.

    All the companies now offer coverage for chronic diseases. Here again, the limits on coverage and the costs are all over the map, so it will take some research to find a policy that suits your needs. There will be a future blog post on coverage for chronic diseases.

    Every pet owner's situation is different, so there isn't a one-size-fits-all type of policy out there. That's one reason why several companies let you customize your policy.

    Thanks for the welcome!

  • Welcome, Dr Kenney!
    04/28/2011 09:50am

    To all of the great writers on this site I do read your posts every time although only occasionally commenting. As I am Canadian my comments are not likely appropriate on this topic but just recently I had occasion to use the insurance that I got when my now almost two Australian Shepherd/Lab mix was a puppy. We were out of town and first handled by an emergency vet. They did fill out the forms for the insurance but admitted to having little to do with insurance companies. When I got back to our home vet the next day the tech gathered the papers from the day before and told me not to worry. She had me sign the claims and did the rest. I had an email from the insurance company just four short hours later when I finally got home. That was reassurance beyond the call of duty. I was paid within two weeks and had excellent service. A year of coverage was paid in just one illness and we have a recall exam next week and will likely have fecal, urine and blood tests to make sure it is all gone. As we live on my husbands pension income and savings I don't think I could ever have a pet again without having accident and illness insurance. I would rather be one that pays for it and never uses it than have a scare like we had. This plan does not pay the HST tax (13%) or the cost of the vet exam but I think that keeps people from overusing the benefit. I am happy to have it.

  • 04/28/2011 02:20pm

    Thanks for the comment and I'm glad you had a good experience with the company and policy that you chose.

    I think it's great that your veterinarian was so helpful in the filing of your claim. We do something similar for our clients. We generally keep several claim forms for each pet in their chart so that we can fill them out and fax them to the insurance company for them after a visit.

    You also said something that is very important for people to understand why folks buy pet insurance - "As we live on my husbands pension income and savings I don't think I could ever have a pet again without having accident and illness insurance. I would rather be one that pays for it and never uses it than have a scare like we had."

    You seem to understand that pet insurance is a risk management tool and that not everyone will get reimbursed all that they pay in premiums. For you it is worth it anyway for the peace of mind. That's a proper perspective of the purpose of pet insurance.

    Again, I sincerely appreciate the welcome!

  • much needed
    05/02/2011 01:43pm

    A late yet heartfelt welcome Dr Kenny.

    I think it is wonderful that you are writing about pet insurance. I get pet insurance and then I cancel it.

    The reason is I don't understand it and I don’t trust insurance companies. Who am I to disagree if an insurance company denies my claim? I am not a vet so I don't have the knowledge to appeal. I think an insurance company will try to deny claims rather then pay them. (I have a hard enough time just with my own health insurance and coverage).

    The other thing that confuses me is pre-existing conditions and hereditary diseases. As a dog owner that looks to be a loophole any insurance company could use. When I think of how many dogs get cancer or bloat or eye problems or bladder problems and so on: it seems fairly easy for an insurance company to say oh this is pre-existing or it is the breed.

    I have put this subject on the back burner for a while and it will be very helpful to learn about pet insurance.

  • 05/03/2011 11:09pm

    Thanks for your comment and encouragement.

    The petMD Insurance Center was started to help pet owners learn more about pet insurance - to understand how it works. With the information provided, we hope to help pet owners make informed and wise decisions when deciding whether to get pet insurance for their pet and, if so, which company and policy is best for their situation.

    In other words, we hope to help you learn how to close some of those loopholes you are most concerned about. Stay tuned, I'll be writing about these very issues you mentioned very soon.

  • Subscription
    05/04/2011 06:39am

    There doesn't seem to be a place to subscribe to this blog. I have considerable vet bills and would very much like to be notified when there's a new post.

  • 05/04/2011 09:33pm

    The plan right now is to post a new blog weekly - usually on Thursdays I think.

  • 05/04/2011 09:36pm

    Thanks so much. I'll make a point to check every day for awhile just to be sure I don't miss anything.

  • Question re pet insurance
    09/11/2011 12:36pm

    Hello, Dr Kenney, I am happy to have found your blog (via the Care2 site).
    I had The Dog Of A Lifetime - a street rescue - too sick when I got him off the street to get insurance. (I said "My free dog cost me $1200 in the first 6 weeks.") Thankfully, I managed it. His later medicals included 2 crucis ligaments (the bone-re-configuration technique was used on both) and then an infection in one of them which the vet who did it, refused to honor. (The vet who removed the plate told me that ALL SIX screws were loose. I wish I'd gone to small claims court but didn't.) These 3 surgeries were more than $3K each.
    My understanding is that none of this would have been paid for with pet insurance, b/c the crucis condition would have been considered genetic & the repair ... I cannot recall what I was told about the surgical repair of removing the plate, but something that ended up with its not being covered either.
    A late and rapid cancer took him out at the age of 11 - he was otherwise very healthy - i.e., very little arthritis, etc. That cancer and putting him down also cost me over $3K. Maybe that would have been covered, tho, since it was an illness.

    Do I understand the limitations of insurance correctly here?

    ...Because I now have a new 15 month-old dog from the pound who appears to be healthy, altho it cost me $330 to find out that "all" he had when I adopted him was kennel cough, not distemper or Giardia. I am considering getting insurance for him. Where can I research & compare companies?

    Thanks,
    Kiki Dakota

  • 09/11/2011 02:43pm

    KiKi,

    I really admire your willingness and persistence to make your rescued pet as happy and healthy as possible. He was fortunate to have someone who loved him as much as you did. Of course, I imagine he returned much more love back to you over the years.

    Most companies have rules regarding coverage for cruciate injuries - usually varying waiting periods before it is covered. This is also what is commonly known as a bilateral condition e.g. if your dog had a cruciate injury in one leg prior to getting insurance, the other rear leg will be excluded from coverage because it is common for both legs to eventually be affected.

    Many companies now cover hereditary conditions up to the full per-incident or annual maximum while other companies offer limited coverage.

    On your new puppy, you could apply for coverage and ask for a medical records review to determine if there are any pre-existing conditions that will be excluded. You can always cancel coverage if you don't think it will be worth it.

    Don't hesitate to ask questions. For example, kennel cough is a temporary problem, so if a company tries to exclude that condition, be sure you get a time limit on the exclusion. Or, make sure that they won't exclude a cough that may occur in the future "for any reason." So, if your dog came up with a cough 3 years from now regardless of the cause, the company won't exclude it as pre-existing just because your dog had a cough diagnosed as kennel cough as a puppy.

    Therefore, you should do due diligence when choosing a company and policy for your pet. The blog posts I've written for this site (petmd) have a lot of information that will help you understand how pet insurance works.

    My own personal blog (link above) is dedicated to helping pet owners do the research necessary to finding the best option for their pet. I've written a book (paperback and ebook) that contains instructions and supplies worksheets to help pet owners do their research.

  • 09/11/2011 02:50pm

    Wow. Thank you so much, Dr Kenney, I really appreciate your comments (very helpful) and also your time & your info. I will be getting your e-book, and I am touched (honored, even) that you responded, and so quickly, too.
    I hope your weekend is delightful.
    Kiki Dakota

 

 

About Healthy Assurance

  • Dr Kenney, DVM
    Lisa Radosta, DVM, DACVB

    Doug Kenney practices small animal medicine and surgery at Houston Levee Animal Hospital in Cordova, Tennessee. He has a special interest in wellness care...

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