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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

No Shortcuts To Buying Pet Insurance

Sometimes I wonder how people decide which pet insurance policy to buy? Why did they choose this company or that particular policy? How much research did they do before making up their mind?

I read an article this week about a man who purchased pet insurance for his two dogs several years ago and when one dog developed two chronic conditions, only one of them was covered. Obviously, he was upset at the pet insurance company, the pet insurance industry, and even managed to blame his veterinarian for even suggesting that he get pet insurance in the first place. Therefore, his advice was to not waste your money on pet insurance.

In reality, if he wanted to know who was most responsible for this unfortunate situation, he should look in the mirror. Yes, there are some really bad policies out there (IMHO), but I’m convinced that many pet owners who purchase pet insurance either don’t read or don’t understand their policies. Perhaps the most important thing you can do when researching pet insurance is to request a sample policy to read. Even after you purchase insurance and receive your policy, you should read it thoroughly and call the company for clarification of anything you don’t understand. The details of what’s covered and what’s not covered are in the policy. If it is not what you expected, you can cancel the policy.

You can buy a low cost accident-only policy that doesn’t cover illnesses. There are policies for emergencies only, indoor cats only, senior pets only. There are policies that list specific diseases that are covered, and if your pet gets sick with anything else it’s not covered. There are policies that have maximum reimbursement limits that just don’t make a lot of sense (e.g., $500, $1000, or $2000 limits). These policies may appeal to some pet owners because they usually have a lower premium. Just realize what the limitations are if you purchase one of these policies.

A popular Google search phrase is "cheap pet insurance." Pet insurance is like anything else you purchase in life — you usually get what you pay for. The premium you pay for pet insurance is influenced not only by what’s covered, but also by how much of the risk (read: responsibility) for your pet’s healthcare expenses you are willing to shoulder versus transferring that risk to the pet insurance company.

I’m convinced that many pet owners don’t know that there are at least a dozen companies in the U.S. to choose from when purchasing pet insurance. You’ve probably seen the car commercial slogan, "If you didn’t buy from company X, you probably paid too much." If you don’t look at every company’s policies, how will you know for sure that you got the best coverage for the best price?

There are several good websites where you can find a listing of all the pet insurance companies, but a good place to start is right here on petMD. 

Be careful when using "quote engines," where you enter your pet’s information and receive quotes back from several (not all) companies. In the mind of the pet owner, it seems like a shortcut, a time saver, but it’s not. You will usually only get a quote back from companies that have some sort of an affiliate relationship with the website that constructed the quote engine. If you end up purchasing a policy from one of these companies, the website will be paid an affiliate fee for the lead. That’s okay. It’s business, and it's one of the ways the website generates income and pet insurance companies get pet owners to check out their company and policies.

Sometimes you’ll simply get a link to a company’s website so that you can start all over to obtain a quote. When I’ve tried several of these quote engines, I got a quote from a company on their least expensive policy, probably because it was their most competitive policy based solely on price. If I’d bought the policy I receive a quote on, I’d have been very vulnerable if I ever had to file a substantial claim.  Once when I clicked on the quote, I was taken to the company’s sign up page and no other options were offered. So, my experience with these particular quote engines is that it didn’t save any time and could have led to a bad rather than a good decision in some instances.

Yes, I’m aware that petMD has a quote engine, but I think it is obvious that petMD's main focus for the Pet Insurance Center is providing valuable information to help educate pet owners about pet insurance. If you will read the fantastic articles by Dr. Frances Wilkerson, you’ll be much better equipped to make a wise decision when choosing a company and policy for your pet.

So, I’ll end where I started — with a reference to the article I read. The man who felt he had been ripped-of by the pet insurance company exclaimed, "Buyer Beware!" I’ll put it a different way. Be aware of what you are buying when you purchase a policy for your pet.

Dr. Doug Kenney

Pic of the day: Mirror Mirror by Andrew Roberts

Bulldog staring into a mirror, buying insurance for your pet

Comments  5

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  • Excellent Advice
    06/09/2011 07:11am

    Thanks, Dr. Kenney, for the excellent advice.

    Unlike the human insurance people get through their employer where there's rarely a choice of companies, due diligence must be done for pet insurance.

    It's disappointing that someone would actually pay premiums to a company that doesn't provide quotes and sample policies. Do people REALLY buy policies from a website that doesn't give quotes? Egads!

  • How to decide?
    06/11/2011 03:10pm

    With about a dozen different insurance companies, it becomes a pretty overwhelming task to select the best policy for every pet. If you haven’t already, perhaps you could create some sort of evaluation tool to help sort through all of the options. This tool could help the pet owner focus on the most important elements of their policy. I am willing to call 2 – 3 companies, talk to the rep, and read through a sample policy. I don’t have the stamina to do that with a dozen companies.
    For example, pet owners could complete a questionnaire about the pet’s age, species, breed, and lifestyle. The owner could answer questions about personal finances, and their views of appropriate veterinarian care. The answers could help an owner narrow the search to a low cost, accident only policy, a policy that is designed for indoor only cats, or a deluxe plan that covers every possible genetic condition for a specific breed.

  • 06/11/2011 03:19pm

    What an excellent suggestion, KLD.

    It would be great to have some kind of checklist to help with evaluating the different companies.

    For instance:
    Does the policy cover
    genetic conditions
    If so, are there any not covered for specific breeds
    wellness checkups
    If so, what is covered for a checkup
    Full blood panel
    Blood pressure
    Prescription foods

    Are there payout limitations
    If so, is it a lifetime payout or is there a time constraint

    A checklist would be great for all those things that don't come to mind off the top of your head.

  • 06/11/2011 05:19pm

    There are currently two or three places that you can find this information about all the companies that will help make your research easier. First, I recommend checking out the petMD insurance center - especially the articles.

    Dr. Fran Wilkerson wrote these articles and she has her own excellent website with all the information you asked about in table form (sort of like a checklist) for all the companies. She also reviews each company.

    I have written a book that will help you understand how pet insurance works and also has a chapter detailing how to research pet insurance and each company specifically. It contains worksheets that are mostly filled out already (sort of like a checklist). The worksheets were designed to help you select the best company for your pet and then select the policy that the company offers that will give you the lowest out-of-pocket expense especially if you have to file a large claim.

    I realize that it is a daunting task to research every company and someday we hope to come up with even better tools to make it even easier. In the meantime, Dr. Wilkerson and I have endeavored through the petMD website and our individual websites to help pet owners navigate the world of pet insurance and make the wisest decision possible.

  • 06/13/2011 01:49pm

    I meant to supply the links to the websites mentioned above that should help make your research much easier:

    1) petMD's pet insurance articles

    2) Dr. Fran Wilkerson's website

    3) My book page


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...

    Extended Bio