en Should You Buy Pet Insurance For Your Older Pet?

Last week, we considered this question about the younger, healthy pet. I’ve seen a number of references in the comments to this blog about having older pets and wondering if they were insurable or not.
There are several pet insurance companies that will insure pets at any age, so age itself isn’t a hurdle to getting health insurance for your pet. But, let’s look at a couple of other factors that may determine if your older pet is insurable, or that may give you pause about purchasing pet insurance for your older pet. Then I’ll give you some possible solutions to the hurdles pet owners face when contemplating whether to insure their older pets.
1. Is my pet insurable for illnesses?

Generally, a pet can be insured with an accident-only policy regardless of age or health status. However, with older pets, you are usually more concerned with coverage for illnesses — particularly chronic illnesses. Some insurance companies won’t insure a pet for illnesses if they have been previously diagnosed with certain chronic conditions, such as diabetes, Cushings disease, cancer, etc. The reasons that disqualify a pet for illness coverage can vary from company to company.
Whether your pet can be covered for illnesses will be determined after you apply for coverage during the underwriting process. When you enroll, you will be asked a series of questions about your pet’s previous medical history. The pet insurance company may also request a copy of your pet’s medical records. If you’ve recently adopted an older pet, the company may require a physical examination and/or laboratory testing performed by a veterinarian to determine if there are any conditions present that would disqualify the pet from coverage for illnesses. Even if your pet qualifies for coverage, this examination can also determine if there are any specific pre-existing conditions that will be excluded from coverage. I recommend requesting a medical records review when you apply for pet insurance if your pet has previously been treated for one or more problems.
Recently, I’ve had a couple of guests post on my personal blog about their experiences with purchasing pet insurance for their older pets. One purchased pet insurance for the first time for her seven-year-old dog. The other decided to switch pet insurance companies when his dog was ten years old.
2. I can’t afford the higher premiums for older pets.
Another issue that comes up is higher premiums associated with insuring an older pet. The older your pet is when you first purchase pet insurance, the higher your premium will be. Although not all companies raise premiums just because your pet ages, many do, and the increase can be significant. Of course, there are other factors that cause companies to raise premiums besides the age of the pet; inflation, for example.
So, what can you do about the premiums? If the company you have pet insurance with allows you to customize your policy, you can lower your premium by opting for a higher deductible and/or coinsurance. If your company doesn’t allow you to change the deductible or coinsurance, you may have to downgrade to a less expensive policy. I’ve had to do the same thing over the years with my own health insurance. I’ve raised the deductible several times so that now I have truly catastrophic coverage for my family. Of course, taking these actions will result in a greater out-of-pocket expense when you file a claim. I have designed some worksheets that will help you determine your out-of-pocket expense with every policy that each company offers. You can plug in different combinations of maximums, deductibles and coinsurance to determine your total out-of-pocket costs, including the premium with various claim amounts.
I hope that the information about pet insurance that I’ve written about the past three or four months has given you a basic understanding about how pet insurance works. In my opinion, it is essential information to acquaint oneself with before purchasing pet insurance. You will still need to apply the information by doing diligent research to make sure that your purchase is a wise one — before you sign anything.
I am sorry to say that this is my last post for the Healthy Assurance blog. I want to thank petMD for giving me the opportunity to share what I’ve learned about pet insurance with their audience. I also want to thank you, the readers, who have faithfully read and commented each week. If you have further questions about pet insurance, I would be glad to try to answer them via e-mail.

Dr. Doug Kenney
Ed. Note: We also want to thank Dr. Kenney for sharing his profound knowledge of pet insurance. Rest assured, we are hard at work creating the next phase for Healthy Assurance -- and it will be awesome. Until then, please take a look at the archived Healthy Assurance blog posts, and all of the other great resources the Pet Insurance Center has to offer.

Pic of the day: You gonna take me out? by Omega Man

]]> TheDailyVet Thu, 01 Sep 2011 14:00:00 +0000 11607 at
Should You Purchase Pet Insurance for a Young, Healthy Pet?

This week’s post is a follow-up to last week’s post. One of my favorite quotes is a proverb that says:
When is the best time to plant a tree?
Answer: 20 years ago
When is the next best time to plant a tree?
Answer: Right now
If you had planted that tree 20 years ago, you could be enjoying its fruit or shade today.
If today you realize you should have done something 20 years ago, do it now, so that perhaps you, and even others, can benefit from the action 20 years from now.
How does this apply to your purchasing pet insurance? I find that clients in my office who are facing an unexpected and expensive surgery or treatment for their pet’s ailment suddenly become interested in getting pet health insurance. Of course, it’s too late to cover their pet’s present problem because it would be a pre-existing condition.
In reading pet forum discussions about pet insurance, pet owners frequently say, "I just spent $3000 to have my cat treated for ______. I sure wish I’d had pet insurance!"
The best time to buy pet insurance is when your pet is young – preferably a puppy or kitten and before they get sick. Some folks don’t think their young pet needs insurance because they seem so healthy. Does that sound familiar? Many young Americans don’t think they need health insurance for the same reason.
But, the fact is you never know when you or your pet will have an accident or get sick. Accident claims are generally higher for younger pets than older pets.
But, perhaps the most important reason to purchase pet insurance while your pet is young is to avoid having claims denied because of pre-existing conditions. You really don’t want to give the insurance company this reason for denying a claim, especially when it can be prevented by buying an insurance policy before problems occur.
Sometimes we have a tendency to think that chronic conditions only occur in older pets. But, about 70 percent of atopy cases (allergies to something in the environment) develop between the ages of six months and three years of age. Atopy usually requires lifelong treatment for intense itching, which may have started out seasonal but can evolve into a year round problem. A pet with atopy can require chronic medication, allergy testing, and possibly even weekly to monthly allergy shots. It’s also not uncommon for dogs with atopy to get secondary skin or ear infections that require medication and which tend to recur now and then.
Let’s say you have a Lab that tears a cruciate ligament and has surgery costing  $3000. Your veterinarian tells you not to be surprised if eventually the other leg develops the same problem. So, being the wise pet owner that you are and feeling like you’ve learned a valuable lesson, you decide to purchase pet insurance in case the other leg is eventually affected. But, when you apply for insurance, you are dismayed to learn that the pet insurance company considers this a "bilateral" condition and excludes it from coverage, even though it has only occurred in one leg at the time you sign up for insurance.
In summary, if you want to get pet insurance, the best time is when you first adopt a new pet, preferably as a puppy or kitten. But if you didn’t do it then, do it now.

Dr. Doug Kenney
Pic of the day: Kitten 3 by fd
]]> TheDailyVet Thu, 25 Aug 2011 11:00:00 +0000 11577 at
Is Pet Insurance Really Worth It?

In their latest study, Consumer Reports concluded that pet owners with mostly healthy dogs or cats will not receive back in reimbursements what they pay in premiums. But, pet owners with dogs or cats that have major illnesses or chronic diseases that result in large or frequent claims are more likely to benefit from pet insurance. Is a study really needed to figure that out?
It is true that most pet owners who purchase pet insurance will not receive back in benefits what they pay in premiums. Pet insurance companies have to take in (premiums) more than they pay out (reimbursements). Otherwise, they couldn’t stay in business. But, this is true with virtually every other type of insurance you buy.
Then why buy pet insurance? You purchase pet insurance for the unexpected major or chronic problems that you would have trouble paying for out-of-pocket, like a fracture that requires surgery, gastrointestinal foreign body, Cushings disease, diabetes or arthritis. I often tell pet owners that pet insurance isn’t for the $150 urinary tract infection, but for the $3500 fracture repair, etc.
In the study, Consumer Reports compared premiums with reimbursements, from puppyhood until Roxy was ten years old. But many of the chronic and costly diseases that pets get occur during their senior years. Remember, if your pet lives long enough, it is inevitable that he or she will develop one or more chronic diseases that can usually be managed successfully with either surgery or medication — sometimes over several years. Cumulatively, this can sometimes add up to a significant expense.
Trupanion was the only newer company that they included in the study, and they reimbursed the most when compared to the other three companies. I think it would have been interesting to see how all of the newer companies would have fared in the study.
Consumer Report’s overall recommendation is that pet owners should open a savings account to pay for their pet’s healthcare expenses instead of buying a pet insurance policy. People who have lost sight of the primary purpose of pet insurance usually make this recommendation. I addressed this in a previous blog post.
Is the decision to purchase pet insurance always just a matter of dollars and cents? I think not, because many pet owners who purchase pet insurance realize that it’s possible they won’t ever be reimbursed the amount they pay in premiums. They do it for the peace of mind - knowing that they will be able to treat their beloved pet just in case something unexpected and costly does occur.
If we could just get Consumer Reports to use their crystal ball to forecast for pet owners who may be interested in purchasing pet insurance whether their pet will be mostly healthy or not — now that would be really helpful!

Dr. Doug Kenney

Pic of the day: like a new cat (after surgery a few weeks earlier) by Shira Golding

]]> cct emergency TheDailyVet Thu, 18 Aug 2011 11:00:00 +0000 11529 at
Pet Insurance Company Reimbursements Video Blog

For the past four months, I have tried to cover the basics of pet insurance by writing about maximums, deductibles, coinsurance percentages, and so forth. For this week, I thought I might show you how to apply some of that information, and I decided to do it in a new format - a video blog post.
In my book, Your Guide To Understanding Pet Health Insurance, there is a chapter entitled "Sample Claims and Reimbursements." I submitted several wellness claims, and also claims for accidents or illnesses, to all the pet insurance companies. All but one was gracious enough to respond and detail for me and the readers of the book exactly how they would reimburse those claims. I found out some things by submitting those claims that I didn't know about just from visiting and browsing their websites.
Today, we are going to look at one of those claims and how four companies would reimburse the pet owner. Two companies reimburse according to whatever the veterinarian charges; one reimburses according to what is considered usual and customary; and one reimburses according to a benefit schedule.
So, let's get to the video, and please let me know if you like this format. If so, I'll try to do more of it in the future.
(Note to readers who receive this post as an e-mail: Please click the link at the top of the page to view the embedded video on our site.)

Dr. Doug Kenney

Pic of the day: sleepy dog by Valerie Reneé

]]> TheDailyVet Thu, 11 Aug 2011 14:00:00 +0000 11505 at
Use Discernment When Visiting Pet Insurance Company Websites

You can learn a lot about pet health insurance by visiting pet insurance company websites. It is also a great way to learn more about each company and its policies.
The first thing you should do when visiting a company website is to get a quote for your pet. How to do this is usually prominently displayed on the website’s homepage. This will let you know whether your pet is eligible for coverage by that company. If not, then you’ll know not to waste time browsing that particular website.
You’ll usually find the answers to most of the questions you have on the company’s FAQ (frequently asked questions) page, if they have one. I find this page to be very useful on most websites.
You should also look for a sample policy that you can download and review. Some websites may call it "Terms and Conditions." You should compare all statements made on the website to what is actually in the policy itself. You should never buy a policy from a company without first reading a sample policy (that’s up to date) and understanding it. If you run across something you don’t understand, call or e-mail the company to get an explanation.
It is becoming more popular for companies to have a "comparison" page where they select certain parameters and compare themselves with some or all of their competitors. Be careful when a company starts comparing itself to other companies. Remember, each company is trying to put its best foot forward to the pet owner via their website.
You’ve probably gotten an e-mail from a friend or relative that claimed something to be true that seemed downright outrageous. You’ve probably also heard of the website that reportedly investigates such claims and classifies them as true, false, or a mixture of true and false information. It’s possible to find all three on pet insurance company websites.
Because companies tend to tweak their policies from time to time, and even raise or lower premiums slightly, some of the information used in comparisons may be outdated, and therefore false. These inaccuracies can be misleading to pet owners. I can sympathize with the person responsible for keeping these pages up to date!
Always verify what one company claims about another company by visiting the other company's website and even talking with a company representative. I would also verify even what the company says about itself when comparing its policies to other company’s policies.
For example, I visited all the pet insurance companies' websites recently to see which ones had comparison pages and how they did the comparisons. One company made a couple of claims about their own policies that I hadn’t seen before. So, I downloaded one of their sample policies and the policy contradicted what was on the website. I e-mailed the company asking for clarification. The company representative said that those claims were only true about their most expensive policy and not their other policies. So, I would classify these claims on their website as a mixture of true and false information.
One thing you will see me say over and over - do your own research. Just make sure when a company starts comparing itself to the competition that they are comparing apples to apples and that what they are saying is up-to-date.
Have a discerning eye and be wise. As Proverbs 18:17 says:
The person who tells one side of a story seems right, until someone else comes and asks questions.

Dr. Doug Kenney

Pic of the day: "Xeon" Intel's Extreme Performance Microprocessor by dglassme

]]> TheDailyVet Thu, 04 Aug 2011 11:00:00 +0000 11452 at
Three Ways Pet Insurance Companies Figure Reimbursements

There is another factor that I haven’t written about yet on this Healthy Assurance blog that is an important factor in determining how much a pet owner is reimbursed by the insurance company when she or he files a claim. If pet owners aren’t aware of this, it can catch them by surprise. Insurance companies figure their reimbursements in one of three ways:
1. Based on whatever the veterinarian charges. For example, if the total invoice is $2000 and everything on the invoice is covered — with a deductible of $100 and 20 percent coinsurance, the reimbursement would be:
$2000 - $100 = $1900 x 80% = $1520.
This is the easiest method for pet owners to understand, and most of the newer companies use this method. Since it is based on whatever the veterinarian charges, it keeps up with the inflation of veterinary fees. However, this can be a double-edged sword for pet owners, because while it usually results in higher reimbursements, it may also lead to more frequent rises in premiums. Perhaps this is why some of the newer companies have recently started offering policies with lower premiums that have higher deductibles and/or coinsurance limits. Over the years, as my own health insurance premiums have risen, I’ve had to raise my policy’s deductible several times to be able to afford health insurance. In the past year or so, several pet insurance companies have raised premiums significantly, and from reading pet forums and review sites, this has really caught some pet owners by surprise.
2. The reimbursement is computed from a "benefit" schedule based on the veterinarian's diagnosis. Sometimes these reimbursements can be comparable to method 1. However, sometimes they can be significantly less than method 1. For example, if your pet gets sick with pancreatitis and the maximum reimbursement allowed for this diagnosis is $865, but your submitted claim is for $2000, you'll get reimbursed $865. Using method 1, you would get reimbursed $1520. Most cases of mild pancreatitis will be less than $865, but a severe or complicated case can cost thousands of dollars. Because the benefit schedule places defined limits on what the insurance company will pay, the premiums may be lower for this type of policy.
3. The reimbursement is based on what are considered "reasonable and customary" fees for your geographic region of the country. Each charge on the invoice for a procedure or product is compared to the fee guidelines, and you are reimbursed accordingly. If your veterinarian charges more, then you are responsible for the difference. Each company that uses this method usually uses a combination of their own internal data and external sources to arrive at what is reasonable and customary.
Fees can vary for a certain procedure from practice to practice even within the same city. Each practice has its own unique philosophy of practice and overhead, which will affect all its fees. For example, if your pet is referred to a specialist, does the fee schedule take this into account? A specialist's fees are higher because they have more expertise and may use more advanced technology (e.g., a CT scan or MRI) or perform more sophisticated surgery than your regular veterinarian. Perhaps even your regular veterinarian uses ultrasound, digital radiography, endoscopes, laser surgery, or more advanced dental equipment, etc. Perhaps he or she has a newer hospital and a larger staff. There are several different ways to repair a ruptured cruciate ligament in a dog, and the price for each procedure will vary depending on the technical difficulty and equipment required. Sometimes, which technique is used will depend on the personal preference of the surgeon.
Therefore, the reimbursements from pet insurance companies who calculate benefits according to usual and customary, or to a benefit schedule, may be lower than whatever your veterinarian charges on some procedures or medications — especially if their guidelines/schedules aren’t updated frequently.
If you look closely at the fine print in the policies of companies that say they figure reimbursements using method 1, even their policies may state that they pay benefits based on what is "reasonable and customary." For the time being though, they only use these guidelines when a fee for a procedure seems way out of line. Will there be a time in the future when they are forced to use the reasonable and customary fee guidelines routinely as a limit on reimbursements in order to keep their premiums affordable and competitive?
Be sure to take into account how a company figures your reimbursement when making the decision to purchase pet health insurance. Read a sample policy and also ask a company representative which of these three methods they use when calculating reimbursements.

Dr. Doug Kenney

Pic of the day: Origami Scotty dog by mehjg

]]> TheDailyVet Thu, 28 Jul 2011 11:00:00 +0000 11437 at
Pet Insurance vs. Human Insurance (Managed Care)

Last week, I wrote that a pet health insurance policy is a contract between the pet owner and the insurance company. Veterinarians and veterinary organizations want it to remain that way because they have seen the human health professions drift toward "managed care" and they want no part of that healthcare model.
In the managed care model, the contract is between the insurance company and/or PPO network and the providers (doctors, dentists, pharmacies, or hospitals). Since most of us purchase our own health insurance through our employers, and in many cases the employer pays the bulk of our premium, we generally don’t fully appreciate the true cost of our own healthcare.
If you were to ask doctors, dentists or pharmacists how they feel about the "managed care" model, most will tell you they don’t like it. In fact, a few will tell you that they have been frustrated enough with managed care to consider giving up their medical careers or to refuse to take patients with insurance or Medicare, etc. If you have medical insurance for yourself or your family, then you may not know what managed care is, but you are familiar with terms like HMO, PPO, Medicaid, Medicare, in-network, out-of-network, etc. Perhaps you have also experienced frustrations with the current human health insurance industry.
Here are some of the characteristics of managed care: 

Health care providers (doctors, dentists, pharmacies, hospitals, etc.) join a network that negotiates discounted fees at which the providers will be reimbursed in exchange for patients who are part of the network.

Limits the patient’s choice of doctors, dentists, hospitals and pharmacies to those who are in the network. If they decide to go to a provider "out-of-network," they are penalized by having to pay a higher portion of the bill. Doctors in a managed care environment aren’t inclined to have a strong doctor-patient relationship because their patients are chosen for them by the network.

The providers may have to deal with several layers of bureaucracy in order to receive payment. It can take weeks to months to receive reimbursements from the insurance company. Most providers have separate departments just to handle insurance claims and billing. This increases the costs of providing medical care.

Sometimes the decisions about appropriate diagnostic tests and treatment are taken away from the doctor actually seeing the patient and made by an employee of the network in another city. This can be detrimental to the quality of healthcare.

I recently ate dinner with an elderly couple. The husband has several major medical problems. He is diabetic and has an insulin pump for which he has to order supplies to keep it working. He said that Medicare is refusing to pay for any more supplies, saying that he no longer needs it. They made this decision despite his doctor and two endocrinologists saying that he does. His comment to me was, "I think they just want me to go ahead and die so they won’t have to pay any more medical costs for me."
What are some considerations when thinking about the current state of pet health insurance vs. managed care? It is likely that:
Clients want:

To choose their own veterinarian

Insurance that is easy to understand and provides high reimbursements

Fast claim payment with no hassle

The option to have routine wellness procedures covered

Few exclusions/limitations


Veterinarians want:

The ability for the client and treating doctor to determine the level of care — no third party dictating the quality of care (overruling the treatment decisions of the treating doctor by disallowing or limiting benefits)

Little or no paperwork in filing claims

No contractual schedule of fees or benefits dictating or implying what to charge. Individual practices must have the freedom to set fees that suit the style and level of care that they provide their clients and patients

Clients who are able to choose where to take their pet for care including specialists

Pet health insurance differs from human health insurance today in that there aren’t well-established networks (HMOs or PPOs). This is considered an advantage for pet owners since they aren’t required to go to a particular doctor or hospital in a “network.” They can go to any veterinarian, emergency center or specialist and their insurance company will reimburse them for part of the costs.
It seems that every other healthcare field has eventually gravitated away from a fee-for-service insurance toward managed care. Fortunately, pet health insurance is still fee-for-service insurance, and premiums are well within the reach of almost all pet owners. If pet owners (who seek healthcare for their pets) and veterinarians (who provide the healthcare for pets) want to keep the freedoms and choices they now enjoy with pet health insurance as it is, then both must diligently resist any drift toward managed care. This is best done when neither of them joins a network that would limit the pet owner’s choice of veterinarian or that would dictate what level of care the veterinarian could provide and the reimbursements he or she would receive for doing so.

Dr. Doug Kenny
Image: Anne Worner / Flickr
]]> cats dogs health prevention TheDailyVet Thu, 21 Jul 2011 11:00:00 +0000 11418 at
Arranging For Payment When The Bill Is Large

A pet health insurance policy is a contract between the pet owner and the insurance company. You pay your veterinarian and then mail a claim form along with a copy of your receipt to the insurance company. The insurance company will process the claim and mail you a reimbursement check minus the deductible, coinsurance and any procedures that weren’t covered under the terms of the policy.
A pet health insurance policy is a contract between the pet owner and the insurance company. You pay your veterinarian and then mail a claim form along with a copy of your receipt to the insurance company. The insurance company will process the claim and mail you a reimbursement check minus the deductible, coinsurance and any procedures that weren’t covered under the terms of the policy.
One reason many veterinarians are a little wary of pet health insurance is they don’t want it to become like human health insurance, where a whole department is needed to handle billing and insurance claims. They would rather not have to deal with a pet insurance company directly. Your veterinarian may have to fill out and sign a claim form for you, but this usually takes only a couple of minutes. The more time veterinarians or their staffs have to devote to insurance claims, payments, etc., the higher the cost of veterinary services will rise because their overhead expenses will be higher. So far, insurance companies have endeavored to keep the claim process simple.
Most veterinarians I've talked with are reluctant to deal with the insurance company directly for the reasons stated above. Also, most insurance company representatives that I've talked with prefer that all financial dealings remain between the insurance company and the pet owner. In fact, some pet insurance companies, as a matter of policy, won’t pay the veterinarian directly.
What if you don’t have enough cash or available credit to pay a $3000 bill and then wait for reimbursement?  Sadly, the short answer is that pet insurance may not do you or your pet any good in this situation, even if you had a policy. For a previous discussion related to this, see Which Is Best — Pet Insurance Or Savings Account.
However, unless the procedure/treatment is an emergency, some companies will give you and your veterinarian an estimate of the expected reimbursement if your veterinarian will send the company an estimate for the procedure (pre-certification). If the insurance company is willing to make a direct payment to your veterinarian and your veterinarian is willing to accept reimbursement from the insurance company, you will pay your veterinarian out of pocket for the deductible, coinsurance, and any procedures that aren’t covered when the procedure/treatment is performed.
For example, this kind of arrangement could potentially be used if your dog is diagnosed with a ruptured cruciate ligament and surgery is the best option for full recovery. Surgery could wait a few days until the insurance company verifies that the condition is covered and can give your veterinarian the expected reimbursement amount based on the estimate provided.
You would then pay your veterinarian out-of-pocket the part of the bill not reimbursed by the insurance company, either as a deposit prior to the procedure being performed or upon your dog’s discharge from the hospital. Your veterinarian would fill out and fax a claim form along with a copy of the invoice to the insurance company. Depending on the insurance company, the reimbursement will usually be received within two weeks by check, or arrangements can be made to receive it by direct deposit within a few days – or possibly even the same day the dog is discharged from the hospital.
Realize that this type of arrangement may be new to your veterinarian because he or she may not be familiar with pet health insurance and is probably used to being paid by you when the procedure is performed. This request should only be made when the bill is large, and for an unexpected event for which you aren’t able to cover totally out of pocket and then wait for reimbursement. You should not expect your veterinarian, nor will he or she likely be willing, to accept this type of arrangement otherwise.
I invite both pet owners and veterinarians to comment.

Dr. Doug Kenney

Image: Dog with cast by TaranRampersad / Flickr
]]> insurance TheDailyVet Thu, 14 Jul 2011 11:00:00 +0000 11402 at
What is the Coinsurance Percentage?

For the past couple of weeks, we have looked at several terms you need to be familiar with and the part they play in determining how much reimbursement you receive from the pet insurance company.
First, we looked at lifetime, annual, and per-incident maximums. Last week, we looked at annual vs. per-incident deductibles. This week, we’ll look at the coinsurance percentage.
I realized as I was writing this post that what I’ve always called "copay," as it pertains to pet insurance, is nowadays mostly referred to as "coinsurance."
In human health insurance policies the copay is a flat fee you pay out-of-pocket (e.g., $20 for an office visit or $100 for an emergency room visit). Using this definition, pet insurance policies don’t have a true copay like human health insurance policies. So, in the future, I’ll try to use the term co-insurance.
Hopefully, you aren’t thoroughly confused by now!
Coinsurance is the percentage of the total bill after the deductible that the pet owner is responsible for. This will usually range from 0-40 percent. If a pet insurance company advertizes that they pay 80 percent of the bill after the deductible, it means that the coinsurance, or the amount you pay, is 20 percent of the bill. Some companies will subtract the coinsurance before subtracting the deductible.
Notice the difference the coinsurance percentage can make in how much you have to pay out-of-pocket.

As you can see in the illustration above, the coinsurance percentage is something that you want to keep low, since it varies depending on the size of the claim. In contrast, the deductible is a fixed, known amount regardless of the total bill. As with deductibles, the lower the coinsurance, the higher the premium will be.
I went to the websites of two of the companies that allow you to select your own deductible and coinsurance and obtained a quote. I learned that the deductible had a bigger impact on the premium than did the coinsurance percentage. I could readily see the impact that each possible deductible and coinsurance combination had on the premium when obtaining a quote. Therefore, if you need a lower premium, it is generally wiser to select a higher deductible (especially if it is an annual deductible) and a lower coinsurance percentage.
For the last three weeks, we have looked at annual and per-incident maximums, annual and per-incident deductibles, and coinsurance percentages in isolation and their impact on your out-of-pocket expenses. However, you should also include the premium in the mix to get a truly accurate calculation of your total out-of-pocket expense. 
In a future post, I’ll show you how to evaluate a company’s policies to determine which one is the best buy when taking all these variables into account — including the premium. Sometimes the result will surprise you.

Dr. Doug Kenney

Pic of the day: poor lukie by ayako

]]> TheDailyVet Thu, 07 Jul 2011 07:00:00 +0000 11386 at
How Deductibles Affect Your Out-of-Pocket Costs

When pet owners are looking for the best pet insurance company and policy for their pet, the bottom line is, "What are my potential out-of-pocket costs if I choose this policy?" Today, we will look at the different types of deductibles and how they influence the bottom line.
Think of the deductible as the amount you are responsible for (out-of-pocket) before the pet insurance company will pay for anything.
If you have a policy with a $100 annual deductible, for example, once you have spent $100 during that policy year, any veterinary bills for the rest of that year would not be subject to any more deductible payments.
With a per-incident deductible, however, you will pay it each time your pet is examined for a new condition. Let's say your dog has a skin problem, an ear infection, a bite wound and an episode of vomiting during the policy year — you would pay a deductible for each problem. If, on the other hand, you took your pet in for a skin problem and then had to take him back for several re-check visits, you would not have to pay another deductible because you are dealing with the same problem each time.
Notice the potential out-of-pocket expense with an annual deductible compared to a per-incident deductible:

Just as I wrote last week that all per-incident maximums aren’t created equal, not all per-incident deductibles work the same way, either. In the example illustrated by the table below, let’s assume that your dog was diagnosed with arthritis for the first time in February 2005, and you have a policy with a $100 per-incident maximum. With Company A, the per-incident deductible requirement for claims pertaining to the arthritis renews annually when you renew your policy. With Company B, once you pay the deductible associated with the arthritis, you don’t ever have to pay it again.

Let me give you a couple of other examples of how per-incident deductibles are applied to claims:

Your dog is hit by a car (HBC) and has a laceration and a fractured leg. Even though there are two different problems, only one deductible is applied because they are both due to the same incident (HBC).
You take your dog to the vet because he has diarrhea and while the doctor is examining the dog, you say, "Oh, by the way, he has been scratching his ears too." So, your veterinarian also diagnoses and treats an ear infection. In this case, the deductible is applied "per-condition" because the two problems (diarrhea and ear infection) are unrelated. Therefore, you would pay two deductibles.

The deductible is just one of the many variables in a pet insurance policy. It is important to understand how each type of deductible works, and therefore, how it influences the bottom line — your out-of-pocket cost. If you are considering purchasing a policy with a per-incident deductible, be sure to read a sample policy to determine how it will be applied, and if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask a company representative.
Some companies have policies with pre-set deductibles that can’t be changed. Other companies allow you to choose your deductible — usually between $0 and $1000. Policies with lower deductibles will have higher premiums. If you are able and willing to pay for more of your pet’s medical expenses out-of-pocket, you might select a higher deductible to lower your premium. Whether a policy has an annual or a per-incident deductible will factor into this decision. Generally, an annual deductible would be preferable if opting for a higher deductible.

Dr. Doug Kenney

Pic of the day: Bluey's new bandage from the cat attack by Adria Richards

]]> TheDailyVet Thu, 30 Jun 2011 07:00:00 +0000 11359 at
Per-Incident Maximum: Don’t Overlook This Important Factor When Purchasing Pet Insurance

One of the most significant factors that can increase your out-of-pocket expense when filing a pet insurance claim is having a policy with a "per-incident" maximum. What's that, you may ask? Per-incident generally means the maximum the insurance company will pay out each time a new problem or disease occurs. An annual maximum, on the other hand, is the maximum the company will pay out during the policy term (usually one year).
Let’s say that your pet is diagnosed and treated for pancreatitis and your insurance policy has a $10,000 annual limit and no per-incident limit. In this case, the company would pay out up to the full $10,000 for the illness. However, if your policy has a $10,000 annual maximum and a $1,500 per-incident maximum, the company would pay out up to $1,500 for the illness. The remaining $8,500 could be used for other accidents or illnesses during the year other than pancreatitis (up to $1,500 each).
If the bill for treating the pancreatitis is $5,000, the table below illustrates the impact on your out-of-pocket costs.

I have read numerous reviews by pet owners who purchased a policy like this and when they had to file a large claim like the one above. It was evident that they didn’t really understand the effect that the per-incident maximum would have on their reimbursement and, consequently, their out-of-pocket expense.
Not all per-incident maximums are defined the same way — especially when it comes to reimbursements for chronic diseases. In the illustration below, let’s assume that Company A and Company B both have a $1,500 per-incident maximum. Let’s also assume that your pet is diagnosed with diabetes and has ongoing monitoring and treatment expenses for several years.
With Company A, the total reimbursement for diabetes is $1,500. Once you hit that limit, no more benefits are available. This is sometimes referred to as a per-condition maximum. With Company B, the per-incident maximum renews every year so that you have a $1,500 annual reimbursement limit for the ongoing treatment of your pet’s diabetes.

There is also a pet insurance company that reimburses according to "categories," which are essentially body systems (e.g. musculoskeletal, heart, respiratory, etc). You can file multiple claims over several years for that body system until you reach the category maximum. Once you reach the reimbursement limit for that category (body system), there are no more benefits available.
Therefore, be careful when considering the purchase of a policy with a per-incident or category limit. As long as you are filing relatively small claims, you won’t notice the limitations of such policies. My advice is to always judge an insurance policy by asking yourself, "What will the insurance company pay and what will I have to pay out-of-pocket if I have to file a $5,000 or a $10,000 claim?" This will tend to magnify the shortcomings of a policy with a per-incident maximum.

Dr. Doug Kenney

Pic of the day: Twins by Kees Wielemaker

]]> TheDailyVet Thu, 23 Jun 2011 07:00:00 +0000 11347 at
Is Coverage For Wellness Care Worth It?

Sometimes called routine care, wellness care coverage includes things like wellness examinations, vaccinations, heartworm testing, heartworm preventative, flea and tick prevention products, teeth cleaning, wellness lab testing, and spaying or neutering. These expenses are expected and can be planned and saved for in advance. However, since pet insurance is primarily recommended for unexpected and unplanned events that you would have trouble paying for out-of-pocket, does buying coverage for wellness care make sense?
First of all, you need to know what is included in the wellness protocol your veterinarian recommends for your pet. This might vary depending on where you live and your pet’s age and lifestyle.
It's also important to learn what the fees are for this plan or protocol. How often will you be getting each vaccine, wellness testing, etc? How much will you spend annually on heartworm preventative and flea/tick products? With this information, depending on the company, you can actually calculate whether it will be worthwhile for you to purchase these benefits.
For example, if a company has a list of wellness procedures/products that they cover on their website or in a sample policy along with how much they reimburse for each, it’s easy to do. You simply add up the amount the company will reimburse for each procedure/product that your veterinarian recommends for your pet and then subtract the extra premium you pay for this coverage to see if you will come out ahead.

In the above example, you will come out $121 ahead this particular year by having wellness coverage. This may not be true every year. You may not need or get every procedure/product that is covered every year. For example, you will only get your pet spayed or neutered once. Your pet may not need every covered vaccine every year.
Some companies include their wellness coverage in their accident and illness policies and not as a separate option. Therefore, it may not be known what part of the premium is for wellness coverage. Some companies pay benefits according to what is usual and customary for your region of the country and reimbursement amounts aren’t known prior to filing a claim. In these cases, you may not be able to figure out if purchasing wellness coverage will be worth it ahead of time. Also, with some companies, wellness care claims are subject to your deductible and co-pay just like your accident and illness claims.
If you want to purchase a policy that includes wellness benefits, be sure you know exactly what is and is not covered, and any restrictions on the timing of when you can have the service done and get reimbursed for them.
If you purchase wellness benefits as an optional rider, and then later decide to drop it, ask if doing so will negatively affect your accident/illness policy in any way and if there are any restrictions if you want to repurchase wellness care benefits again later.
If you purchase a policy where the wellness benefits are included in the accident/illness policy, you should be careful about downgrading later to a policy that doesn’t include wellness benefits. If you have filed claims for accidents or illnesses, be sure to ask whether these conditions will be considered pre-existing and not covered if you switch to a new policy.
It is my perception that pet owners want wellness care coverage, and that pet insurance companies are under pressure to provide it in order to stay competitive. Wise pet owners know that wellness care is essential to keeping their pets healthy. It is far less expensive to prevent a problem than it is to treat it. Additionally, treatment is often more successful if a chronic disease is diagnosed early, before complications develop.
Sometimes, certain wellness procedures (e.g., wellness exams) are required by the insurance company to renew and maintain your accident and illness coverage. All such requirements can usually be found by reading your policy or a sample policy prior to purchase.
You’ll find that pet insurance companies generally won’t cover something that is preventable if you don’t follow your veterinarian’s recommendations for wellness care. For example, let’s say you live in an area where Lyme disease is prevalent and your veterinarian recommends an annual Lyme vaccine and products for tick control, but you refuse these recommendations. If your dog gets Lyme disease it most likely won’t be covered.
While doing your research, you may discover that the best company to cover your pet for accidents and illnesses doesn’t offer wellness coverage. In my opinion, coverage for wellness care should never be the primary reason for purchasing pet insurance. Coverage for accidents and illness should always take precedence.

Dr. Doug Kenney

Pic of the day: Comprehensive physical exam by Priority Pet Hospital

]]> TheDailyVet Thu, 16 Jun 2011 07:00:00 +0000 11327 at
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

]]> TheDailyVet Thu, 09 Jun 2011 07:00:00 +0000 11291 at
Why Coverage For Chronic Illnesses is Also a Big Deal

Chronic conditions are diseases that cannot be cured, but may be treated and controlled so that your pet may live several more years with minimal symptoms and a good quality of life. It is important to select a policy with adequate coverage for chronic conditions when purchasing pet insurance.
Virtually all dogs and cats, if they live long enough, will eventually develop an ongoing condition requiring monitoring and treatment for the rest of the pet’s life. Such conditions include, but are not limited to, diabetes, heart failure, kidney failure, Cushings disease, arthritis, hypo- or hyperthyroidism, and cancer.
Some companies will cover a disease in the year it is first diagnosed and treated, but not in succeeding years because the policy is renewable annually and the disease is considered "preexisting" in succeeding years. These companies may offer coverage for chronic, on-going conditions as an add-on rider to their base policy for an additional premium. Other companies, meanwhile, will cover a chronic disease in succeeding years until you use up the per-incident limit for that disease. And still others will cover chronic conditions in succeeding years up to their annual maximum, and then allow you to renew the coverage every year. This is preferable.
With a chronic disease such as diabetes, once the initial diagnostic workup is done and the problem is diagnosed, medication is prescribed and response to treatment is monitored via frequent testing until the disease is under control. If all goes well, rechecks and monitoring are generally required less frequently.
Every case is different, however. I’ve seen some diabetics go 2 or 3 years symptom free with good control of their blood sugar and virtually no change in the insulin dose. A case like this may only require a recheck and blood tests every 6 months. In contrast, whenever symptoms recur and the insulin dose needs to be changed, it may require frequent rechecks until the dog or cat is "re-regulated." Dogs or cats with heart or kidney failure may have crisis situations that require hospitalization and treatment until they are compensated again.
So, monitoring and treatment of a chronic disease in the succeeding years after initial diagnosis can add up to a significant outlay of money. In fact, annual expenses for just one chronic condition can range from several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. This is especially concerning since it isn’t unusual for an older pet to have 2 or 3 chronic diseases at the same time. Therefore, if you were to purchase a policy that did not cover chronic conditions or had very limited coverage and your pet got sick with a chronic illness just before the policy term ended, you wouldn’t get much benefit from the expenses incurred in treating the condition.
When doing your research, ask about any limits on what a company will pay in succeeding years for chronic diseases, and if there are any chronic diseases that are excluded. Is the level of coverage adequate? If this coverage costs extra, how does the level of coverage and extra premium compare to a company that includes coverage for chronic conditions in their base policy?

Dr. Doug Kenney

Pet of the day: Tortie by Paul Long

]]> TheDailyVet Thu, 02 Jun 2011 07:00:00 +0000 11260 at
Why Insurance Coverage for Hereditary Conditions Is a Big Deal

Some pet owners who have investigated pet insurance have complained about what they felt were numerous exclusions or loopholes that would allow a pet insurance company to easily deny claims. This has led them to conclude that pet insurance isn’t worth it. One of the exclusions they frequently mention is coverage for hereditary conditions.
These are conditions that have a proven or suspected genetic basis or cause. Many times these conditions are commonly seen in certain breeds; for example, hip dysplasia in some large breed dogs, luxating patellas (dislocating kneecaps) in some small breed dogs, idiopathic epilepsy (seizures) in Beagles, polycystic kidneys in Persian cats, or cardiomyopathy in Ragdoll cats. (Here are a couple of websites that list hereditary conditions in dogs and cats.)
If you are considering the purchase of a policy from a company that doesn’t cover hereditary conditions, ask for a list of conditions that aren’t covered – preferably in a sample policy. Some companies will furnish you with a list of conditions they consider hereditary, and if it isn’t on the list, it’s covered. They may even offer limited coverage for the conditions on the list. Others may not have a list available for viewing and say they rely on lists of hereditary conditions in current veterinary textbooks, etc. You might be surprised how long some of these lists can be.
You should also inquire about whether congenital conditions are covered. These are problems that the pet was born with, such as a congenital heart defect or liver shunt. Some companies won’t cover congenital conditions (even if they cover hereditary conditions) because they consider them pre-existing, since they had the problem from birth — i.e., prior to your purchasing a policy. However, there are companies that will cover congenital problems as long as they weren’t known about or diagnosed by a veterinarian prior to the effective date of your policy.
For example, if you take your new puppy in for a wellness examination and vaccinations and on physical exam your veterinarian hears a heart murmur that the puppy has likely had since birth, it won’t be covered if you later purchase a policy. However, if you purchase a policy and several months later the puppy starts showing signs of illness and a liver shunt is diagnosed (which is congenital — the puppy was born with it), that would be covered because symptoms developed after you purchased the policy.
While coverage for hereditary conditions is a significant factor when selecting a policy for your pet, coverage for congenital problems is just a bonus because a pet is much more likely to develop a condition considered hereditary than it is to be born with a congenital problem.
From a veterinarian’s perspective, I believe coverage for hereditary conditions is essential. I have seen instances where the insurance company considered a condition hereditary and the veterinarian did not, but unfortunately the insurance company’s opinion is the one that counts and the claim was rejected. In order to avoid this situation, buy a policy from a company that covers hereditary conditions, preferably up to the full per-incident or annual maximum.
By reading a sample policy, you should be able to determine if hereditary conditions are covered and if there are any limits or restrictions on coverage.

Dr. Doug Kenney
Pic of the day: Upsidedown Kitten by pinguino k

]]> TheDailyVet Thu, 26 May 2011 07:00:00 +0000 11227 at
What to do About Pre-Existing Conditions

A common reason that pet insurance claims are denied is because of a pre-existing condition. This is a problem or disease that your pet may have shown symptoms of or been diagnosed with before you purchased the policy, or that came to be during the waiting period before the policy became effective and coverage actually began.
However, each company’s definition of a pre-existing condition may vary, so it's important to read a sample policy or ask a company representative prior to purchasing an insurance policy.
For example, ruptured cruciate ligaments in a dog’s knee are considered by some companies to be a "bilateral condition" – a problem that occurs on one side of the body that is prone to also occur on the opposite side of the body. Therefore, if one side is affected prior to your purchasing a policy, issues with the opposite side will still be considered pre-existing, even if they occur after you purchase a policy.
Pre-existing cancer may also be an issue for you. For instance, if your pet develops cancer such as a mast cell tumor prior to your purchasing pet insurance. Some companies exclude coverage for any type of cancer, while other companies may exclude coverage for only mast cell tumor and cover all other forms of cancer.
And still other companies may cover a problem that occurred previously if it was "cured" and was not considered a chronic condition (no symptoms or treatment within the last 6 to 12 months).
So by purchasing a policy soon after getting a pet, preferably as a puppy or kitten, and before any known problems develop, you decrease the chances of having a claim denied because of a pre-existing condition. However, many pet owners interested in purchasing pet insurance have pets that have already been to the veterinarian several times with problems.
Recently, I corresponded with someone who was getting a new policy for his 10-year-old dog, who had been relatively healthy with the exception of a couple of problems. He went through the process I’m about to describe with satisfactory results.
During the application process, you will usually have to answer several questions about any previous problems your pet may have had. You should be completely honest when answering these questions. Knowingly misleading the insurance company about your pet's previous problems is considered fraud and the penalties range from the policy being canceled to possibly even being fined and/or imprisoned. Depending on your answers to these questions, the insurance company may issue a policy on your pet with no exclusions, or they may request further information from you and/or request your pet’s medical records for the past 12 to 24 months.
Even if you aren’t required to send in medical records during the application process, you will likely be required to send in medical records when you file the first claim. If you have forgotten to mention something during the application process, it may become evident when the company reviews the medical record and a condition could be considered pre-existing and excluded from coverage.
Therefore, during the application process, I recommend asking the insurance company if they will let you know in writing during the underwriting process if there are any conditions that will be excluded from coverage, and for how long because they are considered pre-existing. Most of the insurance companies will do this if you make this request, and it is worth asking about so that there aren’t any surprises down the road. The last thing you want to do is pay several months/years of premiums only to find out that a claim is denied because the insurance company considers a condition pre-existing before you bought the policy. They will usually require a copy of your pet’s medical record for review.
The goal is transparency on your part to reveal any known prior medical problems to the insurance company, and transparency from the insurance company to reveal (when the policy is initially written) if any pre-existing medical problems are excluded from coverage. If one or more conditions are excluded from coverage and you elect not to continue coverage, you can usually cancel the policy for a refund of premium as long as you haven’t filed a claim.
Another benefit of sending in your pet’s medical records during the application process is that when you do file your first claim, any questions about whether a condition is covered can be decided quickly and the reimbursement process will be expedited.
If your pet is older when you apply for a policy, the insurance company may request your pet’s medical records to review and even require a physical exam and/or lab testing to make sure your pet doesn’t have a chronic condition that would preclude coverage for illnesses.
Hopefully by following this process with your application, it will eliminate being frustrated with one of the more common complaints about pet insurance.
I would be interested to learn about any exclusions that were added to your pet’s policy during underwriting because of one or more pre-existing conditions. Also, have you had a claim denied because of a pre-existing condition?

Dr. Doug Kenney

Pic of the day: X-Ray of Jespah's knee after by jespahjoy

]]> TheDailyVet Thu, 19 May 2011 07:00:00 +0000 11194 at
Which Is Best - Pet Insurance or Savings Account?

One bit of advice that I see over and over on the Internet is to open a savings account to help pay for your pet’s healthcare needs, rather than buying pet insurance. The recommendation is to put the money that you would be "wasting" on pet insurance premiums into the savings account, and when you have to go to the vet, the money will be there to pay for the visit. 
People who give this advice miss the point of pet insurance. Pet insurance is meant to help you bridge the gap financially when large, unplanned and unexpected expenses occur and you don’t have adequate savings to cover it. You never know when you may be faced with a large, unexpected expense. For example, what if a couple of months into your savings plan, your pet is seriously ill or injured and the bill is $1,500 and you’ve only saved $75? Will your pet wait to get sick until you have enough money saved up?
I think it’s great advice to have a savings account, but not in place of pet insurance. In my opinion, it’s not an either/or proposition, but both. You’ll still have those annual wellness expenses to pay for, and even if you have pet insurance, you’ll still have to pay the deductible, co-pay and any uncovered expenses. Most pet owners will benefit from having a 3-pronged approach to paying for their pet’s healthcare — savings, available credit and pet insurance.
The current model for pet insurance in the United States requires pet owners to pay their veterinarian and then seek reimbursement from the insurance company. Many pet owners pay their veterinarian with a credit card and then promptly file a claim with the insurance company. When the time comes to pay the credit card bill, they should have already received a reimbursement check from the insurance company. We recommend CareCredit to our clients because they offer several no-interest payment plans that work well with pet insurance.
Keep in mind that the best time to start saving, apply for CareCredit, and purchase pet insurance is now — before the unexpected and unplanned happens. When your pet is seriously ill or injured, especially if it is a crisis situation, the last thing you want to be concerned about is how you are going to pay the bill.
People who purchase pet health insurance must understand there will be years when they pay the premium and realize little to no benefit from the policy. This is actually good! That means that your pet remained healthy that year. It is this way with almost any other type of insurance, too.
For example, you may pay $1,000 annually for 30 years for homeowners insurance and realize little or no benefit from it. You may pay $300 a month for several years for auto insurance and not get any benefit out of it. Should this upset you? No! Remember, the purpose of buying insurance is to protect you against catastrophic events that may occur in your life that you aren’t able to financially cover yourself. You should no more buy pet health insurance hoping that your pet will get sick than you’d buy auto insurance hoping you’ll have a accident.
For a real-life example of what I consider a proper attitude and perspective toward pet health insurance and the role it can play, along with savings to help pay your pet’s healthcare expenses, go to my recent blog, Pet Insurance: A Pet’s Perspective, and read my response to Douggie’s comment (#2).

Dr. Doug Kenney
Pic of the day: trog with a cone by Chris Corwin

]]> TheDailyVet Thu, 12 May 2011 07:00:00 +0000 11155 at
Should You Buy Pet Insurance?

If you are the typical person in America today, you probably have several different types of insurance. If you own a home, you likely have homeowners insurance. If you own a car, you likely have auto insurance. You may also have life insurance, disability insurance, or health insurance. But what about pet insurance?
I frequently read discussions about pet insurance on pet forums. One question that is often asked is, "Should I buy pet insurance?"
You would buy pet insurance for the same reason you buy any type of insurance. You buy it to help pay for large, unexpected or unplanned veterinary bills for which you would have trouble paying for out-of-pocket.
The definition of "large" may be $500 to $600 for some pet owners, while for others it may be $5,000 to $6,000. This is why pet insurance policies aren’t one size fits all.
Pet healthcare expenses fall into two categories:
1. Wellness care (some call it routine expenses) - e.g., annual or semi-annual examinations, vaccinations as needed, heartworm and intestinal parasite testing, heartworm preventative medication, monthly flea and tick control products, dental prophylaxis, early disease detection lab tests, spaying or neutering, etc. Because you can approximate the cost for this care and when they will occur every year, you can plan and save for these procedures. They aren’t unexpected.
2. Accidents or illnesses - e.g., accidental poisoning, foreign body ingestion, fractures, lacerations, acute or chronic diseases, etc. These are, by nature, unplanned or unexpected and sometimes expensive, especially if care is administered at an emergency hospital or if you are referred to a specialist. These expenses are why pet owners usually consider purchasing pet insurance.
A pet insurance company recently surveyed claims they had received that were $500 or more. Almost half of the claims were for pets seen at an emergency hospital or specialty hospital. Most major metropolitan areas now have at least one emergency and/or specialty facility.
Specialists are more highly trained, solve and treat more difficult cases, have access to and use more advanced technology (e.g., CT scans or MRIs). Emergency hospitals often deal with life-threatening problems that need intensive care or even emergency surgery — usually at hours when your regular veterinarian’s hospital isn’t open.
For these reasons, the fees at specialty and emergency hospitals are usually higher than what you would pay at your regular veterinarian’s hospital. Specialty and emergency hospitals (when needed) play an important role, along with your regular veterinarian, in providing quality healthcare to your pet, and can often be the difference between successful or unsuccessful treatment of your pet. Therefore, pet owners are starting to look more closely at pet insurance as a way to help bridge the gap between the quality of healthcare they need or want for their pet and what they can afford. 
According to another recent pet insurance survey, a majority of respondents would be willing to spend "anything" to save their pet. It has been my experience, however, that when I present the cost of a diagnostic or treatment plan to pet owners, the reality of the situation sets in — and some aren’t so sure of the answer anymore.
Dr. Barry Kipperman, an internist at a California 24-hour emergency and specialty hospital, stated that he frequently hears pet owners say, "I never imagined that it would cost this much to save my pet’s life."
If your pet was sick or injured and required surgery and an extended hospital stay and the bill was $10,000, $5,000, or $3,000, could you afford to pay for it? If not, then you should at least look into purchasing pet health insurance.
The primary consideration for some pet owners contemplating the purchase of pet insurance may not be "could" I afford such a bill, but "would" I be willing to spend that amount of money on my pet. For some pet owners, the answer is "no." Therefore, pet insurance would be of little benefit.
I believe that more and more clients will purchase pet insurance in the future because technology and the costs of delivering quality healthcare to pets have outpaced the ability of many pet owners to pay for it. Consequently, veterinarians and pet owners will have to become familiar with pet health insurance. While pet owners and veterinarians alike can benefit by third party payment to help pay for the healthcare of pets, I’m convinced the real winners will be the pets.
For more questions to ask yourself when contemplating the purchase of pet insurance, visit petMD’s Pet Insurance Center.

Dr. Doug Kenney

Pic of the day: 225 by elgin.jessica

]]> TheDailyVet Thu, 05 May 2011 11:00:00 +0000 11127 at
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

Image: Yuakri* / Flickr
]]> health insurance prevention TheDailyVet Thu, 28 Apr 2011 07:00:00 +0000 11076 at