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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

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