More than half of UK households have a pet in residence. Currently, cats seem to be the most popular pets at 8 million with dogs not far behind at 6 million. There are about 3500 veterinary practices that specialise in treating every type of animal from horses and cows to ferrets and hamsters.
Veterinary practices are improving their services all the time and as human medicine progresses some of the diagnostic techniques and treatments find their way into veterinary practice. Most practices now have wide-ranging facilities such as multi-parameter monitoring during anaesthesia, digital x-ray equipment, an in-house laboratory, ultrasound scanning and intensive care/isolation wards to name but a few. Treatment can be costly; repairing broken bones following an accident can easily exceed £1500, particularly if referral to a specialist is needed. This may come as quite a shock and so it’s not surprising that more and more pet owners are taking out insurance policies, and the majority of veterinary staff also have insurance for their pets. Most species can be insured for reasonable monthly payments. Please be sure to ask for a lifetime policy and not an annual one, as with the latter a condition occurring during one year’s cover is usually then excluded from your ongoing plan, and you may be left funding a chronic condition for many years to come.
These days, most of the investigative procedures and treatment options available for humans are also available for our pets. Whilst it is reassuring to know that modern equipment, highly trained staff, advanced treatment and complex surgical procedures are available for our pets, the costs of sophisticated diagnostic tests, medication and surgery can soon mount up.We all hope that our pets will only have to go to the vet for vaccinations and other preventative health care measures, but accidents do happen; also, unfortunately, both sudden and long-term diseases can affect our pets. These situations are always stressful and the last thing anyone wants to worry about is the cost of treatment.
A pet health insurance policy which has been carefully chosen to give levels of cover appropriate to your pet and your needs will give you peace of mind, allowing you to concentrate on looking after your pet should the need for veterinary care arise.
Pet insurance covers the costs of treatment of a non-preventative nature, whether for something fairly routine such as an upset tummy or something potentially more serious such as a broken leg or the development of sugar diabetes.
The policy holder has to pay an initial excess for each condition claimed for, and the amount of this excess can vary widely between different policies. Some, but not all, policies will give additional cover for the cost of special diet foods or supplementary treatments such as hydrotherapy.
Many policies offer additional extras – one which is certainly worth considering is third party liability insurance. This offers legal protection should your pet cause an accident or an injury to another person.
Preventative health care measures such as vaccination, worming, flea control, neutering and routine dental care are not covered by pet health insurance. Most policies will not cover necessary dental treatment either – this is also common in human private health insurance policies, which usually exclude dental treatment.
Many pet insurance policies only cover vaccinated pets. In such cases, if a pet whose vaccinations have lapsed develops one of the diseases which are prevented by vaccination (e.g. parvovirus or distemper), the policy will not pay out for treatment which could otherwise be life-saving – this is one of many good reasons for keeping your pet’s vaccinations up to date.
Your pet health insurance policy is an arrangement between you and your insurance company. In the event of a claim, we will ask you to settle your bill as normal, and you will need to contact your insurance company to obtain a claim form. After filling in your part of the claim form you should send or hand in the partially completed form to the practice. We will then complete the rest of the form and forward it to the insurance company. Most insurers will quickly organise reimbursement of your outgoings, minus any excess. Please note that, in common with most other practices, we do make a small charge for completion of insurance forms. This is because insurance is a financial product regulated by the FSA and we are obliged to complete the required forms for you with great care and integrity to ensure that they are correct. We are also required to print/fax/email histories to the insurers and spend time on the phone with them answering queries in order that your claim is properly assessed. This can take a lot of time.
Should your pet need involved or long-term treatment which is likely to be expensive, it is advisable for you to contact the insurance company first to discuss the issue with them. The contract is between you and the insurers, not between the practice and the insurers. In certain circumstances it may be possible for a direct claim to be made to the insurers on your behalf by the practice, if the correct authorisation is given to us by the insurers. You will be asked in these circumstances to pay any excess to the practice at the time of the first invoice being raised.
Making a direct claim in this way may involve a delay in treatment, as a so-called ‘pre-authorisation form’ may need to be sent to the practice by the insurers in order to clarify what needs to be done and what the costs are likely to be. Direct claims can only be made after prior discussion and arrangement with the practice and again, a small administration fee will be charged for making a claim in this way.
Many companies offer pet health insurance, and policies can differ widely. It is very important that you read the ‘small print’ as this can make a significant difference to what can be claimed for. When purchasing an insurance policy you should look at a number of points, including the level of cover provided, at what point the cover starts after the policy is purchased (and this may vary depending on the type of condition), the amount of excess to pay per claim and what is excluded from the cover. You should establish what you can afford and what level of cover you would ideally like. Be aware of the fact that some companies will only provide cover for any one condition for only one year. This is an Annual Policy. This may provide sufficient cover in the event of an accident for example, but if your pet develops the need for lifelong treatment (for conditions such as diabetes or osteoarthritis for example ) you would then have to meet the costs yourself after the first year. This unfortunate scenario can be prevented by choosing a policy that provides lifelong cover for any given condition – a Lifetime Policy. In addition, some companies will provide a certain total amount of cover for all the illnesses being treated in any one year, whereas others may provide a similar amount of cover for each and every condition being treated in the same year. This can make a substantial difference in the event that your pet is unfortunate enough to have more than one condition at any given time.It is therefore worthwhile shopping around and comparing various companies and policies. The best policy for you will be one that you can afford but which hopefully includes everything you need for your pet. It is important to understand that some cheaper policies may well not provide the same levels of cover over the same periods of time as those which may be a little more expensive. The worst time to find out that your insurance cover is insufficient for your pet’s needs is when a serious health problem has already arisen.
The same rules apply to buying a pet policy as your own health insurance policy – buy it when young and healthy and there are no existing conditions to report. Read the small print carefully and take particular notice of the terms and conditions that will explain what is and what is not covered together with any excess payments that may be required.
In general, diagnosis and treatment for any accident, injury, or illness, will be covered by the policy. However, pre-existing and chronic conditions will almost certainly be excluded or subject to an excess. Understandably any insurance policy with a high claim likelihood has to maintain a careful balance between premium level, excess charges and exclusions for the insurer to remain in business.As in human medicine a very large number of sophisticated diagnostic tests are available. Some will require the services of a laboratory, for example some blood and urine samples, diabetes or metabolic disturbances. X-rays and ultrasound scanning are other commonly used diagnostic procedures. Rapid diagnosis is vitally important in the treatment of any illness and diagnostic tests may have to be carried out at intervals to monitor the success of the treatment.Cats and dogs stray on to roadways and all-too-frequently have to undergo hospitalisation following an accident. X-rays, transfusions and referral for major surgery involving the placement of metal implants, screws and plates to restore the function of shattered bones all require expensive resources. An insurance policy in these circumstances will bring peace of mind.Rare and unusual conditions such as leukaemia or cancer may have to be referred to a University establishment or specialist centre for treatment. Advanced cancer diagnosis and treatment can be given at various centres including The Veterinary Referral Cancer Centre in Essex and the Animal Health Trust at Newmarket.
This is an important benefit to protect pet owners against being sued if their pet causes damage or injury. These could be incidents such as a dog biting a child or a cat causing a road accident.
As with most types of insurance, premiums will vary according to risk. A valuable pedigree will command a much higher premium than farmyard breeds! The new designer breeds are also now commanding a higher premium, despite actually being crossbreeds, because too frequently the breeds chosen to be crossed have the same inherited problems. Males can cost more than females, older animals will cost more than younger ones. Post Codes will also be taken into account and proximity to built up areas of towns and cities.
Routine and preventive care will be excluded, together with anything classed as “cosmetic”, for example surgery to correct a bite abnormality in a dog. All pre-existing conditions will be excluded.
Veterinary insurance has become much more popular in recent years and there are a variety of plans to choose from. The British Small Animal Veterinary Association endorses the concept of Pet Health Insurance and almost all veterinary practices display Pet Insurance leaflets and actively recommend it. The ongoing progress of veterinary medicine means that costs will continue to rise. An insurance policy is a sensible way in which to begin planning for unforeseen bills that could be very significant.