Pet Insurance – Choosing the right plan for you and your pet

When getting your new pet one of the key things to decide on is whether or not to take out a pet insurance policy.  The main reason that people take out pet insurance is to cover the cost of veterinary treatment (though there are other benefits that will be discussed later).  This can be a really confusing area to deal with, especially if it is the first time you have owned a pet or considered taking out pet insurance.  Just to help, I would like to look at some of the key areas to think about when taking out a policy for your pet.  I will not be recommending individual companies or policies, this is something you need to decide on yourself.  This article is designed to help you make that decision by asking the right questions.

The first and most important thing to say is “research is key”, however boring it may seem, you MUST read the policy details (terms and conditions) and find out exactly what you are buying, before you sign on the dotted line, it is essential

Too often we meet clients who think they are covered for their pet’s treatment only to find that they aren’t, or that the amount they are covered for is nothing like the amount they thought it was.

What factors will influence your choice?

Cost or “premium”

This is the amount you pay to the insurance company, whether this is a one off annual payment or monthly instalments.  This is often a key factor used by comparison websites when listing policies for you to look at.

A word of caution at this point, as with most things, you get what you pay for, cheaper policies will carry fewer benefits and probably won’t have the breadth of cover of the slightly more expensive policies

Type of cover

You will generally be faced with 4 types of cover, different companies may have lots of different names for them, Basic, Regular, Premium, Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum but essentially they fall into these 4 categories.

  1. “Annual” policy.  This type of policy covers you pet per condition for 12 months or up to the maximum veterinary fees limit whichever is reached first.  After the 12 month period or the fee limit has been exceeded, cover for that particular condition will end and an ‘exclusion’ will be placed on the policy for that condition.  Some may have both a maximum annual limit and a maximum condition limit, so although the policy details say ‘£2000 per year’ for veterinary fees, there may also be small print which says ‘maximum of £500.00 per condition’.  These policies are generally towards the cheaper end of the market.
    Caution.  In the small print for some of these policies they class the condition as starting on the date that the first symptoms are noted on the veterinary surgeons clinical notes.  This means that if you wait over 12 months to get the clinical signs investigated the insurer will not pay for the investigations.
  2. “Maximum Benefit” policy.  Cover is provided up to the veterinary fee limit for each and every condition. You have one ‘pot’ of money for each condition and once this has all been spent and the limit has been reached no further cover is provided for treating that condition.  There is no time limit on how long you have to spend each ‘pot of money’.  These policies are somewhere in the middle of the premium scale.
  3. “Lifetime – Maximum Benefit” policy.  Veterinary fees are covered up to a fee limit.  This is a larger ‘pot of money’ (veterinary fee limit) that lasts for 12 months.  You can claim for numerous conditions but they will all come from the same ‘pot’, once that limit is exhausted all cover for veterinary treatment will cease.  However, as long as the policy is renewed each year (with no breaks in cover) the ‘pot’ is also renewed and you can continue to claim for your pet’s ongoing treatment.  Size of the veterinary fee limit will often determine the cost of the premium.  These policies are towards the higher end of the premium scale.
  4. “Lifetime” policy.  These have a veterinary fee limit per condition per year for all conditions.  Each condition has its own ‘pot of money’ (veterinary fee limit) and as long as the policy is renewed each year (with no break in cover) the veterinary fee limit is fully renewed each year.  The amount of the veterinary fee limit per condition will often influence the cost of the premium.  These policies are at the high end of the premium scale.

What is covered by the policy? 

Every policy is different.  The policy document will tell you what is covered by the policy.  If you are researching your policy online many of the insurance companies will have a PDF copy of a policy document that you can open/download and read.  Look for the section entitled ‘What is covered’ or ‘What we will pay for’ and read this carefully to ensure that you are getting what you want from the policy.

As well as Veterinary Fees you can also get cover for other things as part of the policy, it is worth taking a moment to consider whether you require any of the following to be covered;

  1. Alternative Therapies – treatments from non-veterinary professionals such as behaviour therapy, physiotherapy, acupuncture, hydrotherapy.
  2. Cover for Veterinary Fees abroad (are you planning on taking your pet on holiday with you to the continent?)
  3. Third Party Insurance (dogs only) – if your pet causes damage to someone else, their pet, their property, or causes a road traffic accident.
  4. Kennelling Fees – should your pet need to be placed in kennels due to a family emergency.
  5. Lost and Found Fees – if you lose your pet these will cover some of the cost for trying to recover them.
  6. Accidental damage – damage caused by your pet for things that may not be covered by your household insurance.
  7. Travel expenses – If your vet refers your pet to another vet for treatment the policy may pay out for travel and accommodation expenses.

What is NOT covered?

This is probably a more important area than what is covered.  Look closely at the policy information so that there are no nasty surprises further down the line, again there will be a section entitled ‘What is not covered by your policy’.  All policies will be different but here are a few of the more common things that are not covered by pet insurance policies.

  1. Pre-existing conditions.  A pre-existing condition is anything that your pet has received treatment for, or shown clinical signs of, prior to you taking out the policy.  If anything has been noted on your pet’s clinical notes by your veterinary surgeon this will be taken into account.  You must declare any pre-existing conditions, failure to do so will invalidate your policy.  
  2. It is worth noting at this point that if you consider changing insurers at any point, anything that your pet has been or is being treated for will class as a pre-existing condition and will not be covered under the new policy
  3. There are now a handful of insurers who offer specific policies for animals with pre-existing conditions and they can be found on the internet.
  4. Routine Treatment – Things considered as routine treatment and therefore not covered are vaccinations, flea and worm treatment, neutering (unless it is to treat a medical condition) or anything to do with pregnancy and parturition (if you are a breeder then you will need a specific breeders policy).
  5. First 14 Days – many policies do not cover treatment for a medical condition within the first 14 days of the policy.
  6. Food – many policies will not pay for food prescribed by your veterinary surgeon as part of your pet’s treatment.
  7. Routine dental treatment – some policies will not cover dental treatment unless it is the result of an accident/trauma.  Routine scale and polish and extractions due to dental decay are often not covered.  Check the policy details.

Excess

hopefully your pet will have a really long and healthy life and trips to the vet will be routine only.  However should you ever need to make a claim on your policy, there will be an ‘excess’ to pay.  The excess is the amount of each claim that you are expected to pay directly to the veterinary surgery, this will be deducted from any eventual settlement by the insurer.  It is worth looking in the terms and conditions of the policy to find how much excess you will be expected to pay.  Common terms include;

  1. Fixed excess amount per condition – this is an amount that you will be expected to pay whenever you start a claim for a new condition.  This can range from £65.00 to £250.00.  With some lifetime policies you will also be expected to pay this on the first claim in any new policy year for ongoing treatment.
  2. Policy holder Co-payment – this is calculated as a percentage of the remaining amount of the claim once the fixed annual excess has been deducted.  This is often added to policies when pet’s reach a certain age and can be anything from 5 – 20%.  Again look at the terms and conditions and see when and how much you will be expected to pay.
  3. Referrals – something else that has crept into certain policies over the past couple of years is the ‘Preferred Referral Vet List’.  Whilst we hope they remain healthy, should your pet ever need to be referred to a Specialist veterinary surgeon for treatment, some insurers insist on you seeing a referral vet of their choice rather than a referral vet of your own veterinary surgeons choice.  If you choose to go against the recommendation of your insurers and go to the referral centre recommended by your own vet, then your insurer will deduct an extra excess amount of up to £200.00 from your claim settlement.  If you take out the policy over the telephone it is worth asking if this clause exists in the policy.

I hope that this has offered some help with what to think about when choosing an insurance policy for your pet.  Asking the right questions at the start can avoid confusion and heartache further down the line.

Please remember that pet insurance is unlike car and household insurance and there are consequences if you choose to change insurers during your pet’s lifetime, not least of which is the pre-existing condition issue.  Think twice before changing insurers.

If you have any questions with regard to anything I have discussed today please do not hesitate to contact us.  We cannot offer advice on the purchasing of specific insurance policies as we are independent veterinary surgeons and not agents of the insurers but we can steer you in the right direction with what to look for and what questions to ask.

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