The expansion of medical services and procedures now available to animals of all species has been increasing dramatically, especially in the past decade. Options such as organ transplants, tumor removal, pacemaker installation, ultrasound, chemotherapy, and radiation are now common.
Hand-in-hand with the improved services are skyrocketing costs, often reaching into thousands of dollars for a single procedure.
Veterinary medicine is one of the few health care professions that has not been built upon a structured insurance model. Unlike most medical, surgical, dental, and pharmacy cases in human medicine, veterinary patients, or rather their owners, are responsible for all the veterinary costs incurred - including preventive and /routine care, emergency and disease conditions.
In recent years, however, pet insurance has become widely available.
Health Insurance For Animals
Pet health care insurance isn't a new idea - it has been around for 15-20 years, but many people haven't been aware of it. The availability has been limited and the policy restrictions have been prohibitive in many cases.
Pet Health Policies
Pet health policies are similar to human insurance policies and include annual premiums, deductibles, and different coverage plans based on what the owner chooses.
Plans are based on species, age, pre-existing conditions and in some cases, whether the cat is an indoor or outdoor cat.
Most companies start policies at about 6-8 weeks of age. Some companies have no age limit. Others have a pro-rated system depending on the age of the animal when the policy is first instated.
Types of Policies
There are plans available to cover medical treatments and surgeries for accidents and illnesses ranging from minor problems such as ear infections and bee stings to major conditions such as broken bones, diabetes and cancer.
Most companies offer different types and levels of policies, with appropriate differences in premium costs.
For instance, The Veterinary Pet Insurance company (VPI) offers the VPI Superior Plan which protects cats from accidental injuries, emergencies and illnesses. It also covers office visits, prescriptions, diagnostic tests, x-rays, lab fees and more. They also offer a Vaccination & Routine Care rider which covers over $200 worth of routine benefits for only $99 per policy term year and has no deductible (Pricing as of April, 2005). Together, the two policies provide comprehensive coverage .
The Pet Care Insurance company, on the other hand, offers separate policies that cover just accidents, or accidents and illness, or emergency care. They have a policy just for indoor cats, senior cats, and even have a special policy for cats that are living in rental accommodations. Of course, as the coverage expands, so does the premium. Some companies offer short term policies, usually 30 days, to cover the first few weeks when kittens go to their new homes.
Like most human health insurance policies, pet health insurance policies will have some exclusions to keep premiums low. These usually include elective procedures, pet foods, grooming, behavioral problems, congenital or hereditary defects and medical conditions that are present prior to the policy effective date.
While companies will refuse to cover the costs associated with a pre-existing condition, some may insure the cat to cover other conditions. Other companies will allow coverage if the animal is stable or controlled - usually only after a waiting period of 6 months.
Average Policy Costs
The current overall average for annual deductibles is around $100.00. The policy costs vary widely, depending on the animal and the different packages that the owner can choose. Some packages are comprehensive, including such things as annual checkups and vaccinations, routine care, preventive medications and spay/neuter surgeries. Other plans cover only accident and illness. Most plans offer immediate coverage for accident claims, and 30 days for illness claims on new policies. Additional pets are usually covered at a reduced rate.
Unlike medical insurance for people that often limits which doctor you can visit, most pet health companies encourage you to use your own veterinarian. You can also use any licensed veterinarian or specialist worldwide.
Filing A Claim
While every company has their own claim procedure, generally it is fairly straightforward:
- See any licensed veterinarian or specialist worldwide.
- Pay for the visit at the time of service.
- Have an authorized veterinary staff member fill out the claim form by listing the diagnosis and signing it.
- Sign and mail the claim form with the original veterinary invoice to your insuring company.
- NOTE: Some companies and/or policies require your cat be microchipped and the number be read and confirmed on the claim form
Can a Cattery Get Coverage For All Their Cats?
Most companies require a policy for each individual animal. Multiple pet discounts are available from most companies however. The average discount is: 5% - 10% for more than one pet. Discounts are generally on the premium of the base policy only. Depending on the size of your breeding program, you may want to consider insuring all your cats or at least your most valuable animals.
Large Companies Offering Pet Health Insurance
- Some Veterinarians offer wellness packages, which are discounted prices on vaccinations, spay/neuters, and the like.
- Some Veterinarians also offer geriatric health checkup packages.
- Although not an insurance program, veterinary expenses can be reduce in another way. Pet Assure is a national program that offers 25% savings on veterinary services and up to 50% on pet supplies and services. You must go to a participating veterinarian or pet vendors to take advantage of this.
Pet Health Insurance has made great advances in the past few years. It may be beneficial to the small cattery owner to consider if it might be a cost effective option to consider to safeguard the health of their cats. Additionally, giving facts about polices to their kitten buyers may provide information that will encourage the owner to afford the best future health care for the kittens in their new home.