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 Pet coverage has insurance pitfalls

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تاريخ التسجيل : 25/01/2010
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مُساهمةموضوع: Pet coverage has insurance pitfalls   الثلاثاء يونيو 15, 2010 8:14 pm




Pet coverage has insurance pitfalls

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If navigating the health insurance maze for humans feels confusing, just
check
out getting coverage for your pet.


Millions of Americans are increasingly buying health insurance for their
furry
friends. With shifting rules, tricky fine print and premiums creeping
up, it
pays to be finicky.


About 71.4 million American homes, about 62 percent, have a pet,
according to
the most recent survey by the American Pet Products Manufacturers
Association. Last year, those pet owners spent $12.04 million in
veterinary
care and will spend an estimated $12.79 million this year.


Enter a thriving pet insurance industry. About a dozen companies offer
coverage for pets in the United States. It’s a trend that’s already
taken
hold in Europe.


In the United Kingdom, about 20 percent of all pets are covered by
health
insurance. In the U.S. and Canada, statistics vary but generally hover
around 3 percent and growing.


Companies sold roughly $248 million in pet insurance in 2007, according
to
Packaged Facts, a marketing analysis firm that looks at consumer
industries.
Their report, which will be updated later this year, said it expects the

North American market to “turn in an increasingly strong showing,” with
average annual increases from 25 percent to 35 percent, and sales
potentially hitting $1.1 billion by 2012.


For consumers, though, the differences in policy cost and coverage can
be
confusing. Policies vary wildly, anywhere from $9.50 a month for an
accident-only policy on a dog to $75 a month for a Cadillac-style plan.


When comparison shopping on insurance company Web sites, the rules
aren’t
always spelled out, so buyers should call to ask about exclusions and
limits
on payouts. For instance, a $35,000 coverage plan might be limited to
only
$10,000 on some ailments.


Just last week, California’s lawmakers pushed forward a bill requiring
transparency in pet insurance coverage. The bill, which passed the State

Assembly and is moving through the Senate, requires insurance company
Web
sites to clearly state benefit schedules, coverage limits and
exclusions.


“Doing research for each individual animal and company is key,” said Dr.
Janet
Tobiassen Crosby, who writes a blog about veterinary issues. “Each case
is
very individual.”


Some policies exempt certain breeds or older dogs, or limit coverage for

pre-existing or hereditary conditions, which many purebred animals have.

Many also have maximum payouts per incident that skew the math. For
instance, if there’s a $3,500 per incident maximum and your pooch faces a

$4,000 hip replacement or a $10,000 cancer treatment, the out-of-pocket
expenses in addition to the premiums might not be worth it.


Even for routine checkups, insurance doesn’t always add up. Consumer
gurus
like Atlanta’s Clark Howard recommend putting what you might pay for
insurance premiums in a high-yield savings account to be used for pet
health
costs. Still, for those owners who would go to any length financially to

save their pets, insurance might be the best bet.


“So much in veterinary medicine is ‘here’s what we’d like to do, and
here’s
what we can afford to 
do,’ ” said Dr. Duffy Jones, who owns Peachtree
Hills
Animal Hospital in Buckhead.


For many, a good savings account will do, he said. But for younger
families
and pet owners who aren’t typically savers, an insurance policy can mean
the
difference between losing their beloved animal and a few days recovery
in a
pet hospital.


“Where we have seen it be the most beneficial is with people with large
breeds, like labs,” Jones said. “Typically, those dogs get into major
problems in the first few years. They eat something they shouldn’t or go
and
run into traffic.”


One of his clients without insurance recently had to shell out roughly
$4,400
for two surgeries just months apart because a 1-year-old Labrador ate
socks
on two separate occasions, an emergency that required Jones to take out
sections of the dog’s intestine.


But Jones warns that some companies have coverage rules that sneak up
and
bite.


One client bought insurance for a young dog that needed shoulder work
that was
covered under the plan. About seven years later, the same dog had knee
problems that needed surgery and the company denied the claim saying the

policy’s orthopedic limit had been met for that dog.


“Knowing the company you’re using and what’s covered is important,”
Jones
said. “We had another company that said if you have an accident or issue

this year, they consider it a pre-existing issue the next.”


Several companies have entered the U.S. market in the past five years:
Embrace
Pet Insurance, Fetch, Inc.; EnsuraPet; Trupanion; Pets Best; PetFirst
and
PetPartners.


At the same time, longtime companies have begun to push hard for more
market
share. Veterinary Pet Insurance, which has 60 percent of pet insurance
written in the United States and Canada, is working with 1,600 companies
to
offer it as a voluntary employee benefit.


And many pet insurance companies are stepping up their market savvy by
teaming
up with established consumer brands – SecuriCan with Purina, Hartville
with
the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals),
PetPartners with the American Kennel Club, and PetFirst with Kroger.


At The Veterinary Clinic in Marietta, employees in June began receiving
pet
insurance benefits from Trupanion, said Jayne Hawkins, one of the
clinic’s
three owners.


Pet health insurance is basically liability insurance and is regulated
by each
state’s insurance department as property and casualty insurance, similar
to
coverage for cars and homes. Human medical insurance is subject to
federal
regulations. For consumers, that means making sure you ask if a
company’s
insurance products are “admitted,” which means they are guaranteed and
approved by the state.


Pet insurance isn’t meant to cover everything, Hawkins cautions. Owners
should
know beforehand that they’ll need a chunk of change to spend on pet
care.


“When someone is going to get a pet, they should have about $1,800 in
disposable income a year, by the time you do food and veterinary
business”
such as vaccines and heartworm preventative medicine, she said.


“If you can spend that in a year on a pet, then you are going to have a
well-cared-for pet. If you don’t have that additional, then you’re going
to
be skimping along.”
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Pet coverage has insurance pitfalls
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