In January 2005 the Financial Services Authority (FSA) introduced new regulations which govern the selling of pet insurance. These regulations are intended to protect consumers but restrict the advice that may be given to pet owners by their veterinary surgeons unless acting as Authorised Representative for an Insurance Company. My information here can therefore only be quite general. Insurance is a personal financial decision that should take in account your ability to pay and your attitude to risk.
There is no doubt that the cost of veterinary treatment is becoming more and more expensive. There are many reasons for this but the running costs of even a basic veterinary practice are astronomical. There is a huge amount of behind-the-scenes expense and most clinics are staffed and equipped for just about every eventuality. I would advise a quality insurance for every pet in just about all cases to help cover the costs of an unexpected and potentially large veterinary bill.
There are over 100 pet insurance providers on the market to help with vet fees, and what they offer will change almost daily. At any one particular time there will be one that is providing the best deal at that time but do take care because there have been many occasions when the great deal suddenly evaporates and the premiums increase substantially.
Insurance can be split into three main groups.
- Insurance cover per condition for 12 months (up to a certain limit)
- Insurance cover per condition regardless of time up to a certain limit
- Insurance cover per condition for life (with an annual limit)
Many diseases such as skin disease, heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes and arthritis will cause problems for many years with the greatest costs incurred later on as the disease progresses. As a result, although the first group, with a 12 month policy, are often less expensive I would tend to avoid them.
The other thing to consider is the total limit per condition or year. If your main consideration when choosing insurance is to cover most eventualities of illness or accident, I would consider a policy giving £6000 of cover a minimum. An MRI scan with an anaesthetic can cost £2000 alone and specialist spinal surgery for a slipped disc can cost £4000.
There will always be an excess to pay, per condition claimed, per year and this will typically be in the region of £50-100. With some of the budget policies or in much older animals, a percentage of the claim be also be payable by the insured, typically 20-30%.
Direct claims may be done by your vet on occasions. However, they will need proof of insurance, a completed claim form and the full excesses paid. A form signed declaring that in the event of non-payment by the insurance company that you will cover the full charges is also common.
Pre-authorisation can be done by some of the larger insurance companies where it may be possible to ensure that you are covered prior to spending large amounts of money. Typically it takes 3-4 days to process such a request and therefore is not appropriate in an emergency situation.
Exclusions are the area that causes greatest upset between insurance companies and pet owners. If a pet has a condition pre-existing the onset of insurance then it will not be covered. If there is a break in insurance then any pre-existing conditions prior to the break will also not be covered. Sometimes a vey minor and possibly unrelated, condition many years previously, noted in the pet’s clinical records can lead to an exclusion. The only time you know about this exclusion is when the expected cheque does not come through your letter box!
I would advise getting insurance as early as possible for your pet, as it could help with expensive vets fees. An immediate 4 week cover note can usually be given by your vet at the time of the initial examination or vaccination.