Pet insurance gaining traction with veterinarians
By STEVE DALE
Tribune Media Services
Veterinarians have traditionally been opposed to pet insurance, but their views seem to be shifting.
"This is because pet insurance can save lives, and we're seeing more examples of this," says Dr. Julia Georgesen in Chicago. "As a veterinarian, pet insurance allows me to practice better medicine."
Bella was an 8-week-old Pit Bull mix, who appeared perfectly healthy on her first veterinary visit. As a "to go gift," Dr. Bradley Christensen, of Las Vegas, NV, offered a puppy kit to Bella's owner, which included basic information about puppy care, where to find a dog trainer and a free 30-day trial with Trupanion Pet Insurance. Three days later, this once thriving puppy was pretty much on death's door as a result of the canine parvovirus.
"For puppies as bad off as Bella was, we didn't know if she was going to make it," says Christensen. "We needed permission to administer aggressive treatment, which was not inexpensive. And unfortunately, the owners were very concerned about finding a way to afford treatment for Bella."
Euthanasia might sadly have been the only viable alternative for Bella. Then, Christensen remembered that Bella's owners had signed up for the free 30-day trial of pet insurance. Trupanion is one of the only a few pet insurance companies that pays 90 percent of the cost on claims.
"This made the treatment affordable," Christensen says. "For sure, every puppy and kitten is now being offered the (free) 30-day trial at our clinic," he adds.
Today Bella is 100 percent recovered, a normal, fun-loving puppy and wonderful family pet, Christensen reports.
Stories like Bella's aren't unusual. Dr. Michele Caruso, of Tewksbury, MA, says that a puppy who looked great in her clinic one day was acting very lethargic and had a swollen jaw just a few days later. An emergency clinic performed surgery for an abscess, which was likely caused by the puppy chewing on sticks. Treatment was covered as a part of a similar 30-day pet insurance trial.
"I wasn't a particular fan of pet insurance, but I've come around, at least when the insurance plan is right," says Caruso.
It's no surprise that some pet owners and veterinarians alike are concerned about pet insurance companies getting in the way of good medicine or suggested treatment options; after all, insurance companies practicing medicine is exactly what's happened to human healthcare.
"I understand the concern, but I believe it's unfounded," says Georgesen. "There's no way this will happen (in animal health) because of the way pet insurance is structured."
Indeed, clients file claims after treatment -- which is determined by pet owners and veterinarians alone -- and reimbursement is made directly to pet owners.
"Still, some insurance companies do disappoint pet owners (in what they cover)," says Georgesen. "I am less enthused about some companies."
Today, there are more pet insurance company options for pet owners to filter than ever, and different companies offer different options. Some companies cover routine wellness care, including vaccines, while others insure solely for illness and emergencies. Companies have varying guidelines on the amount reimbursed and the maximum amount paid out per claim. Some companies have specific riders for categories such as extra cancer coverage. Some companies refuse to cover pets with illness which may be deemed genetically predisposed. No company offers reimbursement for pre-existing conditions.
Of course, another option is for pet owners to open their own rainy day pet bank accounts, to save for when illness strikes or if there's an emergency.
"In my experience, that's not realistic," says Georgesen. "It's a challenge to have that discipline. And can you really save up enough money? Emergency treatment or the best treatment could cost $5,000 or $10,000 or more."
Many owners don't have a single pet, but several pets. Georgesen concedes, "I wish there was a better system to cover multiple pets and also older pets for less."
"In vet school, you don't learn about clients who say (the words), 'I can't afford,'" says Christensen. "Having to euthanize pets because owners can't pay for treatment is tragic -- and a pet insurer -- especially one who pays 90 percent -- can prevent that."
Georgesen agrees, saying, "The bottom line is that pet insurance makes it possible for veterinarians to save many pets' lives."
Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.
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