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Dr Kate’s lowdown on Pet Insurance.

05 Oct, 2022
Dogs | Cats | Small Animals

When my golden retriever, Benny, was 8 weeks old I purchased pet insurance and it saved his life on multiple occasions. In those days, pet insurance wasn’t as popular as it is now, but I had been a vet long enough to see the heartache and pain caused by not having access to funds to pay for medical care when a pet really needed it.

Pet insurance in Australia can be hard to get your head around. With so many offerings, it is difficult to know where to start and often people put it off as another mammoth life admin job - but it doesn’t have to be.

Here are my tips when considering pet insurance:

1. Insurance companies have many options with different levels of cover. Platinum or the top cover is best, but if you can’t afford it don’t stress!

If you’re on a budget, all your pet really needs is the basic accident and illness cover without all the bells and whistles.

With the basic accident and illness type of cover you won’t get anything back for vaccinations or desexing, but you will be covered for the important (and expensive) stuff - including if your pet gets cancer, heart disease or if they break their leg at the dog park.

2. Once you’re with an insurance company, try not to change (even if you think there’s a better deal somewhere else).

So, they rejected the $300 bill for your itchy dog and you’re mad. I get it. However, if you change insurance companies the new company will not cover anything that has happened to your pet previously. For example, if your dog had an ear infection last year and you change insurance companies, you will not be covered for any future ear infections. No matter how many letters of complaint or google reviews you write, those are the rules.

Anything pre-existing will not be covered if you change insurance companies. So, if you get mad at your insurance company over a $300 bill, let it go and don’t sweat the small stuff. If your pet has been insured with the same company since the day you got them, they won’t be able to wriggle out of the larger, more important claims. If you’re really upset, ask your vet to help - we will often go into battle for you if we think there has been an injustice. Changing just creates bigger problems down the line.

3. Waiting times are a trap for young players, so be aware of what they are before you pick a company. Choose an insurance company with the least waiting times.

If there is a 30-day waiting period and you take your pet to the vet for diarrhoea, it will not be covered. What’s worse, when the diarrhoea comes back in 12 months it won’t be covered again as they’ll state the gut issue is pre-existing. This is where people get caught out, as the waiting period not only means you won’t be covered for that issue right now, but forever more.

Many insurance companies these days offer no waiting periods, or short periods of 3 days if they’ve had their first vet visit (and the vet has cleared them as being healthy with no issues). However, many still have 30-day waiting periods - so be warned! A lot can happen to a pup in a month.

4. Insurance companies request ALL medical records from each vet you have seen.

I often have people ask me whether they can get insurance after their dog’s leg is broken. Unfortunately, no. It’s like your house burning down and then trying to get it insured - they will find out.

5. “A friend of mine says it isn’t worth it because they never pay?”. Not true, pet insurance saves thousands of lives and bank accounts every day.

In fact, when I’m asked what the secret to long life is for your dog, my answer is always the same - pet insurance. If your dog has been insured since puppyhood, insurance companies will always pay. The only exception is for pre-existing conditions or those occurring in waiting periods. In my 15 years as a vet, I have never had to put an insured pet down because of a money issue, and that’s saying something.

Many pet insurance companies now have GAP only cover. This means instead of fronting up the cash and waiting 1-2 weeks to get the money back, you’ll be paid on the spot, and you just pay the difference. Great huh?

6. Is it better to put money away each year rather than get insurance? Maybe, but probably not.

This may be worthwhile if you have adopted an older dog with pre-existing conditions (that now won’t be covered by insurance), but rarely for younger dogs.

With a younger, currently healthy dog, you are still likely to get more money back from insurance than the premiums you pay. This may not be true if your dog dies young from an accident, such as a car accident or incurable sudden illness, but for most dogs that live to old age you’ll be ahead with insurance. In fact, they are more likely to live till old age if they have insurance!

7. Most pet insurance companies do not cover dentistry.

Even for a rotten tooth. It’s outrageous and something I’d like to see changed. For vet, it is just as annoying as for owners. As a professional, we know teeth can not only be infected and sore, but by keeping teeth clean and having good oral preventative care it saves insurance companies money in the long run (dogs with healthy mouths are usually healthier overall). So, why don’t they cover dentistry? I don’t know. It is recommended to still put $400-600 away each year to have their teeth cleaned OR brush their teeth.

Note: At the time of writing this article there are just a couple of pet insurance companies in the Australian market that will now cover dentistry.

8. Your pet is likely to receive better medical care when they are insured. Vets are human, and when we’re spending your money there is a level of guilt that goes with that which can negatively affect your pet.

For example, if a pet owner comes in and is struggling financially, I try hard to keep the bill down. I’ll discount everything I can get away with, as I don’t want them to go without because of trying to care for their very loved pet. Vets secretly do have hearts, even those that work for big corporate companies will try hard to do what they can for less if needed.

Although it may sound great, we subconsciously cut corners in an effort to keep the bill lower. We might skip a few parameters from the blood test, or run the bloods manually ourselves rather than send off to the amazingly accurate but costly laboratory, or we might take some X-rays of that chest rather than do a CT (which would be a lot more diagnostic and helpful).

These things are often done subconsciously as we care about your pet just as much as you and your family. As a result, things may inevitably get missed by those very small cost cutting items and, ultimately, your pet does not always receive the correct care they deserve.

We know you’re not made of money and we’re trying to give your pet reasonable care, however it can be hard to do a great job with one hand tied behind our backs. No matter how you slice it, this means poorer patient outcomes. Get insurance, so we can do our jobs and give your pet better medical care.

9. When it comes to vets, you get what you pay for.

You might find a friendly and cheap veterinarian down the road, but you never know what is happening behind the scenes. They may be using a non-sterile tea towel in your dog’s abdominal surgery, having unqualified staff monitoring their anaesthetic or washing those needles and syringes in between patients to keep costs down. You don’t know that, because you don’t see it. Good vets care about your pet, but good medical care costs money. A lot of money.

The hallmark of a good vet isn’t just the cheapest or the one that doesn’t tell you to do something about that new lump you found - it’s someone that you feel comfortable with, you feel heard with, your pet likes and feels safe with, and someone that genuinely cares about your pet.

Pet insurance means your pet is the number one priority, and you can make a decision on who you see without having to be stuck with old mate el cheapo because he’s half price.

10. Don’t cancel your insurance. Ever.

Between the ages of 1-8 years old I paid around $12,000 in insurance premiums for my Benny, and I never had a claim. By the time he was 15 years old, I had spent a good $70-80k on illnesses and surgeries and received 80% of that back in my wallet. Like us humans, pets are most likely to have a medical problem as babies (under 1 for dogs and cats) and then again in older age from about 8 years old - and be perfectly healthy in between. It’s the youngest and oldest in any community that cost the most in medical bills, so it’s important that your pet has cover as they enter their retirement years.

Most pet insurance companies won’t let you take out a policy on an old dog. Usually, it’s about 8 years old or over. But that’s a new policy - if you already have insurance, they don’t cancel, it just keeps going until the end of your pet’s days. So don’t be fooled into thinking they’ll cut you off at 8 years old. As long as you have insurance beforehand, you’re good to go for life.

What insurance company do I recommend? At the end of the day, all insurance companies are similar - very large companies with complex fine print. They follow rules, policies, and make you wait on hold when disputing a claim. Insurance companies will always be insurance companies.

It doesn’t matter whom you choose, just choose something. Even after all of this, like house insurance, it’s still worth it.

There’s no Medicare or government rebates for pets, and I love animals too much to want to see any pet not receive care or have any hearts broken because of a money issue.

Love, Dr Kate

Bondi Vet

Article supplied by Dr Kate Adams

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