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Treating pets to better health with insurance
by Jessica Garcia
Oct 20, 2009 | 1434 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When money is tight, pet insurance may not be a priority but it could prove useful for those who like the idea of being reimbursed for routine visits to the veterinarian or to help cover necessary surgery or treatment as harsh as chemotherapy.

Officer manager and licensed vet tech Julie Kirby of Sparks-based Kreature Komforts Animal Hospital estimates that about 10 percent of her clients have insurance for their pets and that it provides them some financial relief.

“I would say some of (our clients) get about 80 percent reimbursed for what has transpired,” Kirby said. “You can get the basic (coverage) and it covers the basics: the dentals, the upkeep, the yearly vaccinations, and then there’s the bigger coverage that covers orthopedic surgeries. There are a few different policies, but most of them are just the basics.”

Insurance also covers medications for conditions like parvovirus, an ailment most common in dogs six months and younger that causes severe diarrhea. The insurance is mostly available for dogs and cats and occasionally birds.

“We don’t see a lot of parakeets,” Kirby said, “but we do get the big macaws.”

Pet insurance often has been a hard sell among owners but one company in Cleveland has been working to revamp the public’s attitude. Embrace Pet Insurance, which has been in business for three years, was the idea of two graduate students who built the business from the ground up.

“I always joked that pet health insurance wasn’t considered much above alien abduction insurance in the past but underneath it all, there’s a kernel of truth to it,” Laura Bennett, co-founder of Embrace, wrote in a press release. “The lack of trust that pet parents have had in pet health insurance has been well earned over the years.”

Brian Iannessa, a spokesman from Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI) in Brea, Calif., said those who are skeptical about pet insurance are usually those who don’t have pets.

“We typically get pet owners that are highly bonded with their pet,” Iannessa said. “There’s already a desire to put something like pet insurance into place because they want to protect a member of the family. … Some who look at it from an economic point of view try to give it an evaluation by judging a return on investment and that’s not what it is.”

Pet insurance is intended to help with defraying costs of testing and treatment for illnesses, Iannessa said, and to provide extra assistance in the case of castastrophic events involving their pets.

According to Embrace’s Web site, www.embracepetinsurance.com, at the end of 2008 there were about 800,000 pet insurance policies across the industry with total direct written premiums of $272 million. Written premiums grew at a compounded rate of 18 percent between 2003 and 2008.

But even with the downturn in the economy, some companies are hardly seeing a dropoff in the number of policyholders. According to VPI, with whom Kreature Komforts deals most often, enrollment numbers have barely taken a dip, being shy only in new policies, Iannessa said. VPI covers dogs, cats, fish, guinea pigs and goats but stops short at horses because they have different insurance requirements.

“It hasn’t been anything drastic in terms of enrollment and our retention rate seems steady mostly because once they have a policy in place, people realize in this precarious economy that it’s the best time to have health insurance,” Iannessa said.

VPI, which offers its services in all 50 states, insures dogs for an average of $30 to $35 a month and has a per-incident deductible plan. If a dog, for example, has an ear infection, the policyholder pays $50 during the first visit but if any subsequent visits are necessary, that same incident has already been covered.

Animal hospitals like Kreature Komforts recommend insurance to owners during their visits for claims of orthopedic surgery, which can run from $1,500 to $2,000, or chemotherapy at a cost of $3,000 to $4,000.

“We have brochures,” Kirby said. “It’s not something we push on them and if they ask, we tell them where to look it up, to go and research it.”

The process for making a claim and reimbursement is simple, Kirby said.

“The claims are way easy to fill out,” she said. “(The insurance company) sends a copy of the invoice so the owners get a copy and the doctor sends the diagnosis and we send a copy and (the owner) pays it – or declines it. But we don’t deal with too many rebuttals on what they don’t pay.”

The ability to provide coverage for pets can provide peace of mind, according to Embrace board member Dr. Rex Higgs.

“With the economy being what it is, I have seen people balk at procedures that they would not have questioned in the past,” Higgs said. “Clients that have pet insurance definitely will do more procedures and tend to follow recommended treatment plans. The clients then realize better lifetime health for their pets.”

For more information on pet health insurance, ask your local veterinarian.
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