Pets

Do the math before signing up for pet insurance or wellness plan

Q: The vet hospital chain we go to offers an insurance plan. Do most vets recommend these nowadays?

A: Hold up. Is that an insurance plan or a wellness plan? Is it independent or is it managed by the hospital chain?

You should ask. Because there’s a really big difference. Here’s how it works:

Almost all independent pet insurance companies work roughly like this: If you get into trouble, you seek out any independent veterinarian, receive veterinary care, pay for it and then get reimbursed after submitting a claim. With some companies that reimbursement can be instantaneous, but more often it takes a few days to get your claim paid.

The idea behind pet insurance is that you’re paying for the peace of mind that comes with knowing that if you get a big bill, you won’t be forced to euthanize your pet because you can’t pay for expensive treatment. (Sounds horrible, but that’s the bottom line.)

Most independent insurance companies pay 80 to 90 percent of the bill as long as a) you’ve met your deductible (these vary), b) it’s a condition they cover (some don’t cover genetic conditions) and c) it’s not a preexisting condition (one your pet had been treated for before you purchased the policy).

The best thing about independent pet insurance policies is that they allow you to see any veterinarian you choose and rarely quibble over prices –– including specialists’. Most veterinarians recommend these plans.

Pet insurance plans managed by individual veterinary hospitals or chains are quite different. You have to go to a specific hospital or hospital chain to have it honored. While you don’t have to be reimbursed after paying, their terms tend to be very different: Specialty and emergency care are often not covered, and what they do cover can be very restricted.

Ultimately, these plans can be tricky. After all, these hospitals and chains have a financial interest in providing as little care as possible. And since they control the amount and quality of care, this conflict of interest can prove problematic.

As to wellness plans: These are different as well. They effectively allow owners to budget pet care by breaking up your expected annual healthcare expenses into monthly payments. In my experience, however, these plans tend to be cost effective only if you include an exhaustive round of vaccines, which no pet truly needs.

Whatever you do, just do the math before you opt into programs like these.

Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to khulyp@bellsouth.net.

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