N.J. Commissioner Offers Consumer Tips for Selecting Pet Insurance

August 8, 2014

New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance Commissioner Ken Kobylowski this week advised pet owners to carefully review their options before purchasing pet health insurance and pet injury coverage.

“Pet insurance plans may not make sense for every pet owner, but given that emergency or catastrophic veterinary bills can cost thousands of dollars, it is worthwhile for consumers to consider and evaluate these products,” said Commissioner Kobylowski.

Consumers who believe pet insurance meets their needs should become familiar with the types of insurance available and the conditions, exclusions and payment terms each policy contains, the regulator advises.

Pet Health/Accident Insurance Policy: This type of policy reimburses the pet owner for covered veterinary care. These policies typically itemize covered treatments, deductibles or the amount the insured pays and lifetime or per illness maximums. Policy cost varies depending on the amount of coverage provided, the type of coverage, the species and age of the pet, as well as breed.

Some pet health policies may provide Final Respects Coverage. This includes cremation, urns and funeral expenses.

Auto insurers might offer endorsements to cover pet injuries in an accident regardless of fault. To be certain, consumers should check with their carrier or agent to determine if personal auto insurance coverage is available for a pet traveling in the car.

Pet health insurance policies have coverage options that must be compared when deciding on how much coverage, if any, should be bought, the regulator recommends.

Conditions: Some policies may reimburse medical expenses for accidents, illnesses, surgeries, X-rays, prescriptions, hospitalizations, emergencies or cancer treatments. Some plans may require waiting periods to cover accident and illness.

Pre-existing Conditions: Hereditary and certain health conditions are referred to as pre-existing conditions. Consumers should review the policy to determine if they are covered and if not certain, should ask a representative of the company to find out what would be excluded. A waiting period might exist for certain conditions. The company may require that a veterinarian examine a pet before issuing a policy.

Renewable Benefits: A pet treated for a covered condition during the policy term may result in a carrier excluding additional treatment for that condition when the policy renews. Before buying a policy, consumers should ask whether benefits are renewable.

Exclusions: Excluded treatments vary by policy and type of pet or breed. Not all pet insurance plans are alike. Routine preventative veterinary and dental care not caused by accident might not be covered. Limited benefits may apply to treatment of congenital or hereditary conditions.

Reimbursement: The policy should contain a benefits schedule that explains what the insurance company pays per treatment. This describes the percentage of cost or dollar amount the company will pay for treatments. Similar to health policies for humans, policyholders may be responsible for co-payments or deductibles. Consumers should know that some firms pay the veterinarian directly in full while others reimburse consumers the covered amount after they have paid the veterinarian.

Veterinarian Networks: Some policies require using a specific network of veterinarians. Consumers should make sure their preferred professional is included in the network, or at least make certain that a practicing veterinarian in the network is in their area.

Consumers should shop to compare policy benefits, deductibles, limits and exclusions, as well as ask the following questions:

• Can I choose any vet?
• Does the policy cover annual wellness exams?
• Is there a dollar limit for vet office fees?
• Are prescription drugs covered?
• Will the policy cover spaying or neutering charges?

Source: The New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance

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