Most pet owners are able to cover the costs of routine vaccinations and yearly checkups out of pocket, but what about unforeseen injuries or illnesses? Some pet hospitals, veterinary clinics and other animal organizations now offer wellness plans or insurance plans to help pet owners manage costs as well as the health of their pets.
Both pet wellness and pet insurance plans offer benefits to consumers, as well as their pets. The key is investigating your options and deciding if one or both is the best choice for you.
Wellness plans are generally for proactive, preventative care. Pet hospitals and veterinary clinics refer to them as “discount membership” programs for pet owners to receive discounts on routine services pets typically need. These often include office visits, physical exams, vaccines, and screening for illnesses. Plans like these usually require a one-time annual payment or 12 monthly payments. There are no deductibles with wellness plans, but they do not cover unexpected health issues or emergency situations. Consumers should be sure to ask if their wellness plan renews automatically and be clear on how they can opt out of their plan – as well as ask if any cancellation fees will apply.
Pet insurance plans generally cover treatment for animal illnesses or injuries. These plans require monthly premiums and cover a large portion of the cost of diagnosis and treatment for emergency situations; however, there may be exclusions as well as caps on your claims. Ultrasounds, x-rays, blood work and surgeries are just a few of the services that would likely be covered under an insurance plan, but not a wellness plan. Some plans don’t cover pre-existing conditions or chronic issues such as kidney failure, diabetes or arthritis. Certain breeds or dogs of a certain age might also be exempt from some types of insurance coverage. As with other insurance plans, deductibles and co-pays may apply.
Tips for pet owners interested in health plans for their pets:
• Not all plans are created equal. Compare the insurance and wellness plans offered by different pet hospitals and animal organizations to understand the differences in coverage and options available to you.
• Make sure you’re clear on the effective date of whatever plan you purchase. Your coverage may not begin on the date you sign the contract and you could end up being charged more than you expect if an office visit becomes necessary or an emergency occurs in the timeframe in between.
• Keep a copy of your wellness plan or pet insurance coverage on hand. Make sure you’re clear on what is and what isn’t covered.
• Most importantly, ask your veterinarian. They should be able to answer any questions you have about your pet and help you select a coverage that they accept and that’s best for you.
Reach Kelvin Collins, the president/CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Central Georgia and the CSRA Inc., at (800) 763-4222 or www.bbb.org.