After a surge in purchased and adopted pets during the COVID-19 lockdown, many people are asking themselves the question: ‘do I need pet insurance?’.
Some may think that the answer to this question is a resounding ‘yes’ – after all, we insure our cars, our homes and our own health – but purchasing pet insurance is not mandatory.
For many owners there is the need to weigh up the benefits and the cost added to their monthly budget. In fact, according to the Association of British Insurers (ABI), approximately 67% of domestic dogs and 84% of cats are not covered by insurance.
In this blog post, we break down the complexities of pet insurance so that you can make an informed decision for your pet.
According to Statista, the average pet insurance claim in the UK in 2018 was £793. Pet insurance can cover claims for a prescription of medicine for a non-serious illness, all the way up to surgeries for accidents that could cost thousands of pounds. Alternatively, you may never have to claim because your pet is very healthy and never sustains an injury.
As with any insurance, the reason you pay the premiums is to have peace of mind and to cover any unforeseen expenses. It’s understandable, though, that some pet owners might not want to add insurance costs to their monthly outgoings. If that is the case, it’s best to think about how an unexpected vet bill would be dealt with in your household. Some pet owners self-insure by saving money each month in an emergency fund in case their pet has an accident or illness.
As stated in the British Veterinary Association’s (BVA) guide to pet insurance, only qualified insurance advisors can provide advice on specific policies, but individual veterinary practices may be able to offer guidance, and any veterinary surgeon can discuss the general principles of insurance. You can find more useful information in the BVA veterinary client guides here.
Along with the type of cover you choose, there are certain factors that can influence your pet insurance premiums:
If you are planning on insuring your pet, you will need to disclose the correct information, otherwise the insurance could be voided.
There are many pets, especially certain cat and dog breeds, that are more prone to illness and so may prompt a pet owner to consider pet insurance in anticipation of regular or more expensive vet bills.
However, insurance for these breeds is also more expensive; research by insurance comparison company Compare the Market shows that the average old English bulldog annual insurance premium is £469.53, while a cocker spaniel (a breed that is considered to be less likely to have health problems) has premiums of just £217.85 per year.
Insurance also takes into account the likelihood of a pet being stolen, which can happen to any pet or breed, but ‘fashionable’ animals such as French Bulldogs and Maine Coons are more likely to increase insurance premiums due to this reason.
Those who own a pet that is statistically less likely to be in danger of illness or theft may be less inclined to take out insurance. It’s important to remember, however, that accidents and illnesses can happen to any animal.
If you do not insure your pet and they become ill or injured, and you cannot afford to pay the vet bill in a lump sum, your vets may offer a payment plan through a finance company which allows you to pay for their services through an agreed timescale and monthly amount. However, this approach is uncommon and is subject to a credit check.
It is important to discuss the estimated costs associated with any suggested treatment in order to be aware of subsequent costs and to plan how to deal with them. However, if there is an issue with a bill or you are unhappy with the level of service you receive, the Veterinary Client Mediation Service could help you and the practice find a resolution. This enables an impartial mediator to help you and the vet come to an agreement about your bill.
If a claim under the pet insurance policy is declined, and you dispute the insurer’s decision, it may be necessary to ask your vet to provide clarification on the condition, injury and in particular on health issues pre-dating the insurance policy.
The vet can only provide factual confirmation, reference the records made at the time and give an explanation. This can help where a pre-existing condition was clearly a distinct and unrelated issue.
The insurance is a matter between the insurer and their customer (animal owner). Even where a practice assists in submitting the claim form and payments are made directly to the practice, issues regarding the policy are not the responsibility of the practice.
Concerns regarding the insurer should be raised with them following their own complaint procedure, and ultimately can be referred to the Financial Ombudsman. In this situation, constructive dialogue is the best approach and enables you to understand why the insurer may have declined the claim, and whether that is appropriate or should be queried. Working with your vet will help your understanding of the clinical aspects of the decision and may help in resolving the issue with your insurer.
If you refuse to pay your vet bill and you do not opt for help from a mediation service, your vet could take the claim to court, which may result in you paying more in court fees, and a debt collection service may be appointed to retrieve the money owed.
There are some charities with free pet hospitals that could help in a time of need. These include the Blue Cross, The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), The Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (USPCA) and The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA). However, these charities are underfunded and overstretched, and are mostly reserved for stray animals without owners, or pets owned by people who are on benefits.
Pet insurance is a choice, one which can either be a financial burden or relief, depending on the circumstance. However, there is no way of predicting whether you may or may not need it.
If you do decide to opt for pet insurance, it is recommended that you research carefully in order to decide on the best cover for your pet. If you do not choose to have pet insurance, you should find alternative ways of covering your vet bills if a pet health-related issue does arise.