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Buying Pet Insurance? Consider Pre-Existing Conditions

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Understanding pre-existing conditions is essential to purchasing the right pet insurance policy for your dog or cat. Although most pets have health-related issues to varying degrees, pre-existing conditions can prevent pet owners from obtaining insurance. Just as with human health insurance, the degree and cost of pet health insurance is determined by the physical condition of the animal prior to purchasing a policy.

Differing definitions

“I think the biggest problem among pet owners is understanding exactly what [pre-existing conditions] are and how [they] might affect their pet’s policy,” said Darren Defeo, Senior Vice President of Trupanion, a Seattle-based pet insurance company.

One standard in the industry is that no pet insurance company covers pre-existing conditions. However, the definition of what constitutes a pre-existing condition can differ depending on the company.

“A pre-existing condition can really vary among pet insurance companies,” Defeo added. “Essentially it is any condition that happened prior to the policy. To some companies this might mean any type of congenital disorder, and to others it’s simply a condition that occurs before the policy goes into effect.”

Congenital disorders

Congenital disorders are ailments that animals are born with and can arise at any time during the life of a pet. Hip dysplasia, for example, which occurs in larger dogs, is rarely covered under most policies. Reputable pet insurance companies should list any congenital disorders that are not covered upfront.

It is the responsibility of the pet owner to research and understand what ailments are “breed specific” to their animal and inquire as to what will and will not be covered should the need for medical treatment arise.

Adoption and insurance

For pet owners who adopt, pre-existing conditions can present a significant obstacle when buying insurance. In some cases medical records are not available or are not comprehensive enough to evaluate the health of an animal before buying a policy.

Michael Day and his wife, Cindy, are currently shopping for insurance for their two adopted Newfoundlands, Echo and Lani. The Days have adopted a total of four Newfoundlands during their marriage and have spent thousands on medical care for the dogs through the years.

“It’s not just a cost thing,” said Day, who does not have children and considers his dogs part of the family. “We want to make sure that certain illnesses that are breed-specific are covered.”

After paying “out of pocket” for blood work, knee surgeries, emergency room visits, and a particularly expensive heart procedure, the Days have become educated on what illnesses their particular breed of dog is prone to, and are factoring that experience into their search for the right policy.

Asking the right questions

“I want a company that realizes that we are responsible pet owners,” Day said. “We are willing to pay for comprehensive coverage, but we want to make sure that there are no surprises. The customer service has to be seamless.”

Like Day, educating yourself on your pet’s medical history and asking the right questions can eliminate problems with coverage down the road. As insurers strive to be “transparent” with their policies, pet owners need to be as diligent when shopping for pet insurance in order to provide the best coverage for their animals.

Credit: Reviewed by Dr. Amy I. Attas 
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