Pet insurance has become more and more popular over the last few years and can offer a convenient way to budget for the cost of your pet’s healthcare bills. There are a huge range of different policies now on offer. And many of them proudly proclaim that they give “life-long cover”.
But what does “life-long” mean? Is it really worth it? Or just a marketing ploy to get you to choose their policies? How do I choose the best policy for my pet?
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To answer these questions, we’ll look broadly at how insurance policies work, and then specifically at life-long cover.
Pet insurance works like many other kinds of insurance. You pay a company some money each month, on the understanding that should something bad happen, they will pay out one or more lump sums to help cover the costs of that event. Here, the “something bad” is your pet getting sick or injured, and the costs are usually their medical bills.
The only way to really know how a pet insurance policy works is to read through the terms carefully. However, many insurance policies have some similar features.
Some insurance policies will only cover treatment for any medical condition for a year. This is fine with something like an abscess or a wound, where it can be treated and heal within that time. However, other conditions (like skin allergies, diabetes, or heart disease) cannot be cured. And will need treatment for the rest of a pet’s lifetime. If you do not have life-long insurance, then after the first year you will have to cover your pet’s medical bills yourself.
Other insurance policies offer life-long cover for illnesses. This means that if your pet does develop a long-term health condition, you can continue to claim for the cost of treatment for as long as they need it.
Long-term health conditions can be very expensive. So if your pet does develop a chronic illness then having insurance can save you a lot of money. However, life-long cover does tend to be more expensive to buy than other kinds of cover.
Life-long cover is not the only difference between different policies. There are also other things to consider, such a policy’s excess and cover limits.
Excesses and Price Caps
Most pet insurance policies have an “excess”. This is the amount of money that you must pay yourself before your insurance will start helping to cover the cost of medical treatment. The exact amount varies, and there are some policies that have no excess at all.
These excesses usually need to be paid each year. Some insurance companies charge one excess per policy (meaning you only pay the excess once each year). But others will charge it per condition each year. Meaning that if your pet has two long-term illnesses, you will have to pay two excesses per year on their treatment.
A “variable excess” can be a feature of some insurance policies, particularly those that cover senior pets. With a variable excess, you will have to pay a certain percentage of your pet’s medical bill, as well as the fixed excess at the start of the claim. This is sometimes also called a “copayment” or “copay”.
Some insurance policies may also have caps on how much they will pay for a particular item or service. This means that if your vet charges more than the amount specified in your policy, then you will have to pay the difference.
This does not mean that your vet is overcharging you, simply that the business structure behind each vet practice is different. Where some charge less for appointments, they might then charge more for blood tests or surgery, when compared to another practice.
All insurance policies will have a limit on how much money the company will pay out for your pet’s medical bills. These limits can vary a lot, but generally the more expensive the limit, the higher the cost of the policy.
There are many different ways that these limits can work, and these are just a few examples. You might have a:
- Total Limit Per Year
- For example, you can claim up to £5,000 towards Fluffy’s total medical bills each year, no matter how many different illnesses or accidents she might have during that year.
- Limit Per Conditions Per Year
- For example, you can get up to £5,000 towards the treatment of Fluffy’s diabetes each policy year. If she has a lifelong policy, then over three years you could claim up to £15,000 in total for her diabetes treatments.
- Total Limit Per Condition
- For example, you can claim up to £5,000 towards the treatment of Fluffy’s diabetes over her lifetime, no matter how long she is treated for. These are sometimes advertised as “life-long” policies. But are obviously different to a policy which renews the amount you can claim each year.
Be sure to read your policy carefully, so you can work out exactly what you will be covered for.
How Much Pet Insurance Cover Do I Need?
This is a difficult question to answer. You might find it useful to ask your vet for an idea of how much it might cost to fix a broken leg – after all, insurance is supposed to cover unexpected events like that. Your vet should be able to give you a rough idea of how much the average surgery and after-care would cost, and that figure may help you to decide how much cover you wish to take out. You can also look at some general figures from the Association of British Insurers here.
However, there are unfortunately some conditions can be significantly more expensive than a broken leg – for example, treating certain cancers, or the long-term costs of heart conditions or diabetes.
What if my pet is already sick?
A “pre-existing” health condition is an illness that your pet already had at the time you took out the insurance policy.
Generally, pet insurance in the UK does not cover pre-existing conditions, so if your pet is already unwell (or has been unwell in the past) then you will not be able to get any help from an insurance company to cover the cost of treating that particular illness.
However, an insurance policy can still help you to cover the cost of any new illnesses or accidents.
Choosing an insurance policy can be challenging, and it’s important to take some time to consider the different policy options. Your vet may also be able to offer valuable advice on the cost of pet care in your local area. Pet insurance is a great way to make sure your pet can get the healthcare that they need without you having to worry about the bill, but be sure to reflect and choose the option that’s right for you.