SUNDAY, JULY 4, 2021

Is animal health insurance worthwhile?

Is animal health insurance worthwhile?

In the context of the general consultation activity the question arises again and again whether the conclusion of an animal health insurance is meaningful. As a veterinarian, the only answer to this question is: In case of doubt, yes. The problem is, however, that there are many little things to consider when taking out health insurance. Therefore, I would like to give with this text a suggestion to think about it and do your own research, because there can be no universal answer for this question.

Why an animal health insurance at all?

Over the course of the last few years, our knowledge in veterinary medicine has exploded. Many examination methods have been refined, new test procedures have been established and the technical progress in imaging procedures also allows much more reliable CT/MRI examinations in the meantime. For example, the restriction that a cat is too small for an adequate MRI examination no longer applies today.
As a result of this progress, the perspective on the optimal management of many diseases has changed. In simplification, this means that we as veterinarians can do more today, therefore we examine more today. However, since these examination procedures must also be paid for, it is safe to assume that average treatments in veterinary medicine are becoming more and more expensive.
Another important note on this is that due to the current regulations for prescribing antibiotics, bacteriological examination of a sample (e.g. urine samples or swabs) is carried out in many more cases than in the past - which, incidentally, can be seen as a positive step forward in terms of procedure.


What are the differences in the insurance policies?

The first and most important difference in the design of an animal health insurance is that between a pure OP insurance and a full insurance. There is a considerable difference in price between the two types of insurance, so that pet owners must weigh up the pros and cons of each type of insurance for themselves.


The OP-insurance

An OP insurance pays (in most cases) the veterinarian visit, which leads to the indication. Furthermore, the costs for the operation itself are covered as well as (in most cases) a post-treatment period of ten days. In most cases this is sufficient to cover the main costs of the operation.
However, it is important to read the exclusion criteria very carefully. Many surgical corrections of breed-related problems are not covered by insurance - for example, patella luxation in small dogs or the removal of incorrectly growing eyelashes (distichiasis) in bulldogs. Furthermore, dental rehabilitation in the sense of removal of tartar and subsequent polishing is not covered by most insurance policies.
If you want to take out a surgery insurance, I recommend you to always take out at least the coverage of costs up to the 2-fold rate. This is due to the fact that the scale of fees for veterinarians prescribes the application of the 2-fold rate for treatments outside the usual consultation hours. Since accidents involving surgery often occur in the late evening hours or on weekends, the best possible care for your pet is guaranteed in this case as well.
Recently, however, there has been a trend among veterinary clinics to increasingly charge 2.5 times the normal rate during the evening hours and at weekends. From the point of view of the clinic operators, who want to remunerate their employed doctors fairly, this is a justified step - however, I do not know whether the surgery insurances have changed their offer with regard to this trend.


The full insurance

In contrast to the pure OP insurance is the full insurance. In this case, the animal health insurance usually covers all health costs incurred for the animal. However, there are some important things to consider here and the fine print to read carefully. A complete overview would go completely beyond the scope of this article, so here is just a hint at some common limitations of the insurance coverage, which may be included in such a contract.

Some plans generally have a deductible. In most cases, this practically means that the insurance only covers 85% of the veterinary costs. The remaining 15% you must pay thus still to the treating veterinary surgeon. Since about this circumstance often only insufficiently one clears up, problems result again and again in connection with the account. This clause is also the main reason why we as a practice are reluctant to bill the insurance company directly.

Many insurance policies work with exclusion criteria. In addition to the above-mentioned race-related surgical indications, these include cosmetics and, if applicable, nutritional supplements. Here it comes very gladly to disappointments and discussions, because evenly some insurance companies evaluate for example also medical shampoos prescribed by the veterinary surgeon as cosmetics. A similarly unclear demarcation one experiences with Homöopathie, Akupunktur or Physiotherapie, in order to call only some examples. And also medically meaningful Diätfutter are paid only in the rarest cases by the insurance. So here, too, it is advisable to really read the entire contract and then make an informed decision.

Often not considered with conclusion of a contract, but evenly also a relatively important point is the special right of cancellation, which some insurers let themselves grant. Of course, it is a very unfortunate event if the dog first has to be operated because of a swallowed foreign body and half a year later the cruciate ligament tears. However, it is even more annoying when the insurance company subsequently refuses to pay and makes use of its special right of cancellation.

The question of whether health insurance also covers medical aids should not go unmentioned. The probability of living with a diabetic animal is relatively low, but in this case it is the glucometer, test strips and insulin syringes that quickly drive up the cost of treatment. For this reason, experience shows that animal diabetics are actually far too rarely checked with regard to their current blood glucose level by the owner.


So, is health insurance worthwhile now?

I would like to answer now the question put at the beginning from my personal view and on the basis of my practical experiences, and can actually only to a completely clearly pronounced YES come. I will justify this with two relatively simple examples.

First of all, however, the hint - with the exception of the cat kept purely in the apartment - from my point of view it is actually already almost “economically stupid” not to conclude at least an OP insurance for the animal. These are mostly provided only with a relatively small contribution - and this contribution stands in no relation to the operation costs of an animal.

But also for a general health insurance applies - should your animal lead an average, normal life, the insurance premium will pay off in the long run with high probability.
Under normal circumstances and in good health, a cat reaches an age of 15-20 years. So in the first ten years you will feel “pay on it”. However, statistically, a cat in old age has a very good chance of contracting a typical “old age disease”. The most important causes of death in cats are chronic kidney disease (CNI), heart disease or tumor diseases.

Especially in the case of heart disease, old cats in private hands are often underserved from a medical point of view. The diagnosis can only be made by an ultrasound examination of the heart (echocardiography). Apart from the medication costs they have to bear in case of a heart patient, from a medical point of view one should actually have this examination done at least once, if not twice a year. So at this point at the latest, insurance will more than pay for itself.

Not quite as drastic, but still similar, is the situation with chronic kidney disease. Here, regular blood tests are also important as a progress control. Actually, the blood pressure of the cats should also be checked regularly - a service that is only really realized in a few veterinary practices due to lack of demand in the practice. And here too, sooner or later, regular administration of antihypertensive drugs will be necessary.

If we now change the perspective to the dog - for which, in case of doubt, the same applies with regard to heart disease as described above for the cat - another aspect comes to the fore. With the older dog we are additionally confronted with the problem of chronic joint pain, because the dog is physically active with us and we perceive corresponding problems much earlier.

In addition to the correct and important administration of pain medication, I consider regular accompanying physiotherapy to be an elementary therapy component in these cases. And physiotherapy requires regular sessions over a longer period of time. Who sends every two weeks his dog to the swimming, makes in my eyes no purposeful physiotherapy! Here all building blocks, from massage to movement therapy to stimulation current, must be used. And again - every application costs.

So, as a summarizing result, in my eyes I can only say: I wish your animals a long and happy life. A long and happy life also includes the phase of being old. And in this phase, unfortunately, animals very often need costly medical care. Therefore, I think it is simply a logical consequence that for the time of being old a health insurance is an absolutely sensible investment.

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