To Insure or Not to Insure…

Like many of us, you probably view your pet as your prized asset. And like any investment, the high reward of your pets’ companionship is accompanied by high risks such as the dreaded vet bills should they get unexpectedly sick or injured. This is where pet medical aid can come to your rescue.

What is Pet Medical Aid?

In a nutshell, a pet medical aid plan covers all unexpected medical costs so you can rest easy knowing your pet will have the best possible medical care in times of need.

What are the Advantages?

  • The assurance that unforeseen medical bills are under control.
  • The peace of mind knowing that you can afford the best possible veterinary care if your pet happens to face a life-threatening accident or illness.
  • Most medical aids cover any breed of dog or cat.
  • Most medical aids cover puppies as well as kittens, so they can be insured from the day they become part of your family.
  • Reputable pet medical aids pay out promptly.
  • You deal with knowledgeable, empathetic personnel who genuinely care about your pets.
  • It provides your pets with a better chance of a healthy, long life.
  • Affordable monthly contributions that can save you a pretty penny as well as your pet’s life.

What are the Drawbacks?

  • The cover received may not be comprehensive enough to justify the lump sum contributions under certain conditions.
  • Some breeds may be difficult, or even impossible, to insure for breed specific genetic defects.
  • Older pets are usually more prone to illness so their cover is subject to certain limitations.
  • You may struggle getting your pets insured if they are already ill.
  • Routine care is not always covered so pet owners may have to pay for these visits in their personal capacity.

General Guidelines

Choosing a medical aid scheme can be a daunting task so, although insurance companies have variations applicable to their own policies, here are a few general guidelines to help you when researching reliable insurers for your furry friend/s.

What’s not generally covered?

  • Routine medical care, such as annual check-ups, vaccinations, worm, tick, and flea control, teeth cleaning, spaying, neutering and microchipping
  • Pregnancy or any breeding related treatments
  • Grooming
  • Behavioural issues
  • Optional procedures such as removing dew claws
  • Congenital or hereditary defects, for example hip dysplasia
  • Development of any ailments within the first 30 days of the start date of the policy
  • Cremation
  • Periodontal disease
  • Internal or external parasites such as worms, flea allergy dermatitis etc
  • Conditions that showed clinical signs prior to insurance being taken out
  • Elective food and diets, unless specifically prescribed by your vet to treat medical conditions

What’s generally covered?

  • Accidental injuries, for instance snake bites, broken bones or any injuries sustained during a fight
  • Any illness as menial as ear infections and skin irritations, to cancer, diabetes and the like (except for any of those illnesses related to the above exclusions)
  • Operations (except for any of those related to the above exclusions)
  • Gastric torsion –when an animal’s stomach bloats and rotates therefore requiring corrective surgery
  • Removal of tumours (either malignant or benign)
  • Hip replacements (unless hip dysplasia is a hereditary condition)
  • If there is a proven and legitimate emergency, a contribution per day will be paid out for kennels, catteries or pet sitters. This is limited to a maximum number of days per year.

How are claims submitted and paid out?

Some policies refund you once they’ve received your claim form, the vet’s account and proof of payment. Other policies specify that pay outs aren’t paid to you directly and you’ll need to submit the claim form and vet bill to the insurer so they can settle the account with the vet directly.

Is there a waiting period before you can claim?

Claims can generally be made one calendar month from the policy inception date. Various policies don’t have a waiting period for accidents.

When can you expect reimbursement for your claim?

Usually within 14 working days of the insurer receiving the claim form and all the required documentation.

Will monthly premiums increase?

Because veterinary costs increase with inflation, a standard premium increase is usually expected at the beginning of each policy year.

How are monthly premiums paid?

Premiums are usually debited monthly from your account or annually via a deposit. If your premium is unpaid for a month, your cover will lapse.

Cancellation Policy?

Some policies offer a 14 day cooling off period where you will be given a full refund should you cancel within that period, thereafter, 30 days written cancellation notice will be required.

Will pets of any age be covered?

Most policies allow dogs and cats from as young as 8 weeks old to sign up. On the other end of the spectrum, certain insurers make specific allowance for senior dogs or cats of up to 8 or 9 years and older, provided you produce their complete medical history.

Once your pet is registered, they are covered for life.

Can you visit any vet?

Most policies allow you to use any vet countrywide as long as they are licenced to practice in South Africa.

Must your pet have a microchip?

Pets will usually not be covered if they are not microchipped and this must be done at your own expense.

Do Policies include death pay outs?

Most policies don’t include death pay outs, however, condolence cover is offered by certain insurers if your pet passes away. The insurer will, however, require verification from your vet of the passing of your pet.

Will a policy cover for euthanasia?

Some insurers cover only a small portion of the costs but, again, your vet will be required to confirm the passing of your pet.

Are discounts offered for additional pets?

Most insurers offer multi pet discounts for additional pets registered with them. Some policies offer a discount from 15% upwards on the total premium.

Costs?

Premiums depend solely on the insurer and the plan you select. For the most basic cover, you can pay as little as R90 per month for a cat or dog. If you require more comprehensive cover, you can expect monthly premiums of approximately R275 for cats or R340 for dogs. Considering what we pay for our own medical cover, these costs are very reasonable.

When in doubt, double check the T’s and C’s of the insurance company in question.

Major pet insurers in South Africa

  • Petsure
  • One Plan Pet Insurance
  • MediPet
  • DotSure

Available plan options?

Although set up in distinctive ways, most pet insurers offer 3 or 4 similar plan options along these lines:

  1. Accidents Only Plans which usually cover accidents resulting from:
  • A motor vehicle accident
  • A burn
  • Electrocution
  • A fall from a raised position
  • A near drowning
  • A foreign object either swallowed or embedded that requires surgical endoscopic removal
  • Snake bites
  • Poisoning

If your pet is admitted to hospital due to an accident, those costs will be covered up to a certain amount, as stipulated in the relevant policy. Dogs and cats of 8 or 9 years and older are usually covered by a plan of this nature.

Is this plan for you?

If you’re willing to pay for routine vet visits in your private capacity and you only require cover for emergency cases resulting from accidents, then this is a good option for you.

  1. Accidents and Illness Plans cover all accidents mentioned above, along with vet visits for illnesses.

Is this plan for you?

Consider on average, how often you visit the vet. Then calculate in accordance with the policy, whether this plan will cover and/or exceed the costs of these visits as well as any accidents or illnesses. If so, you will benefit from this plan option.

  1. Accidents, Illnesses and Routine Care Cover (including vaccinations, deworming, tick and flea control, sterilisation, dental scale and polish)

Is this plan for you?

If the premiums are in line with your budget and you’re happy with all the bells and whistles of a premium plan, then this option is for you.

Additional Considerations:

Consider the following before making your final decision on an insurer:

  • Does the insurer have breed exclusions where certain breeds are unwelcome because they’re likely to develop conditions common to that specific breed of cat or dog?
  • Does the insurer offer advertising rewards for lost pets? Some policies contribute to the placement of adverts in local newspapers and rewards for anyone who finds the lost pet in question.
  • Does the insurer offer a theft policy? Some insurers pay a certain amount to you if your dog has been stolen, provided you have reported the theft within 24 hours of the crime occurring as well as provide a police case number. Unfortunately, cats are usually excluded from this condition.
  • Does the insurer contribute towards boarding facilities? Some insurers contribute an amount towards boarding fees if you happen to be hospitalised but this is for emergency cases only.
  • Does the insurer offer third party liability to protect you against any injuries your pet may cause to other people, their pets or damage to property?

We are responsible for giving our fur babies the happiest and healthiest lives we possibly can. However, we need to be realistic in what we can afford to make this a reality.

At the end of the day, you’re left with two choices: To insure or not to insure. You can either contribute a small amount every month towards a medical aid plan that best suits your and your pet’s needs or you can fit the vet bills yourself, which is great if you’re able to afford this.

Either way, so long as your furry friend’s health is well covered and that you’re not financially burdened in ensuring so, you can rest easy knowing you are doing everything to give your pet the wholesome life they deserve.

Written for inFURmation
by Taliah Williamson

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Disclaimer: The information produced by Infurmation is provided for general and educational purposes only and does not constitute any legal, medical or other professional advice on any subject matter. These statements are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease. Always seek the advice of your vet or other qualified health care provider prior to starting any new diet or treatment and with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you suspect that your pet has a medical problem, promptly contact your health care provider.