How much is that doggie in the window?

2014-03-23 14:00

The number of people using pet ­medical aid has increased over the past few years – and there may be many reasons for this.

Here’s what we found out:

Owning a pet is not as simple as it was 20 years ago. The high costs of veterinary care have led to more pet owners taking out pet insurance or pet medical aid. So how does it work?

Angela of Cape Town has three different pets on medical aid?–?her bearded collie, a Maltese poodle and a 17-year-old cat.

“My bearded collie, Willow, has three different autoimmune problems and my pet medical aid has never let me down over the years. When I first took out the medical aid, Willow had already been diagnosed with Addison’s disease. But it was still not fully excluded. I pay the first R1?000 worth of bills related to Addison’s disease each year and the medical aid pays the rest. It is really worth it as one specialist consultation alone can cost as much as R2?500,” she says.

Like some human medical aids, the way it works is that you have to pay the bills first and then submit the invoices to your pet medical aid. You are then reimbursed and the money is paid directly into your bank account.

“You receive an update at every step of the process and the reimbursements are always prompt. I generally get my money back within a month. I only wish my own medical aid scheme was so efficient,” says Angela.

Cape Town veterinarian Dr Makin says the number of people using pet medical aid has increased over the past few years, but still accounts for only a small percentage of pet owners. “Increasing veterinary costs have definitely played a role in the uptake of pet medical aid.

“As a vet, we have to cut corners to keep costs down all the time. Medical aid ensures that the pet receives the best treatment possible. However, just like any medical aid, pet owners need to avoid abuse and should always be aware of the annual limits and exclusions on their cover,” he advises.

You can get an annual limit of up to R25?000 per pet and any pre-existing conditions are usually not covered or are excluded, as in Angela’s case. The premiums will cost you anything from R175 to R248 a month, depending on the level of cover you take.

It is worth comparing different medical aids as some routine costs that are covered with one medical aid may be excluded with another scheme.

For example, MediPet does not cover routine medical care such as annual checkups, vaccinations, worm/tick/flea control and spaying or neutering.

On the other hand, PetSure offers you the Hollard Pet Insurance Routine Care Cover Option, which provides you with cover for annual vaccinations, and even dental scaling and polishing of your pet’s teeth.

Some questions you should ask when you take out pet medical aid:

»?What are the exclusions? These would typically include any pre-existing conditions, pregnancy, elective procedures, special foods, behavioural problems, tick paralysis and congenital conditions.

»?Are there any age limits? You may find that pets over a certain age are not accepted as new members of a pet medical aid. However, if you take out pet medical aid for a young pet, then that pet will enjoy cover for the rest of its life as long as you pay your premiums.

»?Does the pet have to have a microchip? Some pet medical aids insist on the animal being microchipped before they will accept the policy. A microchip ensures that your animal can be identified if it is lost or stolen.

»?Who are the underwriters? If the companies that underwrite your pet insurance are large, established players in the market, this carries some reassurance that it is not a fly-by-night scheme. For example, Hollard and Renasa, which are well known in the insurance industry, underwrite the two largest pet medical aid schemes.

»?Is there a waiting period? Typically, your cover kicks in 30 days after you take out the policy.

»?Can I use any vet of my choice? This is usually not restricted, but it is always a question worth asking when you deal with a medical scheme.

»?What is the excess payable? A few claims will not be paid out for the full amount. However, the benefit can still be significant, as shown in the table.

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