Imagine taking your cat or dog to the veterinarian for an emergency or serious illness and the tests and treatment runs into the thousands of dollars. Would you be able to pay for the care needed to save their life or restore them back to health? What if you only had to pay a deductible and/or copay and the insurance company paid the rest of the bill directly to the vet rather than you paying the full cost up front to the vet and then seeking reimbursement from the insurance company? Which would you prefer?
Pet insurance has traditionally been a reimbursement model for paying claims. You pay the vet and then file a claim to receive reimbursement for covered expenses minus your deductible and/or copay. I've said for years that this limits the practicality of pet insurance for most of my clients. Why? For large veterinary bills, not many can afford to pay the whole bill up front and then wait to receive reimbursement from the pet insurance company. They don't have adequate savings or available credit to do so.
Third party arrangments like CareCredit have helped, but you still have to be credit worthy and the limits may be far less than some larger veterinary bills. Ask your vet if they accept CareCredit or similar payment plans. If so, the time to sign up is now before it is needed.
Most (not all) of the pet insurance companies have a provision allowing you to specify if you'd like them to pay the veterinarian directly or receive reimbursement of the bill you've paid. The problem is that your veterinarian must consent to such an arrangement and there are likely at least two objections:
- They want assurance up front that the illness treated will be covered and how much they will be reimbursed and how much you will be paying.
- They don't want to wait for payment from the insurance company any more than you would for a large reimbursement.
In 2013, Trupanion was the first insurance company to introduce a concept that overcomes these objections with Trupanion Express. I recorded two podcast episodes that outline why they spent millions of dollars to make this a reality and how it is used.
- Interview with Darryl Rawlings, CEO of Trupanion
- Interview with Dr. Kerri Marshall who helped develop Trupanion Express
I also interviewed representatives from three veterinary hospitals who are using Trupanion Express:
- Interview with Dr. Heather Steyn
- Interview with Dr. John Faught
- Emergency/Specialty Hospital using Trupanion Express
Watch this video as Laura explains how Trupanion Express allowed her to afford the diagnostic testing and treatment necessary to diagnose her dog's chronic condition (Inflammatory Bowel Disease) as well as other acute conditions that required treatment:
Watch this video as a veterinarian and his staff explains how Trupanion Express not only benefits them, but also their clients and their pets:
One other insurance company, Embrace, introduced a similar concept in 2017 called Embrace 360. My last conversation with representatives of the company indicated the concept is being slowly rolled out in veterinary hospitals and not fully implemented yet. I recorded a podcast episode with a representative of Embrace when it was launched discussing how it works:
As a veterinarian, I certainly hope that the pet insurance industry can one day fully implement an alternative to the reimbursement model - especially for larger claims. I believe that this will help the industry grow more easily and benefit pet owners and their pets as well as the veterinarians and their staffs that care for the pets.
In the meantime, if you have pet insurance and the company insuring your pet will pay your vet directly, there are a couple of things you can do to be prepared if you face a large expense you will have trouble paying for:
- Ask your insurance company if they will do a medical record review so that you and your veterinarian will know if a condition that needs treatment will be covered in the future. Unless it is an emergency, you can always have your vet submit an estimate for needed diagnostics and treatment for pre-certification of a claim.
- Let your veterinarian know your pet is insured and ask them if they will work with you in the event of a large claim to accept reimbursement directly from the insurance company. Your veterinarian may or may not be willing to do so depending on their experience with pet insurance.