Insurance Issues

Insurance for Pets, Horses & Ponies

There is always the question, whether it is better to insure your animal or regularly to put money aside in a savings account, for possible eventualities. With pets and horses, veterinary bills can run very high indeed, with modern methodology and technology (beware of ‘overdoing' diagnostic or surgical procedures, simply because an insurance company is paying). Third-party claims might be astronomical in rare circumstances.

A great many policies exist, for the purpose of veterinary insurance. In general, it is important to remember that they are not in existence to care for animals but to make money. This understanding may help to explain some of the problems that arise. It is difficult to choose between the various options available. There are, however, some criteria by which you may wish to compare and judge the different policies and deals available:

  • Do they pay out fairly, promptly and without fuss? For example, one cheap company acquired a very bad reputation in this regard, putting small-print wriggles in the way of many claims. You usually get what you pay for.
  • Do they cover all veterinary bills or do they exclude alternative/complimentary therapies? Years ago, (e.g. 1970s and early 1980s), many companies resisted payment for natural veterinary medicine. This is happily very rare now. However, Petplan have recently placed a low ceiling on payments for homeopathy. Hopefully, they are about to alter this illogical and invidious position. It has dented the excellent reputation that this company had built up over the years. Others may follow this retrograde trend.
  • If a company does exclude or restrict complimentary therapies, does it still exclude or restrict that therapy if performed by a vet? Saga and Petplan have been guilty of this. This is something which we are fighting, whenever it occurs. As a veterinary surgeon, I believe that I should be able to choose the therapy according to the patient's best interests, and not suffer discrimination from a financial institution with no veterinary knowledge. Furthermore, as a client, the policyholder should be free to seek whatever therapy best improves the health of his or her animal. Why should anyone pay out more to be covered for natural medicine? Most other companies have given us no trouble.
  • Some companies offer one sum for conventional veterinary fees and a different sum for complimentary therapies. Although not intended by the companies, this means that you can claim on both, thus raising your potential benefit!
  • Some insist on annual vaccination. There is no science to support annual vaccination, so this should not be a requirement. If it is, it usually only precludes payment for claims arising from the diseases for which vaccines are usually given. It does not negate the whole policy. Little do the companies realise how much this policy costs them, when complications arise from the vaccination upon which they insist. Some companies accept the homeopathic alternatives (nosodes) anyway.
  • Do they put a stop on claims for a given problem, at the next renewal date? This is something that has always seemed strange to me. If a claim arises during an insured period, then surely the liability should continue until sorted? Some newer policies have no such restrictions.
  • Are there any conditions for which cover is not provided? Many exclude ‘behavioural’ problems. The exact definition of the boundary between a behavioural problem and one which has a medical basis is unclear in some conditions. If the problem turns out to be ‘curable’ by medical intervention, then it was presumably a medical problem, rather than ‘behavioural'. Homeopathic intervention has enabled recovery of many such cases.
  • How large is the ‘excess'? This is the sum that a claimant must pay out of any new claim. It is not payable on each occasion you claim for an ongoing problem.
  • Many companies now pay for prescription foods. This has increased the profitability of those veterinary practices selling such foods but, as is clear from the pages of this site, the AVMC prefers the feeding of fresh and wholesome food. This new benefit has served to increase policy prices and give financial advantage to those ‘owners' who feed manufactured and convenience food, to the detriment of their animals' welfare and health.
  • If parts of the animal are excluded, as a result of previous claims, does the premium remain the same? It is possible, by ‘reductio ad absurdum‘, to envisage a horse that has its mane, one eye and one leg still being insured but the remainder of the body being excluded, with the premium nonetheless remaining the same as that for a whole horse! There should be room for a deal, in such cases.
  • Insurance companies should not force the death of the insured animal, rather like the ‘write-off' in a motor insurance policy, for anything other than the prevention of otherwise inevitable suffering.
  • It may be that you wish to examine the credentials of an insurance provider for various ethical considerations, such as funding of animal experimentation, funding of Third World exploitation, funding of or performing negative animal welfare activities etc. (e.g. Tesco in China).

It is to be hoped that having an insurance policy does not encourage over-technical or over-invasive diagnostic or therapeutic procedures, simply because expensive options are available and can now be afforded. It is also to be hoped that insuring a valuable animal for death does not hasten its end, when it suffers injury. We fear that this has been the case, especially in the world of competition horses.

One day, the insurance companies will realise how much money they could save and how much cheaper the policies could be, if they were to insist on natural veterinary medicine inputs at an early stage for each case. However, the veterinary advice sought by brokers is from conventional vets so that pragmatic and open-minded approach is unlikely to prevail in the immediate future.

If you are intending to claim a holistic vet's fees, if that holistic vet is not your ‘local vet', then you will need the consent of your local veterinary surgeon.

N.B. You will find that your insurance may be invalidated if you use an unqualified practitioner or one who operates outside the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966. That Act provides that only manipulative therapies may be performed on your animal by a non-vet. Even then, they must be applied on the specific recommendation of a vet and under his or her supervision.

In addition, it should be noted that animal therapists (chiropractors, osteopaths and physiotherapists), who are properly trained and qualified, will be members of their respective professional bodies and should be covered by indemnity insurance. This protects you, should anything go amiss and you should check on this before accepting treatments.