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Tips for Living Well with Your Dog: Money and Insurance

Dealing with pet insurance companies

Fourth of a five-part series

Perhaps the biggest mistake dog owners make regarding pet insurance is buying it and then tucking the policy away in a bottom desk drawer.

Many dog owners will take a passive approach toward filing and following-up on claims, potentially robbing themselves of reimbursement. Some find filling out claim forms to be too tedious. Others fail to take the time to keep proper records of veterinary expenses.

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Insurance companies love these kind of customers, because they can collect premiums from them and never have to pay out claims - a guaranteed formula for financial success.

So here are some tips for getting the most value - and your money's worth - from pet insurance:

  • Read the policy carefully. This might sound cliche, but many people fail to do it. Make sure you understand the deductibles, annual payment caps and exclusions. For example, most policies have exclusions for pre-existing conditions and special diets. Understanding the policy will help you know which claims to file and the amount of payment to expect. You also will avoid wasting time by filing claims for items not covered.
  • Keep careful records of all expenses. Insurance companies will require copies of bills, veterinary reports and medical testing reports. So make sure you gather them all up and organize them in a file. Ask the veterinarian to write a short letter outlining the diagnosis and treatment if your policy is the kind that pays per illness or condition.
  • Fill out the claim form correctly. Unlike people insurance where you simply show the doctor's office a card and the claim form gets filed for you, pet insurance companies will require you to file the claim form. So read it carefully and fill out all the information. A claim can be rejected simply because the form is incomplete or incorrect. If you have questions, contact the insurance company and ask for assistance.
  • Keep duplicate copies of all claim forms and supporting documents you file. You will need them if your claim gets misplaced or lost and must be refiled. They also will come in handy if you have a dispute regarding payment. You will be able to refer to them in discussions with the pet insurance company.
  • Carefully review the explanation of benefits you receive with your claim check. Claims adjusters sometimes make mistakes. I once received a payment that subtracted from it a $50 deductible that I had previously met earlier in the policy year. In another case, the insurance company incorrectly classified my dog's illness which resulted in a lower payment.
Lastly, don't just settle for the amount the insurance company gives you. If you feel you have been shortchanged, call the insurance company and ask for an explanation. Many times a claim is rejected or the reimbursement is lower than expected because additional information or documents are needed.

And if a genuine disagreement exists because language in the contract is ambiguous, negotiate with the insurance company and try to find a middle ground. If that fails and you believe you have a strong argument, you can file a complaint with your state's insurance commissioner's office.

Money and Pet Insurance:
Part 1: Save a bundle on food, products, care
 Part 2: Ways to save on prescription drugs
 Part 3: Tips for buying pet insurance
 Part 4: Dealing with pet insurance companies
 Part 5: Best way to insure your pet

Remember, an insurance policy is a contract, and you should settle for no less than the amount of reimbursement you are entitled to under the agreement.


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