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Beware: fishy claws

CHOICE lets the cat out of the bag on pet insurance terms & conditions that can come back to bite you

18 April 2016

A review of pet insurance policies by consumer group CHOICE has found consumers can pay up to $2120 per year[1] and still not be covered for common illnesses such as kennel cough and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV).  
 
CHOICE reviewed 68 policies from 19 brands and found the biggest insurer, Petsure, won't cover your animal for illness even if they've been vaccinated. It also found Petplan failed to disclose co-payment requirements on seven of its policies.  
 
"With pet owners coughing up significant premiums each year, it pays to read the fine print as some policies are likely to get your goat," says CHOICE Head of Media Tom Godfrey.
 
Vaccination clause 
One of the most significant carve-outs CHOICE found in Petsure policies dealt with denying coverage to vaccinated pets. The policies state:
 
We will not pay treatment of the following irrespective of whether your dog or cat was vaccinated or not: 
a) for dogs: infectious canine hepatitis (canine adenovirus), parvovirus, canine distemper, parainfluenza and all forms of kennel cough. 
b) for cats: panleukopaenia, chlamydia, leukaemia, FIV, Feline Infectious Peritonitis, viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, herpes, cat flu"
[2]
 
"Refusing to cover animals for illnesses that they are vaccinated against is a dog way to keep premiums down. We think Petsure should follow Petplan's lead and offer cover for these conditions to owners who keep their pets vaccinated,"[3] says Mr Godfrey.

Old pet hates
"If your furry friend gets sick, pet insurance can make financial sense as the vet bills start to come home to roost, but the longer you wait the more it's like slamming the stable door after the horse has bolted," Mr Godfrey says.

"Your best bet is to insure your pet when they're young as premiums increase as your pet ages, and there isn't much choice for animals over 8 years. Also, the longer you wait the higher the chance your pet will have a pre-existing condition that won't be covered.

"The sad fact is only one insurer offers comprehensive cover for pets over 8 years, which means owners of older pets who want to change insurers have very limited options."

Co-payment pain
CHOICE found that Petplan failed to disclose co-payment requirements on seven of its eight policies and has referred the issue to ASIC.

"We found after covering 100% of the vet bills until age 8, Petplan's cover drops to 65% right at the time in the pet's life when they need it the most," says Mr Godfrey.

"If Petplan's policy of increasing co-payments as your pet ages wasn't bad enough, failing to disclosure these additional fees had us smelling a rat so we've referred the issue to the regulator."

Dead pet clause
Despite most providers dropping their "dead pet" clauses last year following a CHOICE campaign, one insurer – Petcover - still hasn't ruled out making consumers paying a full year's premium after their pet has died, if they've already made a claim.[4]
 
"While the major insurers have cleaned up their acts when it comes to charging grief-stricken pet owners, it seems Petcover, which is backed by Allianz, hasn't got the message," Mr Godfrey says.
 
Further information about pet insurance can be found here: www.choice.com.au/petinsurance
 
CHOICE tips
  • Always read the product disclosure statement (PDS) thoroughly
  • The earlier you insure your pet, the better. Pre-existing conditions can be a catch.
  • Check the co-payment policy and the percentage it pays out.
  • Bear in mind premiums are specific to breed as well as species
  • Check how much your premium will increase as your pet ages
  • Check for caps on how much you can claim for ongoing or chronic conditions
  • Vet bills for tick paralysis can be up to $6000, so check your cover and watch for sub-limits.
  • Ask your vet about common conditions affecting your pet's breed. Make sure your policy has sufficient cover for them as some genetic conditions can be pricey.
  • "Routine care" is a form of 'extras' insurance for your pet. Look at your regular pet costs and weigh them against the potential benefits.
Fishy pet insurance

Old pet pain

[1] Bupa Ultimate (by Petsure) plan for a Staffordshire Bull Terrier living in Darwin, $0 excess with all bolt-on extras.
[2] Petsure-administered PDS s.3.2.3 used brand such as Bupa & Woolworths.
[3] Petplan "Covered4Life" PDS p14
[4] Petcover PDS p1

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