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Pet Travel Insurance: A Policy for the Future?

Pet travel insurance doesn’t currently exist in the U.S. — at least not the kind that’s comparable to human travel insurance, where you lay down a one-time fee to bet on the contingencies of a single trip. But consider that, not long ago, pet health insurance wasn’t very common, and pet travel was not nearly popular as it is today.

Things change.

I’m now a big fan of pet health insurance, as I discussed in two earlier posts, Health Insurance for Pets? Hell Yes! and Pet Insurance, Part 2: Jasmine’s Story. But Frankie isn’t insured because, by the time I discovered it was an option, he was a senior citizen and had already developed diabetes, a pre-existing condition. I recently started wondering, however, whether it was possible to insure him for a brief jaunt.

This and other wonderings led me to Laura Bennett, CEO and co-founder of Embrace Pet Insurance.

How Pet Health Insurance Covers Travel

Bennett explained that although there is no one-time pet insurance for travel in the U.S., you can get a longer term insurance policy that covers unexpected events, including accidents, for a pet of any age. And when you’re traveling, accidents are the likeliest cause for health issues.

She noted that if you’re traveling around the country in an RV, say, the issue of pet travel insurance is irrelevant because all pet health insurance policies allow you to go to any vet throughout the U.S.  As Bennett put  it, “There are no HMO or PPOs. You pay the vet bill and you submit it for reimbursement.”

Exclusions

On the other hand, not all pet insurance companies cover every place you might want to visit. Some don’t cover travel outside the U.S;  others draw the line at North America.

Embrace policies are international but the policy holder must maintain residence in the U.S., as mandated by law. The definition of “residency” is complicated, but basically, you have to have an address in the U.S. and live here six months out of the year. There may be exceptions, however — if, say, you are a student studying abroad. “We look a the specific circumstances of the case,” Bennett said.

Ask questions

Bennet explained that pet insurance is not like auto insurance, where there’s a very specific structure for what a company is required to cover and for how a deductible works. Each pet insurance company has its own rules. Therefore, it’s essential for consumers to ask lots of questions — and to get the answers in writing, whether via email or mailed document.

Bennett also strongly recommends checking with PetInsuranceReview.com, and suggests that people look look at the negative comments rather than the positive ones. “Those are the types of things that you need to know about,” she says. If there is a lower rater of reimbursement,  it may be because the consumer bought the least expensive policy, but you need to know what issues you might face if you sign up with a particular company.

According to Bennett, the three most important things you have to consider in a pet policy are:

  1. Does it cover hereditary conditions? If it doesn’t you’re going to be disappointed if your pet develops an illness that is common to the breed.
  2. Does it cover chronic conditions for a lifetime? If I had insured Frankie before he developed diabetes, for example, some policies would have covered only the first year, and cut us off  after that.
  3. Will what you pay to the vet be used as the claim reimbursement basis or is there some kind of prearranged benefit schedule? The former is clearly preferable to the latter.

Why the U.K. can already offer pet health insurance

Bennett explains that U.S. insurance laws are not only nonspecific but also much more bureaucratic than European ones. Because there is no federal plan, she says, “You have to file an insurance product in every state.” And, she adds, “The market in the US hasn’t justified the effort required to create policies like pet insurance.”  In Europe, on the other hand, “You don’t have the equivalent of 50 companies in each country.”

Bennett agrees that there is a need for this type of insurance now that travel with pets — not just pet relocation — has increased dramatically. “We’ve looked at it a lot,” she says, and she predicts that at some point there will be insurance for specific situations such as sending pets in cargo. But “it’s very difficult to develop a product where there’s just one small fee….You have to partner with a major airline or another company to have enough of an audience to make it worthwhile to deal with 50 states. Right now, no one has expressed enough interest.”

I predict that’s likely to change sooner rather than later.

Note: I interviewed Laura Bennett because I’ve seen her at Twitter chats and on the BlogPaws website and she seemed friendly and accessible. I didn’t realize how impressive she and Embrace were until I browsed the company’s history, which includes partnerships with such organizations as Best Friends Animal Society, Tsunami Animal-People Alliance, and Amazon Cares. Read all about it here.

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14 Comments

  1. Posted May 20, 2011 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    The UK most be ahead in Europe, I don’t know of any pet travel insurance in Denmark. And I asked around and called companies. Their case was it is not necessary if you have general insurance. That might be true with health care, yet they were awfully quiet on questions concerning legal (what if my dog bites a foreign dog) and travel technicalities (when we strand, is housing of the dogs covered…). Duh.

    But I am sure it will come sooner rather than later. The whole pet care industry is leaping forward. Sometimes it is amazing how things can tumble down the Maslov pyramide. I am sure that in the near future pet travel insurance is as normal as any other travel insurance.

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted May 20, 2011 at 7:29 am | Permalink

      You bring up excellent points that hadn’t even occurred to me. And it’s very interesting to me that you already researched this type of insurance in Denmark; it proves that there’s a demand. I couldn’t really find out much about what UK insurance involved; I just saw several ads for it on the internet, but found none for the U.S. I didn’t research further into Europe however.

      I had to look up the Maslov pyramid ;-): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs

  2. Posted May 20, 2011 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    I admit I still don’t have pet health insurance. I’ve looked into it numerous times but I always hold off. No doubt it is money well spent, I just want to be sure the plan and company is the best one for our future needs. The last thing I want to find out when we – hopefully never – need it, the plan we have doesn’t cover us. It’s complicated. I wish there was someone I could pay to figure all of this out for me.

    Before we adopted Shiva, I didn’t even realize there was such a thing as pet health insurance. Obviously the market has changed and grown a lot in the past decade. As more people travel with their pets, more people are going to be asking these questions. Hopefully we will also see a spike in the services offered to match this new demand.

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted May 20, 2011 at 9:15 am | Permalink

      Shiva is young so this is the perfect time to get it for her, especially since she’s so active — which could mean costly accidents. The Pet Insurance Review site is really helpful — it has a comparative chart of costs and coverage.

      Good luck! I wish I had known too. Even if I hadn’t anticipated a chronic illness and got the wrong policy, I would have had the first year of the diabetes diagnosis, which was very expensive for testing and glucose curves, reimbursed.

  3. Posted May 20, 2011 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    This is a really interesting and informative post! I wouldn’t have even thought about the intersection between pet health insurance and travel.

    That’s such a smart tip regarding getting answers from the insurance company in writing (be it in letter form or over email). Honestly, that’s just a good tip in general when dealing with companies, insurance or otherwise (and is smart when dealing with any sort of contractual relationship). It’s important to memorialize conversations. If a company won’t provide something in writing and only gives verbal guarantees, write them a letter or an email to confirm your understanding of the conversation. That way, if you ever need it, you’ll at least have something to point to. It’s really important to think ahead and arm yourself for the future.

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted May 20, 2011 at 10:01 am | Permalink

      I agree, it’s excellent advice. Laura also pointed out in her interview that people on the phone may just want to please you and, with the best intentions, give you incorrect information. If it’s verified in an email, the company has to honor it.

  4. Posted May 20, 2011 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Laura is awesome. I’ve met her in person as well and have interviewed her. She is also famous for being an embodiment of the EMBRACE brand … in other words, she gives terrific, genuine hugs. :o)

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted May 20, 2011 at 10:05 am | Permalink

      Ah, I wasn’t sure if I had met Laura at Blogpaws but I would have remembered a woman with a British accent who hugged me! I was very impressed at the depth of her information and her willingness to be honest about the topic.

      • Posted May 23, 2011 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

        Lol! I am the best Embracer out there – you would have remembered 🙂

        Thanks Edie for putting together such a great article on travel and pet insurance. I keep hoping that a federal option for insurance will open up so we can set up insurance for pet trips but I’m thinking that the next Rapture will happen before that sadly.

        • Edie Jarolim
          Posted May 24, 2011 at 9:06 am | Permalink

          Thank you for your helpful information and thank you so much for mentioning the Rapture. Several of us bloggers/tweeters @melzpetpals and @wantmore puppies) have been bemoaning the fact that we’ll miss the fun it’s provided us.

  5. Posted May 20, 2011 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

    While I don’t have pet insurance for Jersey, you make a good point about the travel thing. I never thought about the details about pet health insurance while traveling.

  6. Posted May 21, 2011 at 6:21 am | Permalink

    Dropping by your blog on the Blog Hop – you have a the type of information that every pet owner should study and think about. Thanks for sharing. Drop by my blog and enjoy the dog music today – I’m right next door to you at http://www.Pet-Peeves.org.

  7. Posted May 22, 2011 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    Pet insurance even in the UK is a complicated matter with a vast choice of policies, with wide price ranges and different levels of cover, such as silver, gold and platinum. However, as most major supermarkets in the UK have diversified into pet insurance (obviously they only want bona fide companies) it has simplified consumers choices and made getting the right pet insurance plan both simpler and less costly (around £8 per month for a 2yr old dog with no pre-existing conditions). I am not aware as to how this compares to the US?

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted May 22, 2011 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

      Wow, Juliette — that’s amazing that the UK sells pet insurance in supermarkets! There are so many different variables on policies in the U.S. that it would be hard for me to compare, but I can tell you that I don’t expect to see policies in the supermarket any time soon.

      How about pet travel policies — as opposed to general pet health? Can you tell me how they work, i.e., if they cover anything besides health such as pet-friendly accommodations in case of trip delay, etc.?

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