Veterinarian Lissa Kam, left, recommends pet medical insurance to ensure the best care for pets --without the added stress of cost worries -- should the need ever arise.

Insurance is safety
net for pet owners

Pets are such an intimate part of our lives that many of us hope that providing them with the best medical care will allow them to live healthier and longer lives with the family.

There will be a time in our pets' lives, however, when we need to seek the medical attention of a veterinarian for minor or life-threatening situations. Though we wish the best medical treatment for our pets, the costs may mount into the hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars. Pet medical insurance may allow you to provide medical care for your pet without cost worries.

There are three categories of medical insurance. The first type is an indemnity insurance such as with Veterinary Pet Insurance. The pet owner in this case pays a premium and is eligible for benefits based on the care provided by the policy terms.

The other two types of insurance are forms of managed care where the premium buys either access to discounted pet care within a network of veterinarians who will receive only a fixed fee per patient (HMO) or the coverage for discounted veterinary services within a network of preferred doctors (PPO).

The most popular form is the indemnity insurance (VPI). In this form of insurance, the pet owner can choose their veterinarian as well as the medical treatment needed to treat their pet's illness. The veterinarian is not limited to specific procedures, nor is he required to give discounted fees through fixed fees or partial payment as seen in HMOs and PPOs. Veterinary Pet Insurance remains the most reliable pet insurance provider in Hawaii and has been in business for more than 20 years.

PET OWNERS OFTEN question the cost of purchasing pet insurance vs. taking the chance that their pet will not need expensive care in the future. The best time to buy pet insurance is when the animal is young. VPI will cover cats, dogs, rabbits, birds and other exotic animals. Dog, cat and exotic pet owners can apply for coverage when the pet is at least 6 weeks of age.

Birds covered by the policy must be at least 3 months of age and in the possession of the owner for at least 60 days. Though there is no upper age limit, dogs and cats over 10 years of age are required to have current blood work and a physical exam.

As with any insurance, the policy will not cover any pre-existing condition or current medical illness. It will also not cover congenital or hereditary conditions, or elective procedures such as tail docking and ear cropping. No pet foods or grooming procedures will be covered.

VPI will cover more than 6,400 medical procedures ranging from minor conditions such as ear cleaning to more life-threatening situations such as cancer and diabetes. The premiums will cover laboratory fees, X-rays, treatments, hospitalization, surgeries, prescriptions, chiropractic and homeopathic procedures.

One can also choose to buy an optional Vaccination and Routine Coverage package that will cover annual examinations, vaccinations, teeth cleaning, heart work and flea prescriptions. Multiple pet discounts are also available with this company.

PRIOR TO VPI offering the coverage for vaccinations and routine care, the policies that were bought provided the pet owners with the financial peace of mind only in the case of a catastrophic or life-threatening illnesses.

Though a life-threatening illness would probably create the largest amount of medical expenditures, the majority of animals remained healthy until the latter years of life. Routine visits to the veterinarian for health checks and vaccinations remain the greatest cost for younger animals; however, the previous policy benefits would not reimburse these expenditures.

Now, with the care policy option, more pet owners have determined that the benefits received from the policy outweigh the annual premium costs. The age of your pet, the species and the policy coverage you selected will determine the premium fees.

For example, for an annual rate of $99, an owner can receive up to $213 for the routine care. Policy owners can receive an annual benefit of $9,000 to $14,000 depending on the policy chosen.

Coverage begins 14 days after the policy has been accepted. For more information about costs and policies for VPI, one can call 800-USA-PETS (800-872-7387) or go online at

Lissa Kam is a doctor of veterinary medicine at Ohana Veterinary Hospital.

Hawaii Pet Expo 2003

Sponsored by the Hawaii Veterinary Medical Association

Where: Neal Blaisdell Center Exhibition Hall

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow and Sunday

Admission: Free

Notes: Learn more about pets, products and animal clubs through educational displays. Pets are welcome (all dogs must be on leashes). Special events include an all-breed Parade of Cats at 11:30 a.m. tomorrow, household cat show at 11:30 a.m. Sunday and the annual Hawaiian Kennel Club Puppy Match on Sunday. Donate a nonperishable food item to benefit the Hawaii Food Bank and receive a free gift.

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