Consumer advocacy group, CHOICE, has issued a warning to animal owners, telling them to do their research before forking out for pet insurance that may not meet their needs.
The independent advocacy group says people are falling into the trap of mistakenly thinking their animals are covered for illnesses and injuries – only to be left with a hefty bill when they discover they’re not.
“Many people often fall into the trap of not fully understanding the details of their pet insurance,” CHOICE expert Uta Mihm tells 7NEWS.com.au.
Check the fine print
One family who recently fallen foul of the fine print are the Donegals.
The Sydney clan is still counting the cost after having to foot the bill for their puppy, Murphy when he fell ill.
In November 2020, after five weeks of owning the labradoodle, he began to show symptoms of parvovirus.
After being misdiagnosed at one vet, his condition deteriorated and Murphy was rushed in for around-the-clock care at a state-of-the-art facility.
The quality care came at a price, and after ten days Murphy had racked up almost $20,000 in fees.
“It pretty much cleaned out all our savings,” Lorna Donegal says.
“It was ten days of pure hell and it was made so much worse when we found out we weren’t covered for the vet bills.”
Bailey – Lorna’s daughter – works at a veterinary clinic, so the family was fully aware of how costly it can be when a pet gets sick.
“We wanted the best care if Murphy got sick, so we decided to get the top tier premium,” Bailey says.
“We thought we would be covered for pretty much anything.”
Frustratingly for the Donegals, the fine print of their RSPCA Pet Insurance contract stipulated that Murphy was not covered for parvovirus at the time he contracted it.
Even after Murphy had received two parvovirus vaccinations, their policy still didn’t cover them
PetSure, the company that administers RSPCA Pet Insurance, says that Murphy wouldn’t have been covered for two reasons.
“In this case, that information suggested the animal presented signs and symptoms during the 30-day waiting period stated in the policy, a PetSure spokesperson says.
“In addition, a diagnosis was then made of an excluded condition (Parvovirus) by the treating veterinarian.”
But according to Lorna, the insurance company confused the date when they purchased Murphy from the breeder.
“We took the insurance out the day we got the dog,” Lorna tells 7NEWS.com.au.
“Even though we had the dog for five weeks before Murphy got sick, they tried to imply he may have caught parvovirus when it was with the breeder.”
“But parvovirus has an incubation period of around five to seven days, so that is highly unlikely.
“It felt like they were fumbling for an excuse.”
PetSure acknowledges the Donegals’ claim could have been handled better.
“We recognise that the reasons for the claim being denied were not clearly explained to the customer in this case,” a PetSure spokesperson tells 7NEWS.com.au.
“We haven’t communicated as we should have and as we usually do.”
As a goodwill gesture, the company agreed to pay for half of Murphy’s vet bills.
The insurer acknowledged policies can be confusing at times.
“We also know that not all pre-existing conditions are the same, and they can be a source of confusion in pet insurance,” the spokesperson says.
“That’s why we’ve recently made changes to our policy terms to make pre-existing conditions simpler and to cover pets who recover from some temporary illnesses.”
Animals with preexisting conditions are rarely covered by pet insurance.
A preexisting condition is defined as an illness or injury that a pet has before taking out the policy.
However, that definition can change depending on the insurance you purchase.
“It is important you do your research on what a policy deems a preexisting condition,” Uta tells 7NEWS.com.au.
“One of the biggest problems with pet insurance is that you are locked into a policy.
“As soon as your pet develops something like a chronic condition there is absolutely no way for you to switch,” she says.
“In many cases, it would be much better to take out a bank account and bank those premiums as opposed to taking out pet insurance.”
CHOICE regularly fields reports from owners unhappy with how their claim was handled, but often the policy fine print holds the key.
Counting the cost
Now, several months on, Murphy has fully recovered from his brush with death.
But the Donegal family says they have learnt a valuable lesson and won’t be buying pet insurance in the future.
“It was useless for us, we ended up paying a huge premium for absolutely nothing,” Lorna says.