February 24, 2024

Published: 8/28/2022 3:09:07 PM

Modified: 8/28/2022 3:08:54 PM

As southern New Hampshire dog owners face a major outbreak of a mysterious respiratory ailment, the New Hampshire Insurance Department is reminding people to be careful when buying health insurance for their pets.

“The regulatory framework around it … is fairly light. Consumers need to keep that in mind,” said Deputy Commissioner DJ Bettencourt during a half-hour online discussion about pet insurance that was released recently by the department.

The webinar was not connected to the outbreak of the canine respiratory disease, which has been the topic of online discussion by New Hampshire veterinarians and pet owners for a couple of weeks. In New Hampshire the outbreak is mostly limited to Hillsborough County at the moment but little is known about it, other than the fact that it is often more serious than “kennel cough” and other common infectious dog diseases.

Experts are cautioning dog owners to limit mixing with other dogs and to isolate their pet and contact their veterinarian if there are signs of a cough, runny nose or difficulty breathing.

The New Hampshire Insurance Department webinar is part of a program of monthly online discussions “focused on a consumer topic or an industry topic for regulatory entities” that the department has begun to put out, said Andrew Demers, department communications director.

Pet insurance was chosen partially because it is growing in popularity. Some 20 companies offer health coverage for pets in New Hampshire. Nationally, one study estimated that 27% of pets in the US have insurance – that’s about 3.5 million animals – and that in 2020 premiums totaled roughly $2 billion.

The big source of potential confusion by consumers is that in New Hampshire, like many places, the law regards pets as property rather than individuals. As a result, pet insurance “is not a health product – this is a property and casualty product,” said Bettencourt.

That sounds like a minor difference but it means insurance regulators have much less oversight on what is offered and how much is charged, compared to health insurance. Things such as coverage of pre-existing conditions, reimbursement, deductibles and co-pays are entirely up to the company.

James Fox, director of property and casualty, gave an example. “In a one-year contract; if an illness is covered in one year, be careful whether it’s covered in the next year.”

Consumers should approach it like buying fire insurance for their home, the webinar emphasized.

“Please, please, please read your policy and understand your coverage,” said Bettencourt. “We in the insurance department understand the natural human mentality that you don’t want to think about your insurance policy because it usually involves something bad.”

The webinar can be seen online at: youtube.com/watch?v=lIrk9ziLGQo.

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