Many people have asked me to share some details on my experience with insuring Lucy. This is all what I have personally learned, and I am not an insurance professional. Feel free to read through this and take into consideration what I suggest, but always talk to an insurance professional/agent before purchasing a policy.
If you are thinking of buying insurance, or trying to decide if you need it, let me ask you two simple questions:
1. If your horse required colic surgery to survive, could you afford $10,000 out of pocket to provide that for the horse?
2. If you could not, would you be ok putting that horse down and not receiving any financial reimbursement to help replace the horse?
If your answer to either of these questions is "no", I highly recommend looking into insurance. As horse owners, we never WANT our animals to be hurt, but I can tell you I sleep very well at night knowing that if Lucy needed some crazy expensive surgery tomorrow, I would never have to think twice before shipping her up to Tuft's and letting them save her. It was also really awesome when the vet was out for the third time recently, trying to pinpoint her mystery lameness, and he turned to me and said "is she insured?" and I said "yes", and he said, "well what are we waiting for? let's get her a bone scan". Less than a week later, we had a solid diagnosis and a great prognosis.
Most insurance companies offer a few different types of policies, and I will do my best to explain them in layman's terms, and hopefully this will help those of you who are considering insurance for your horse.
The two main policies are Mortality (M) and Major Medical (MM). If you want to purchase a MM policy, you are going to need to purchase a M policy also. However, if you only want to purchase a Mortality policy, you do not need to purchase Major Medical. Keep in mind that if you only have Mortality coverage and your horse colics, some companies require that colic surgery be attempted on the animal to try and save them. If you do not attempt to save the animal with surgery, the company will not pay out on the Mortality claim. This prevents people from opting to put the horse down prematurely in order to get the insurance pay out.
MM will cover costs associated with veterinary care, including diagnostics, exams, hospital stays, and medications. They will not pay for a vet's farm call fee, and there are some treatments like stem cell injections, IRAP, etc that most companies will not pay for.
M policies help you recover from the loss of a horse in that you will be given a cheque for the monetary worth of an animal after it has passed away. If Mortality is a huge issue for you, check the fine print of your policy - is it an "agreed value" policy or not? Agreed value means that if you insure the horse for $5000, you will get $5000 if the horse dies. If it is not an agreed value policy, the insurance may question the true value of the horse and require you to provide proof of training/competition results to justify the value. Mortality premium costs are calculated according to what the horse is insured for.
There are also colic rider policies you can purchase that will provide a bit of extra coverage for instances of colic.
When I first bought Lucy four years ago, I paid less than $1000 for her. I had her insured within a week for $5000, because that is the lowest policy I could purchase. I personally don't care about Mortality payouts; my major concern was and still is being able to provide the best veterinary care for Lucy. My insurance company at the time, Great American, calculated the premium for the insurance policy based on the value of the horse being insured. I chose to purchase insurance from Great American because they allowed $10,000 of Major Medical coverage for my horse even though she was only insured for $5000. Be careful when shopping for "cheap" policies. Generally the cheaper policies only provide as much MM coverage as Mortality, so with Lucy valued at $5000, some insurance companies would have only provided $5000 of MM. This would have only paid for about half of a colic surgery if she had needed one - NOT GOOD!
I used Great American for three years, until this past year, when they decided they would no longer provide Major Medical policies on horses valued under $15000. I decided to shop around for a different company, and chose American Equine Insurance. I chose them because they would give me $10,000 of MM coverage even if my horse was insured for only $5000 under her Mortality policy. I could have even bought a $15000 MM policy if I had wanted to. They also have NO co-pay for diagnostics, which is HUGE for me. This entire saga with the mystery lameness came out to about $4000, give or take a few dollars. I should be getting all of it, minus the farm call fees and my $300 deductible, back from the insurance company (if my vet ever completes his report and sends it to them!!!).
On that note, one very important thing to realize is that the vet hospital doesn't care if you have your horse insured or not. Unlike human insurance, the hospital will require that you pay the entire bill before you get your horse back. I had to do that with Tuft's and yeah, it sucked to write a cheque for 75% of the projected bill when I dropped her off (just shy of $2500), and then write another $800 cheque when I picked her up. Um, ouch! But they don't want to wait for you to process paperwork with your insurance company so unless you work out other arrangements like care credit or scheduled payments, expect to be writing a fat cheque to the hospital or vet, regardless if you intend to claim it against the insurance policy.
As for companies, the ones I see most frequently recommended are Great American (for horses valued at $15k or over only), Hallmark, Markel, and American Equine. When shopping, here are the things you should be most concerned about:
-is this policy an Agreed Value policy?
-does the policy require you to do "reasonable treatments" for your horse in order to get reimbursed if the horse dies? for instance, if the horse is colicking and you decide to euthanize, will the insurance pay out even if you don't attempt to save the horse with colic surgery?
-does this policy's value only go as high as the Mortality policy, or is it good for $10k? $15k?
-what is the deductible that you have to pay before the insurance starts covering things?
-is there a co-pay for diagnostics? some companies require a 20 or 30% co-pay for diagnostics. when you're talking about a $60 x-ray, that's not a big deal, but when you're talking about a $2500 bone scan, that's a lot of money!
-if the horse is diagnosed with some kind of a long-term issue, such as Cushings, that requires medication for the rest of its life, what type of coverage will your MM provide?
-if you make a claim on your policy, will the company then exclude that going forward? for instance, if your horse has a RF lameness and the vet determines that the horse has a small bone chip, and then the insurance company pays for the chip removal surgery and the horse recovers fully, is that RF then an exclusion on your policy? if yes, for how long? just a year, two years, or for the rest of your horse's life?
I absolutely 100% recommend going through an AGENT, not directly through the COMPANY. An Agent will act as your guide through the insurance process. A lot of times, they can get you a better rate than going directly through the company. They will help you decide which type of insurance to get, how much insurance you need, and which company to choose. Someone with a $100k show hunter may benefit from using a different company than someone with a $20k Novice level eventer. When shopping, ask questions -- lots of them!! Most agents work with a few different companies so when you're ready to call for info, make out a spreadsheet that you can fill in with values as the agent tells you about various options. A good spreadsheet might look like this:
Agent's contact info:
Company 1 Company 2 Company 3
Mortality: Agreed Value?
So that is Major Medical and Mortality. Other types of policies are loss of use, which would reimburse you if your level 4 jumper were to pull a suspensory and never be able to jump again. That type of policy is VERY expensive because horses are stupid and they hurt themselves all the time. Beyond that, there are liability policies, farm policies, etc.
Hopefully this was helpful. Insurance can be scary, but if you are smart about the purchasing process, you will save yourself a lot of stress and money if your horse needs medical attention that you couldn't otherwise afford.