Friday, 13 April 2012

Insurance in depth

Friday the 13th - surely the ideal day to tackle the thorny question of insurance?!

As regular blog readers will know, some of the horses who come to Rockley for rehab have part of their costs covered by insurance; however there is a massive difference in how the various insurers treat their customers and several of you have asked for an "insurance" blog post.

Here it is, in 2 sections.  The first part is all about cover for rehabilitation at Rockley, the second part is about who (according to the insurers) has to look after your horse's feet.

Lots of insurance policies have cover for "alternative therapies".  Every policy is different, so you always need to check the terms, but often this covers physio and chiropractic treatment, hydrotherapy or use of special facilities like horsewalkers.  This sort of therapy always needs to be signed off by your vet and its usually this clause owners claim under for rehabilitation at Rockley. Normally, only part of the cost can be reclaimed - some is counted by insurers as livery which isn't covered.

In the past, NFU have paid out under this clause for a number of horses who've come here for rehab but over the last couple of years they have become increasingly less user-friendly.  Talking to the owners concerned, its clear that they all have the same policies (ie the wording hasn't changed) but in recent cases NFU are flatly refusing to even consider claims for rehabilitation here, despite having paid out in the past.
Sadly, the response outlined in this email is typical:

"If we continue to have heart bars put on they will happily pay out even though it’s not actually helping. It frustrates me even more when the vet has recommended [sending our horse to Rockley] and they still won't pay out."

Another email outlines the economic illogic of the whole thing:

"[I was] told yesterday by my insurer that they will not pay for her to come for rehabiliation, but they will pay if she has to be humanely destroyed if we cannot solve her lameness - the cheapest option to them would be to have her rehab paid for, never mind the moral choice of what is best for the horse"

The latter horse DID come to Rockley and - eventually - NFU did pay out.  She is now sound and back in work following rehabilitation but despite this they are refusing current claims - bizarre, especially as we effectively saved them money.

Faced with responses like this, I know of a number of owners who are formally complaining to NFU and to the insurance ombudsman - these cases are pending but for some horses its already too late.

ETA: Incredibly, I've just had an email from an owner who is currently complaining to NFU (who are refusing to pay for rehab for her horse).  They have just said to her "I can guarantee you 100% that we have not ever paid out for a horse to be treated at Rockley" - it beggars belief!  Good to know that they are prepared to lie to customers, though this is a tactic which they have tried repeatedly in the past.  Could owners who HAVE been paid by NFU please comment on this post? Meanwhile, I am adding a photo of a cheque they sent me on a horse whose claim they paid direct (I've blanked out the name for reasons of confidentiality).
Happily, NFU are in the minority and a number of other insurance companies - including Shearwater - are currently much more helpful when owners and vets want to send horses here.  You should always speak to your vet first, and confirm with your insurer directly, of course, and its useful to have confirmation in writing.


Recently, also, NFU (!) have announced that its now a term of their equine insurance that horses must have their feet regularly looked after by a "registered farrier".
That may be ok if you have a shod horse.  Its probably ok if you have a barefoot horse and are lucky enough to have a farrier who is (a) experienced in keeping horses in work barefoot (pretty rare) and (b) sympathetic enough to respect the hoof balance set by the horse and not trim if that is unnecessary (even rarer).

However, if you use a hoofcare practitioner (even an insured, qualified one) who is NOT a farrier - or have a self-trimming horse who is actively sounder when not trimmed - then you are left high and dry, as far as NFU are concerned, and they are likely to refuse claims for foot-related problems.

There are several other options, of course.

You can self insure, which often works out as - or more - cost effective than insurance, especially if you have several horses.  You need to be disciplined but if you can put money into a separate account every month then it can work well.

Alternatively, there are lots of other insurers out there.

I have had a good report of KBIS (who apparently don't require attendance by a registered farrier as long as the vet is happy with the horse's feet) - please speak to KBIS directly to check the exact terms, of course, but it seems a much more sensible approach.
I've also contacted Shearwater who say that they will treat cases on an individual basis but are trying to establish with their underwriters the circumstances when owners can use hoofcare practitioners rather than registered farriers.  Again, check with them and its imperative to have special terms agreed up front and in writing, of course.

If you've used another insurer and have a good report about them, please let me know - sharing knowledge and experiences is a big help for other owners!


The Three Muleteers said...

Fantastic post, thanks for the information, I'm off the check my mule's policy now....

Nic Barker said...

Kelly tried to sign in and comment but Blogger was playing up - here is what she sent me:

"I can't sign in. It's being all weird. I'm off to San Diego in the morning; when I'm there I'll make it work and comment. But yeah they [NFU] paid out [this was in 2008 for Dexter]. They sent us a cheque for the remainder of the alternative therapies allowance without any questions. They were fantastic and it really helped. It's a shame they do not seem to be doing the same for other people."

Jassy Mackenzie said...

NFU sound like total sharks! Hope somebody there sees this blog and realises they've been called out on their lies!

Nicky said...

Just to confirm NFU paid out for my boy to go to Rockley June/July 2011. They did take into account what my usual livery cost was (and quite reasonably that I was also paying a fee to retain his stable while he was away) I did reach my limit for alternative treatment though,but it contributed to most of his stay. They did then pay out under transport as well so I was quite pleased with them (less so when his renewal came through and I saw the price but then I changed to KBIS!)

Nic Barker said...

Bless you Nicky - thanks so much for adding this :-) Glad you've switched to a better insurer!

Dare Gothic Clothing said...

I'm another owner who managed to get a pay out from NFU for Isha's rehab Nov 2010 to Feb 2011.
They initially told me over the phone that they had never paid out and would not pay out for rehab at Rockley, so I sent Isha not expecting to receive anything from them. However once they had paid out for all my vets fees I submitted an ongoing claim letter, without a vetinary referal attached (although my vet had agreed to refer me she never got around to actually writing a referal). The claim was passed to First Equine to process on NFU's behalf and I received £749.00 (50% of the total cost in accordance to my policy) on 11th May 2011. If anyone wants more details please contact Nic and she will pass on my email address.