Are Service Animals Covered by Insurance?
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Your health insurance doesn't typically cover the cost of service dogs or other service animals, although there may be other ways to get financial support for a service animal. Keep in mind that a service animal is one recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act and emotional support animals will not qualify as service animals.
Learn how you can get funding for your service animal as well as additional coverages that will help protect you and your animal.
Does Insurance Cover Service Dogs?
Health insurance generally does not cover the cost of obtaining, training or maintaining a service dog. However, there may be some exceptions. For example, in 2022 there were a reported 1,503 people who were enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan that offered some type of coverage for service animals. Medicare Advantage is a Medicare plan that is sold by approved private companies.
How Much Do Service Animals Cost?
Service dogs cost a fair amount, with prices ranging from $15,000 to $50,000. You also need to factor in the cost of maintaining care of your dog, such as food, toys, vaccinations, veterinary checkups and additional training. These extra expenses can easily cost an extra $500 to $10,000 per year. We’ve provided a breakdown of some common costs associated with owning a dog:
Are Service Animals the Same as Emotional Support Animals?
Service animals differ from emotional support animals. Specifically trained to carry out certain duties for people with disabilities, service animals help by guiding the blind, notifying the deaf, pulling wheelchairs or providing assistance during seizures. The most common type of service animal is a service dog.
In contrast, emotional support animals provide comfort and support through their presence and do not always require specific training for tasks. Emotional support animals are often used as part of a therapeutic plan for individuals with mental health issues. Unlike service animals, which are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), emotional support animals do not have the same legal rights to access public spaces, although some state governments have made exceptions.
How To Pay for a Service Dog or Service Animal
While the cost of a service animal can be high, several payment options are available, including employer payment plans, social security and state programming depending on where you live.
Social Security Disability Insurance
Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) does not directly cover the costs of obtaining a service dog or service animal. SSDI provides financial assistance to individuals who are "insured" with disabilities based on their previous work contributions and their current inability to work. However, the funds received from SSDI are not earmarked for specific uses and can be used at the recipient's discretion. This means that while SSDI does not specifically fund service animals, the benefits received can be used to cover such expenses if the recipient chooses to do so.
Flexible Spending Accounts
Flexible spending accounts (FSAs), which are IRS-regulated employer payment plans, can potentially be used to cover expenses related to a service dog or service animal for individuals with disabilities. The IRS considers the cost of buying, training and maintaining a service animal as qualified medical expenses. This includes food, grooming and veterinary care necessary to maintain the health and vitality of the service animal so that it may perform its duties. Keep in mind that you may need a letter of medical necessity (LMN) from a medical professional when you submit for FSA reimbursement.
Health Savings Accounts
Health savings accounts (HSA) are another type of employer payment plan controlled by the account holder and can be used for qualified medical expenses, including service dogs. An HSA can also be used to pay healthcare costs for your service dog. Like an FSA, you may need a LMN.
Those covered by the VA may be able to get a service dog at no charge. A specialist will likely need to make the final decision for eligibility, but once a service animal is prescribed, the VA will send the individual to an accredited agency where they will be placed with a service dog. Training will be covered as well.
Assistance Dog Special Allowance Program
The Assistance Dog Special Allowance Program (ADSA) is a California program that provides a monthly payment of $50 to eligible individuals who use a trained service dog. This program is designed to help offset some of the costs associated with the care and maintenance of service dogs, such as food, grooming and veterinary care.
To qualify, the individual must meet four criteria:
- Live in California
- Be blind, deaf or hard of hearing or have a disability
- Use the services of a trained guide, signal or service dog
- Receive benefits from SSI/SSP (Supplemental Security Income/State Supplementary Payment), IHSS (In-Home Supportive Services), SSDI or CAPI (Cash Assistance Program for Immigrants)
Individuals interested in this type of assistance should check with the California Department of Social Services.
Veterans Health Administration Prosthetic and Sensory Aids Service (VHA - PSAS)
The Service Dog Veterinary Health Insurance Benefit (VHIB) provides comprehensive veterinary insurance for veterans' service dogs trained by ADI or IGDF accredited organizations. It covers various services including preventive care, emergency care, medications, and chronic illness treatment. Veterans can receive specialized equipment for their service dogs and financial support for travel to service dog training locations, but must be preapproved for VHIB to access these benefits.
By applying for a grant, you can potentially cover a significant portion of the costs associated with purchasing a service dog.
There are several grant opportunities, such as those offered by The Seeing Eye, Assistance Dog United Campaign, PETCO Foundation and Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) Act of 2021.
Through various fundraising activities like community events, online crowdfunding campaigns or charity auctions, you can gather financial support from a wide network of friends, family and even strangers who are sympathetic to your cause.
Loans can be a practical option for financing the training of your service animal, especially when immediate funds are not available. Repayment terms for these loans can be structured to fit your financial situation, spreading the cost over a period that is manageable for you.
What Type of Insurance Do I Need for a Service Dog?
Liability, pet health and life insurance are all coverage types you should consider for your service dog.
Service Dog Liability Insurance
Service dog liability insurance is important for owners of service animals because it offers financial protection in case the service animal causes harm or damage to another person or their property which might otherwise result in expensive lawsuits and medical bills for the owner. Although service dogs are trained to assist individuals with disabilities, they are still animals and can behave unpredictably.
Pet Health Insurance for Service Dogs
Pet health insurance for service dogs is essential due to their vital role in assisting their owners. Like common health insurance, pet health insurance covers checkups, medications and surgeries. Companies offering this unique brand of insurance include:
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)
- Healthy Paws
- State Farm
- Pets Best Pet Insurance
- Embrace Pet Insurance
- Veterans Health Administration Prosthetic and Sensory Aids Service
Service Dog Life Insurance
Service dog life insurance is an important consideration for owners of these highly trained and indispensable animals. Unlike regular pet insurance, which covers veterinary bills, life insurance for a service dog can address the financial impact of losing a dog that plays a critical role in the owner's daily life. Life insurance can provide financial support during this transition, helping to cover the expenses of acquiring and training a replacement.
Does Insurance Cover Service Dog Training?
Service dog insurance coverage does not typically cover the costs of training a service dog, as they are primarily designed to cover medical expenses and emergencies. However, there are organizations that might offer financial assistance or coverage for service dog training:
- Paws For Life USA: This program focuses on individuals with visible and non-visible disabilities, matching puppies and young dogs to be trained as service dogs to help people regain some of their independence.
- Honoring America’s Warriors: Funded by grants from the Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs and donations, and exclusive to Oklahoma, this program provides service dogs, training, equipment and veterinary care at no cost to qualifying service-connected disabled veterans.
- K9 Partners for Patriots: This organization offers service dogs at no charge to any qualifying veteran, providing unwavering assistance and companionship.
- Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) Act of 2021: This grant program is designed for service dog organizations that provide trained dogs to veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).