Service dogs have a unique ability to change people's lives in a way that no medication, therapy or technology can. They assist with a variety of tasks to help people take care of themselves or to function well in the community. Everyone knows about seeing-eye dogs, but there are also mobility assistance dogs who fetch and pick up items, open doors and more. Yet another type of service dog uses her highly sophisticated sense of smell to alert her handler to impending seizures, dangerous drops in blood sugar or even panic attacks.
In short, service dogs help people live their best lives. However, all of that training comes at a steep price. Service dogs can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000. For many individuals or families, health insurance would represent the only way to afford such expensive medical assistance. Unfortunately, no health insurance, whether Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance, covers the cost of a service dog or any additional expenses, such as the cost of food and care.
Service dogs are not currently covered under any type of insurance.
Obtaining a Service Dog
Although health insurance does not pay for a service dog, other options exist for obtaining one. If you receive disability benefits, you typically receive a large initial check known as a "back benefits" payment. Some people choose to use this sum to pay for a service dog.
Numerous charities exist to pair applicants with a service dog at low or no cost. However, there are often waiting lists.
A third option involves training a service dog yourself. This can be a long process, and the success of the venture often hinges on the personality of the dog itself. Friendly, calm and obedient dogs who can not only behave well in public but also focus on the task at hand despite distractions make the best service dogs.
Owner-trained service dogs remain a possibility due to no formal requirements or certifications for service animals. The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service dog as "any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual or other mental disability." The ADA does not specify that a service dog is professionally trained, but the training it does receive must be for a specific disability.
Adopting or purchasing a dog with the intention of training him to be a service dog, whether on your own or with the help of a professional dog trainer, represents a low-cost option compared to the price of purchasing a "finished" service dog. However, there is no guarantee of success.
Insuring Your Service Dog
Although your own medical insurance does not cover the cost of obtaining a service dog, once you have one, you can protect your investment with an insurance policy for the dog. Pet insurance companies offer different plans to suit your needs. Insuring your service dog helps you provide regular veterinary care, including diagnostic tests, supplements and emergency services. This way, your service dog can continue to work by your side for as long as possible.
- Trupanion: Coverage for Working Pets
- Healthy Paws Pet Insurance: 5 Things You Didn’t Know About Service Dogs
- Disability Benefits Help: Does Medicare or Medicaid Cover Service Animals?
- Healthcare.com: Does Insurance Cover Service Dogs?
- Service Dog Central: Tips for Owner Training
- ADA National Network: Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals