Emotional support animals are an invaluable resource for people living with disabilities. These disabilities can range from anxiety, depression, to a wide range of conditions. They provide indispensable psychological healing that makes life all the more bearable for their owners.
Many people who live with such disabilities rely on these assistance animals to function productively in their day to day lives. However, the cost of obtaining, feeding, and caring for these animals can be outrageous.
If you need an emotional support animal to help mitigate the effects of your disability, you may be wondering if your health insurance can help you with all of the associated costs. Regardless, you’ll want to know all of your options for financial support with this costly endeavor.
Read on to learn what role insurance can or cannot play in helping you to obtain an emotional support animal, and what other avenues of financial assistance are available to you.
What is an Emotional Support Animal?
Before we begin discussing the role of insurance and the financial ramifications of the whole endeavor, let’s clarify some basic terms. For instance, what exactly is an emotional support animal?
An emotional support animal, or ESA, is an animal that provides companionship, affection, comfort, and psychological healing to its owner to mitigate the effects of a disability. They serve a higher purpose than a common house pet because they enable the disabled individual to function better when they are around.
Because of this, ESAs have certain rights, such as protection against housing discrimination under the Fair Housing Act and access to the cabin of an airplane with an ESA letter from a mental health professional. However, it’s important to note that ESA’s are no longer a protected class of animal on airplanes and certain airlines no longer allow them to fly for free. The Fair Housing Act also states that landlords cannot charge a pet deposit fee for an assistance animal.
How Do They Differ from Service Dogs?
ESAs are not to be confused with service dogs, which are trained to fulfill tasks for their owners that they are unable to accomplish due to their disabilities, such as serving as a guide dog for owners with visual impairments. ESAs are also distinct from therapy dogs, which are used to provide psychological healing to a community of patients rather than one specific owner.
While ESAs do not require any kind of specific training according to the law, they are a protected category of assistance animals with certain rights, and they are a valuable asset for people living with disabilities.
Does Standard Human Health Insurance Cover the Cost of ESAs?
So now that we understand the different categories of assistance animals and what they do, let’s return to the topic at hand. Will your insurance policy cover all of or even a fraction of the exorbitant costs that need to be paid to obtain and care for an emotional support animal?
Unfortunately, the answer to this question is not inspiring. No insurance company, whether privately owned or operated at the state or federal level, will cover the cost of obtaining, feeding, and providing veterinary care to an assistance animal, whether they are an ESA, a service dog, or a therapy dog.
While your insurance policy may help you with a lot of other costs relating to your health and well-being, any costs relating to your assistance animal, such as adoption fees, food, veterinary bills, and training fees, will have to be paid out of pocket.
This is probably not the answer you had hoped to hear when searching for ways to fund an ESA. However, rest assured that all hope is not lost. There are other avenues outside of just insurance coverage that can be used to obtain financial assistance with ESA adoption.
Let’s examine a few of these options below.
Ways to Finance the Cost of Your ESA
1. Service Animal Assistance Programs
Luckily, when your insurance fails you, other social services can help make up for the deficit. In this case, Social Security Disability Service Animal Assistance Programs are your knight in shining armor.
These are nonprofit organizations that work to raise and train assistance animals. They offer adoption services to people with disabilities, and depending on the state of your need, they may offer these services for free or at a reduced cost.
These organizations typically have long waiting lists, so it could be some time before you actually obtain your ESA. But they provide a wonderful service and are a great option to have for people in need of financial assistance.
Some of these organizations include the:
- International Association of Assistance Dog Partners
- Canine Companions for Independence
- Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind
2. Medicare/Medicaid Disability Benefits
While Medicare and Medicaid will not cover costs related to obtaining and caring for an assistance animal outright, the disability benefits that you receive from these programs may provide you with enough income to be able to afford it. This way, Medicare and Medicaid are still technically giving you the money for the ESA, but when you pay for these services you will be paying out of pocket.
Often when Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries are first starting out, they will receive a large lump sum that is referred to as “back benefits” which amounts to more than the regular monthly payments. Many beneficiaries opt to use this money to cover the cost of the ESA.
If you are uncertain what benefits you are entitled to under Medicare or Medicaid, you may wish to seek the assistance of a disability attorney or advocate.
3. Train Your Own Assistance Animal
The final way to cut costs on obtaining a service animal is the Do-It-Yourself method. If you already have a well-behaved dog that has a suitable demeanor and is young enough to be trained, you can train the animal to be an ESA yourself.
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) does not specifically require any degree of professional training for an ESA, so an animal that fulfills the functions of an ESA but was trained by its owner will still qualify as an ESA under the law.
This method can be a bit of a gamble, though, as there is no guarantee that your existing animal will respond well to the training. If you choose this option, it is also recommended to take out a pet insurance policy on the animal in case the need for emergency veterinary care arises.
While insurance isn’t a possible source of financial assistance for adopting and caring for an emotional support animal, there are plenty of other avenues to choose from that can help you obtain the service animal that is right for you. For further assistance, contact a real professional at ESA Registration today!