WHAT IS PET INSURANCE and HOW DOES IT WORK?
Pet insurance is a healthcare policy for your pet that reimburses you for certain medical expenses. You are still responsible for your veterinary bills, and then you submit your invoices to your pet insurance company to pay you back.
WHY GET PET INSURANCE?
Pet insurance allows you to make decisions based on the best course of treatment for a beloved fur family member rather than being forced to choose the least expensive treatment or, in the worst case, even humane euthanasia to prevent suffering if you can’t afford the cost of treatment. Dr. Jules Benson, the Chief Veterinary Medical Officer at PetPlan explains, “Pet insurance helps pet parents pay their unexpected veterinary bills if a pet gets injured or becomes ill. As veterinary care becomes more advanced, it’s also becoming more expensive, so the need for an affordable alternative is more important than ever.”
Think about what you are seeking with pet insurance. Do you want it just for catastrophic illnesses and accidental injury? Do you want coverage for well-checks and dental? How about prescription coverage? If you or someone close to you uses a computer, get online and google “How to find the right pet insurance.” Make sure you scroll down past all the websites that say “AD” before you start clicking and reading.
DO NOT RUSH into a pet insurance purchase. It may take weeks to do the research necessary to make an informed decision.
HOW MUCH MIGHT IT COST? You may find basic coverage for less than $20 per month per pet. Don’t forget to ask about deductibles, which average from $50 to $100 and up.
KEY POINTS TO CONSIDER BEFORE YOU BUY PET INSURANCE
1. It is best to begin pet insurance when an animal is relatively young. The moment a medical note documenting a health concern goes into a pet’s file, it is probably too late to get health insurance for that condition. When you apply for insurance, many companies want to see your pet’s medical records. Some will only ask for a period of time, while others want every single note ever added.
2. Most pet insurance is not designed to cover all your costs, but to defray your out-of-pocket expense. Look for companies that cover all unexpected accidents, and illnesses including genetic and hereditary conditions. Most wellness care, vaccinations, and spay/neuter are not covered, but you can find plans that cover these, usually at a premium cost. Things like boarding and grooming are not considered pet medical expenses.
3. Pet insurance is a reimbursement to the owner. In most cases, you must still pay your vet, and then you submit your invoices from your veterinarian to be reimbursed. Find out how fast they pay - some companies are great at getting your money back quickly. There are companies now that will let you submit invoices online. Ask how quickly reimbursement occurs.
4. Never buy pet insurance without using the “Get a Quote” figure to do your own research. Get multiple quotes for the best pricing for the features you want.
5. Consider different companies for multiple pets. Are you a dog, cat, pocket pet, or exotic pet owner? Some companies are better for dogs, while others offer better coverage for cats. However, some companies do offer multi-pet discounts for the same household, so be sure to ask about that.
6. Do not choose pet insurance based only on how much the monthly premiums are. Consider the other factors, including deductibles, co-pays, and claim reimbursement limits.
7. Read ALL the terms and conditions to make sure senior pets, certain breeds, and some hereditary conditions are not excluded. Call the company and ask specific questions if you need to.
8. Ask for a list of exclusions based on your pet's past medical history and breed. Although usually, you have to purchase the policy first to receive this type of review, you can always ask a customer service representative about your pet’s particular health issues to see whether anything would not be covered. Don’t get a nasty surprise AFTER you have purchased coverage.
9. Don’t wait until your pet gets sick or injured. Almost all plans exclude pre-existing conditions AND there’s a waiting period before coverage kicks in. You have to submit your pet’s medical history for review first.
10. Find out the minimum and maximum ages for enrollment. Dogs and cats may have different guidelines.
11. Find out how and when your premium could increase. Most insurance companies will raise your premium when your pet ages or becomes what they determine to be a senior age. They may boast that they will never drop your pet from being covered or reduce the coverage, but they will probably increase the premium instead.
12. Ask how long the 3 waiting periods are. Find out how long you will have to wait for coverage before they will cover 1) an accident, 2) illness or 3) an orthopedic condition.
13. NO pet insurance covers pre-existing conditions. Ask for a list of pre-existing conditions and also find out which types of things are considered to be pre-existing conditions that the policy won’t cover. This usually includes diabetes, allergies, cancer, heart disease, arthritis, and epilepsy, etc.
14. Understand the company’s “bilateral” policy condition. A bilateral condition is any condition that can happen on both sides of the body. Some companies have restrictions on how much they will cover for these types of conditions. Examples of bilateral conditions include hip dysplasia, which could happen in both hips, and cruciate injuries - if your dog tears one cruciate ligament, it is quite possible he will eventually tear the other. These are costly surgical repairs, so make sure both would be covered.
15. Pet insurance is a business designed for profit. They can and may change your rates and terms to meet that priority. A change of business ownership or underwriters can also be a catalyst for changes in your rates and terms. Look at the company’s history and long-term track record. How long have they been providing pet insurance, how many times has the company changed hands?
WHERE DO I START?
ConsumerAdvocate.org provides a comprehensive ranking of all pet insurance companies based on their reimbursement policies, their coverage, and reviews from pet owners.
Google “best pet insurance, best pet insurance for dogs, or best pet insurance for cats.” Skip the ads at the top and start looking at the links below that.
Consider making yourself a chart with companies listed down the side and the things that you want to know across the top. Fill in the information so you can compare companies. While we do not work with specific companies at this time, we suggest you consider starting your research with any or all of the following companies):