Any good pet parent will want the best in health and quality of care for their furry family members. We’ll feed our cats and dogs the best food for their well-being, and provide them with love and affection, but there are just some pet health events that are hard to control for and manage on our own: unforeseen accidents and medical illnesses.
Accidents – such as a pet getting bone fractures from a car crash, are so unexpected and devastating. Other times, our seemingly healthy canine or feline companion can develop chronic conditions such as cancer that require several follow-up treatments. The emotional aftershocks are enough to deal with, and the added strain of financial ramifications should not be another burden. The best and most far-sighted solution is to have pet insurance to cover our pets before those unforeseen events hit us.
When we at ValuePenguin started looking into veterinary insurance plans for pets, we realized that the pet insurance market was overwhelmingly confusing. Insurance providers have different kinds of veterinary and medical benefits covered in various packages, different payment structures, and claims processes. Not only would we need a firm grasp of individual plans, but we also had to compare pet insurance companies to make sure we were paying a reasonable amount. ValuePenguin has put together our collective knowledge into this article on buying pet insurance, as well as a pet insurance comparison tool that lets you see different premium quotes from eight companies all at once. Pressed for time? See here for ValuePenguin's top three pet insurance plans.
5 Tips You Need to Know about Pet Insurance
- Insure your pet as soon as possible: Insurance providers start phasing older dogs out of general medical coverage. They also universally don’t cover pre-existing conditions, so by the time Fido or Kitty develops something, it may be too late to get a plan that will pay for their diagnosis and treatment.
- Accident and Illness coverage makes the most sense: If you’re considering pet insurance, you should get coverage for accidents and illnesses to be safe. It’s reasonable to expect that at some point, your pet is going to have at least one of each. For our peace of mind, and budgets, go with this.
- Research your pet’s breed history: See if there are any genetic conditions or illnesses he or she is likely to develop, and check that the insurer covers that medical event for your dog. Some plans will only cover hereditary or congenital diseases if your pet is enrolled prior to his or her second birthday.
- Read the fine print: Especially on what gets covered. Do companies cover the vet office visit fee, the diagnosis and treatment fees, and the prescription medications? ValuePenguin came across several companies with different policies on these, so it is important to compare policies across the different pet insurers you're considering.
- Understand your deductibles: Is there an annual or an incident limit? Is that incident limit a lifetime limit, or does it an annual incident limit that gets renewed every year? Or are you getting paid out on a fee schedule? There are creative ways to structure benefits payments, so start with ValuePenguin's tool to see where insurers' quotes line up.
Above all, compare, compare, and compare. Compare pet insurance plans to make sure you’re getting the best bark (coverage) for your buck!
Understanding Pet Insurance Plan Coverage & Policies
Next, you should understand the key phrases and terms used by insurers and their significance for you and your furry best friend. Once you become familiar, you’ll be easily able to weed out the plans that don’t suit your pet, and focus your attention on the plans that give your companion animal the medical benefits he or she really needs.
For example, some veterinary plans will only pay out for accidents, or illnesses. Some companies don’t cover diabetes, which seems to be a standard disease most other companies will pay for. Another company covers hereditary and congenital diseases, but doesn’t cover hip dysplasia (which certain breeds are pre-disposed to). Or, this provider won’t insure our older pets once they’re past the age of 6, or 7 in the general medical plan, and will only give them accident coverage. It’s good to arm yourself with knowledge to navigate the companion animal insurance industry.
Pre-Existing Conditions: Universally, pet insurance plans exclude and will not cover pre-existing conditions. A pre-existing condition is an illness or injury that your pet has before the plan gets started (or the initial waiting period is over). It doesn’t matter that a vet hasn’t diagnosed your companion animal yet. So long as symptoms or the condition started before your plan or waiting period ended, it’s likely not going to be covered. The silver lining is that some plans will treat any healable or curable diseases after a waiting period (anywhere from three to six months).
Incident: This is a broad term that means any one medical event, and can generally be broken into a vet examination / office visit, the diagnostic materials, treatment plans, medications, hospitalization, and follow-up visits as applicable.
Accidents: Generally speaking, accidents are unexpected and unpreventable incidents, and can cover emergencies such as broken bones, burns, swallowed objects, poisonings, and broken teeth.
Illness: Any general sickness, disease, infection, or medical problem with your pet that isn’t an accident. Examples include allergies, diabetes, heart disease, upset stomachs, skin bites or wounds, and cancer.
Chronic condition: These are medical conditions that are diagnosed in one plan period, but would require recurring care in future plan periods. Allergies, cancer, and hip dysplasia are some examples of recurring issues.
Hereditary condition: Certain breeds are predisposed towards developing certain kinds of illnesses. This is important to note because plans may not cover specific hereditary conditions for your dog’s breed at all, or subject it to an additional deductible. Some insurance plans will even exclude associated or secondary (but related) diseases to the primary hereditary issue. For example, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds tend to develop epilepsy more frequently than other breeds.
Congenital condition: This is a defect or unique condition that is present at the birth of your dog. For example, congenital kidney disease or familial renal disease, have been reported in shih tzus. Its significance lies in whether your insurance covers or excludes it.
Alternative or holistic therapy: Treatment or therapy plans such as chiropractic therapy or acupuncture. Some plans will cover any kind of care a veterinarian will deem best to treat a pet, while others exclude these alternative treatments.
Wellness: A general category that includes routine and preventative care. Fleas, ticks, heartworms, vaccines, and routine dental care generally fall into this section. Typical pet insurers will have this as optional additions, or include this in their more comprehensive and premium packages.
Exclusions: Sometimes, the number of items under insurance plans is longer than the list of items covered. It’s always worthwhile to look at this, because certain unpleasant surprises can be found. In summary, most of these conditions are medically unnecessary, or elective or cosmetic treatments. Common exclusions are: declawing, accidents or injuries caused by pet owners, or administrative fees related to veterinary visits. One unexpected surprise we found was that diabetes was excluded in one plan.
Waiting Period: Before your plan coverage actually kicks in, there may be a waiting period before you can start getting benefits. It is on average about fourteen days.
How Much does Pet Insurance Cost?
The average cost of pet insurance will vary generally based on your dog's breed, and where you live. Most plans cost on average around $20 - $40 a month, depending on coverage and extra benefits. One of the biggest differences to note is that if you live in a large metropolitan city such as New York City, or Los Angeles, you can unfortunately expect your furry pet's veterinary insurance premium to be 20 - 40% higher than if you had lived elsewhere.
Quotes and Premiums: Insurance companies will provide you with a quote of your premium, which is what you can expect to pay per month for medical insurance for your pet. Some providers offer a discount if you pay the premiums upfront each year. Does this make sense for the benefits you’re getting, and your own household budget? Make sure to compare this quote with others in our tool.
Deductible: This is the amount you have to incur before an insurance company like Embrace or Healthy Paws will begin to pay for your coverage.
- Make sure you figure out if this is an annual, or incident deductible, or both. Why? If Fido or Kitty gets into an accident in January, and veterinary costs are $200, and your deductible is $100, you may think you’re in the clear. You may expect future costs to be covered immediately after, but come an allergy sickness in April and May, you may have to meet another deductible of $100. Your effective deductible could actually be $200.
Co-pay or Reimbursement Rates: Let’s say I want to just pay 10% of future medical bills for my pets. That means a 10% co-pay rate, which is the same as a 90% reimbursement rate. For example, after Fido’s bone fracture in January, I can expect 90% of his allergy bills in the Spring to be covered. Let’s say that is $100 – this means I have to pay $10, but my pet insurer will cover the rest of the $90.
Maximum, Limits, and Ceilings: This is the most an insurer will pay out. It can be for all accidents, all illnesses, or anything covering a certain body part, etc.
- Timeframe: annual and renewable, or lifetime. Let’s say my insurance company will only reimburse me up to $1,000 a year for allergies each year – that’s pretty fair given Fido’s history with allergies, and I don’t expect to get vet expenses more than that. But if it’s a lifetime maximum of $5,000, and Fido is still a pretty young dog, then that policy will not work for me.
- Scope: per incident, per category, or per overall policy. Is this maximum towards all costs that happen during the year, or only for certain kinds of events (certain accidents, or illnesses, etc.)