Even the healthiest, best-cared-for dog or cat can come down with a serious medical condition or suffer an injury that can result in hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in veterinary bills. That’s why pet insurance has become increasingly popular. The percentage of insured pets in the U.S. has been rising annually by double digits – 16% between 2018 and 2019. Less than 40 years ago, there was just one pet insurer. Now a host of companies offer pet insurance (including Quorum’s partner). If you’re considering pet insurance, you have a lot of choices.
How Do You Choose the Right Insurance Company and the Right Plan?
Because there are so many offerings, it may feel overwhelming to decide which company, and which type of plan, are best for you and your pet. A good way to start is by talking with friends, family and coworkers with pets to see if any of them have pet insurance and to learn of their experiences with providers. A qualified insurance agent will also be able to guide you through different companies and plans. Doing some online research can be helpful as well. For example, Investopedia has a list of the “best pet insurance companies” for various needs – such as multiple pets, senior pets and animals with hereditary conditions. North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA) provides links to multiple providers. PawlicyAdvisor lets you compare plans from multiple insurers.
Don’t forget to ask your veterinarian what insurance company they recommend. Vets don’t typically submit claims to insurance companies like medical doctors do—pet owners generally pay the vet directly and then submit a claim form and their invoice to the insurance company for reimbursement—however, people in your veterinary office have likely heard stories from clients about their insurance providers. They also know which insurance companies are more likely to require additional documentation beyond the diagnosis and invoice (like the veterinarian’s notes) before they’ll pay for costly treatments.
What Should You Look for in a Policy?
Narrow your search option for pet insurance by first focusing on what kind of medical care you want your pet insurance policy to cover. Do you want a policy that helps cover all of their veterinarian visits, including checkups and treatment for illnesses and accidents? Do you just want to make sure that you have some coverage to help with large vet bills if your pet suffers an injury or becomes ill?
There are four primary kinds of pet insurance policies:
- Accident-only: Some insurers have plans that cover treatment and medication for things like ingestion of poison or foreign objects, lacerations, bites and broken bones. If you have a pet who is always getting in to things they shouldn’t, testing their jumping skills or seems to attract all of the neighborhood bees, this could be a good choice if a policy that also covers illnesses is too costly for you.
- Wellness/preventative only: These cover routine checkups as well as things like vaccinations, flea and heartworm prevention, and spaying/neutering.
- Wellness plus illnesses and accidents (sometimes referred to as “comprehensive” policies): These provide coverage for preventative care and treatment for medical conditions and injuries.
- Major medical only: These cover treatment for most illnesses and accidents/injuries.
Some Important Things to Look at When Comparing Policies
When you start comparing policies, all pets have different needs. Here’s where knowing your pet comes in handy: If you have an older pet, one who has been ill in the past or one whose breed makes it more likely that they’ll have one or more conditions at some point, it’s important to look for certain types of exclusions in the policies. For example, some insurers have upper age limits for new coverage. If you have a senior pet, you’ll want to be sure that there are no maximum age restrictions for coverage or that your pet is under any age cut-off the insurer has. If your pet has been treated for one or more medical conditions in the past, find out what the company’s restrictions are for pre-existing conditions.
If your pet has a chronic condition (diabetes, for example) when you get the policy, insurers won’t cover treatment for that particular condition. A good way to combat this is getting insurance for your pet while they’re still young, as they’re less likely to have many (if any) pre-existing conditions. If you have a dog or cat whose breed is known for developing certain congenital or genetic conditions, make sure those are covered by the plan.
If your pet has had a curable condition, like an ear infection, check to see what the insurer’s waiting period is before it will pay for treatment of that condition if it reoccurs. The length of the waiting period can vary significantly depending on the condition.
Some pets have numerous issues with their teeth throughout their lives, while others just need regular cleanings. If your pet seems to be in that first group, look for a plan that includes coverage for cleaning and tooth extractions. (Note that dental care is typically not covered under wellness-only plans, and even a routine cleaning where the vet doesn’t find a tooth that needs to be extracted can run hundreds of dollars.)
When comparing policies, be sure to look at their payment limits. Insurance companies may cap the benefit they’ll pay to treat a specific condition or injury. They may have a time limit on how long they’ll cover treatment for a condition. They may simply have a lifetime payout limit. This would be a more expensive option, but it allows for better overall coverage during your pet’s life.
What Will the Coverage Cost?
Pet insurance companies offer online quotes based on your pet’s age and breed, and your zip code, where you can compare factors like monthly premiums, deductibles/co-pays, and maximum payments per treatment and per year.
If you’re considering wellness-only coverage, you can determine fairly easily whether having insurance will cost you less than paying for this care yourself. Just compare the cost of the premiums per year (in addition to what the premium covers) with your vet’s wellness service prices.
When it comes to pet insurance for illnesses and injuries, you can’t make a definitive calculation of whether you’ll pay more if you get insurance or you take your chances that your pet won’t require expensive veterinary care. You can prepare for “worst case scenarios” by reviewing policy limits for various conditions and treatments and comparing them to what your vet charges with what you would pay with insurance. Peace of mind is a significant benefit of many types of insurance, and certainly of pet insurance. When it comes to our pets, we want to know that if they become seriously ill or injured, we’ll be able to get them the medical care they need. Buying pet insurance is an emotional decision as well as a financial one. Having pet insurance can help you deal with a vet bill that might otherwise be more than you can handle and give you the peace of mind that you’ll be able to get your animals the medical care they need.
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