You have insurance for your health, your car, your home… but what about your pets? If you don’t currently have pet insurance, you’re not alone. While around 68% of U.S. households own pets, only 1% of those pets are insured, according to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA).
But given the price of vet care, it’s worth looking into. A serious illness or injury can take a financial toll, even when the patient is a pet. Cancer treatments can easily run $5,000; surgery to fix a torn ACL from, say, a poorly executed jump off the sofa can cost about $3,300. Pet insurance is sold with the promise that by helping to cover some of your pet’s medical bills, you won’t be forced to consider “economic euthanasia” in the most dire circumstances. If you feel like pet insurance is something you would consider, read on and learn more.
7 Tips You Need to Know about Pet Insurance
- Enroll your pet as soon as possible: It’s important to enroll pets when they’re young and healthy to avoid limited coverage due to pre-existing conditions and to reduce the cost of your policy. Just as with human health insurance, pet health insurance premiums can increase as the policyholder ages.
- 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.
- Choose Coverage that Works for You: Do you want coverage for known routine wellness (vaccinations, flea and heartworm prevention, wellness exams and tests), unknown medical care (chronic conditions, surgeries and hospitalization, prescriptions, exams, lab tests, illnesses, injuries) or complete care with coverage that includes hereditary conditions and wellness?
- Check Out the Insurer’s Track Record Look at the pet insurance provider’s track record for dependability. The key to choosing a pet health insurance provider you can count on is to go with the company that has proven stability, experience and recommendations.
- Research What’s Covered — and What Might Affect Coverage Some pet health insurance plans may have exclusions for conditions that are pre-existing, hereditary, congenital, or related to breeding, and may apply restrictions on your coverage when you file a claim.Before you enroll, make sure you know and understand what factors may affect coverage, such as your pet’s breed and any pre-existing conditions.
- 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, check with insurance provider and compare plans.
- Ask About Discounts Did you know you might be able to score a discount on your premium? Nationwide pet insurance offers a 5% discount to families with 2-3 pets and 10% to those with 4 or more pets. Those already enrolled in another Nationwide policy (such as home, auto) are also eligible for an additional 5% discount on select Nationwide pet insurance policies that can be combined with one of the multiple pet discounts.
Types of Pet Insurance Policies
An increasing number of companies offer pet insurance plans, but not all plans are the same. That means you’ll need to do some comparison shopping to find the right plan for your pet’s needs. In general, there are a few primary types of pet insurance plans available:
- Accident-Only Plans: These plans provide coverage for treatment required in the event that your pet has an accident and suffers an injury. For instance, these plans may cover treatment for burns or broken bones. Accident-only plans do not, however, cover treatment related to illness.
- Pet Wellness Plans: These plans offer coverage for routine treatments and prevention, including annual wellness exams, vaccinations, and flea and tick preventatives.
- Time-Limited Policies: Time-limited pet insurance policies will cover treatment up to a maximum dollar amount, such as $1,500, per condition, and coverage for that condition ends after a specified time period, such as 12 months, after which the condition is excluded from coverage. For instance, if your pet develops diabetes, a time-limited policy would cover the first $1,500 of treatment or treatment for the first 12 months after diagnosis, whichever comes first. Because of these limitations, time-limited plans are often more affordable than more comprehensive policies.
- Maximum-Benefit Policies: Similar to time-limited policies, maximum-benefit policies cap the dollar amount that the plan will cover for a condition. The primary difference between the two is that there is no time limitation on coverage for a condition with a maximum benefit plan – this policy would continue to cover treatment indefinitely, until the maximum dollar amount has been reached.
- Lifetime Policies: Also known as covered-for-life policies, lifetime policies are among the most comprehensive pet insurance plans available. As such, they’re also the most expensive option. For pets requiring ongoing treatment for chronic illness or expensive surgical procedures, it’s a worthy investment. But again, no one has a crystal ball (at least not one that actually allows us to see into the future).
What does pet insurance cover?
There are various types of pet insurance available. You need to consider carefully the best policy for your beloved pet.
Generally, pet insurance covers a number of animals, but you can also find policies that cover specific animals such as dog insurance or cat insurance. A number of insurance companies don’t provide insurance for exotic pets such as spiders and snakes, so check with the provider to find out which pets are covered.
Crucially, the most common and basic pet insurance only covers accidents or illnesses that occur during your pet’s lifetime. They don’t typically cover costs that arise from regular vet visits or vaccinations.
Many insurance companies also don’t provide first time cover for pets that are above a certain age. Therefore, you should look for insurance as soon as you get a pet. As your pet ages, the company might also raise the premium, so check this before you purchase the cover.
Exclusions are different situations that might arise from your pet becoming ill or injured that aren’t covered by the insurance. Different insurance companies have different exclusions within their policies.
The most common exclusion is that pre-existing conditions aren’t covered by your insurance. For example, if you are changing your dog insurance and your dog has diabetes, the new insurance might not cover the condition. There are sometimes exceptions to this and you must check with your provider.
Other exclusions might include problems during your pet’s pregnancy or home visits.
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.)
Buying insurance is never an easy thing, if you are tired of picking an insurance for your pet, check with your breeder or veterinarian, they may give you some valuable recommendations and suggestions.