Pet Insurance: What should you know?
Let's talk about money. Pet expenses have been gradually increasing between better food, better home supplies (beds, toys, etc), better preventative care, and better emergency care. Usually we can budget for monthly expenses like food, plan ahead for routine preventative care and vet visits, and splurge for things like new toys or an extra comfy bed. But what happens when the unexpected emergency arises? Not everyone is prepared to spend $3,500 for a torn cruciate ligament or urinary obstruction. No one plans on their pet getting cancer or being hit by a car. To me, this is when pet insurance can be the most helpful.
If you have pet insurance, or have been thinking of getting it, you are not alone. Pet insurance has been increasing in use. At the end of 2017 approximately 1.83 million
pets were insured in the United States, which is a 16.8% increase from 2016 (Source: North American Pet Health Insurance Association). With pets living longer than ever and never knowing if your pet will be diagnosed with a chronic condition or have an unexpected accident, it makes sense for many pet owners to look to insurance for backup.
So, do you need it? Well, like all good decisions, it depends. Checkbook. org, an independent, non-profit consumer organization that rates products and services, did a recent analysis on pet insurance companies and compared rates and pricing. The results were, in general, if a pet had no little to no health issues, then insurance would cost more than care. If there were any serious issues though, then insurance would be worth it. The question to ask may be what do you prefer? Some people prefer to have a pet savings account and add in a budget for emergencies. Some would prefer the safety net of having pet insurance. The AVMA has this quick read for more considerations.
What types of items does pet insurance pay for? That depends on the company and the plan. In general, preventative care plans have a difficult time being cost effective, so do the math if considering this type of plan. Emergency (accident & illness) is the most common type of insurance coverage. Things to look into are deductible, breed exclusions, age exclusions, and pre-existing conditions. There is no ACA for pets, so pre-existing conditions will not be covered. Because of this, getting insurance when a pet is young is usually the best plan. Older pets can still get coverage, but as with any contract, read the fine print.
What to look for in a pet insurance company? General guidelines, as provided by the AVMA, is that pet health insurance policies should:
Require a veterinarian-client-patient relationship
Allow policy holders to choose their own veterinarians, including specialists and emergency and critical care facilities
Never interfere with the veterinarian's fee structures (no price fixing)
Be approved by the state insurance regulatory agency where the policy is sold
Be consistent with the Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics and the pet health insurance industry ethical standards
Use licensed veterinarians to assist in claims adjudication
Be clear about policy limits, pricing structures, and optional coverage (eg, coverage for annual wellness visits) that might be available to policy holders
Be transparent about how the terms and conditions of plans will impact coverage and costs, including the financial obligations of policy holders such as co-pays, deductibles, and exclusions
Communicate clearly about the fee reimbursement process (ie, how reimbursements are determined and how quickly reimbursements are provided to policy holders)
What are the best companies out there? This will depend on your pet, your budget, and what you are looking for. My research came across many different companies, claiming to be the best. I have narrowed it down to a top few. By no means is this a specific endorsement nor comprehensive list.
Healthy Paws: rate does not increase with age once enrolled; annual deductible; acupuncture and hydrotherapy are covered; claim app
Trupanion: rate does not increase with age once enrolled; deductible per condition; acupuncture available as additional option
PetPlan: rate increases as pet ages; annual deductible; claims app
Please note that pet insurance differs from wellness plans offered at a specific hospital.
Pet insurance is a third party that will reimburse you after care. You pay your veterinarian and submit a receipt. You then are issued payment based on your plan. You can go to any hospital, including a specialist or emergency hospital. Unlike human insurance, referrals to a specialist are not required for veterinary medicine.
Wellness plans are offered by specific hospitals (or corporate veterinary services). These plans are typically set up so that you pay the hospital a specific amount or monthly fee and they cover a specific list of items/services at that location only. These will not normally help during an emergency.
Looking for more information? Check out these articles for additional reading: