What Is Pet Insurance?
The current model of pet insurance is reimbursement insurance. You pay the veterinarian, then file a claim, and the insurance company reimburses you an amount that's had the deductible and copay, plus any uncovered expenses, deducted.
In human medicine, the healthcare provider usually files the claim and is reimbursed directly by the insurance company. The patient typically pays just a deductible and/or copay and walks out the door.
There are also networks (managed care) in human healthcare. So far, this is very limited in pet health insurance.
Most people's health insurance is provided by their employer in a group type policy. Pet insurance is rapidly becoming a popular employee benefit that companies are offering their employees. At this time, most if not all of the premium is paid by the employee through a deduction from their paycheck.
- Although it falls in the property and casualty insurance category, pet insurance is health insurance.
- With pet insurance, owners pay the vet bill, file a claim, and get reimbursed by the insurance company.
- Accident and illness coverage is probably the best insurance option to buy.
- Owners of pets with chronic condition such as diabetes may not be able to obtain accident and illness coverage.
- Pet health insurance can help protect your assets and give the pet you love the potentially expensive medical care they may need.
Watch Now: How Does Pet Insurance Work?
Types of Pet Insurance Coverage
Though accident-only pet health insurance policies are available from some companies, the coverage is limited. It covers things like fractures and lacerations. It doesn't cover illnesses such as infections, diabetes, allergies, and more.
To get broad coverage for most of the things that could happen to a pet, choose a policy that covers both accidents and illnesses.
Wellness care coverage is offered by many companies, usually as an add-on rider. This type of coverage helps pay for wellness exams, vaccinations, tests to screen for parasites, heartworm preventative, flea and tick products, spay or neuter, and teeth cleaning.
Wellness care costs are predictable and easier to budget for. You know you're going to pay for at least some wellness care services every year. What's more, you usually know about how much it's going to cost and when it is due.
Some pet owners and vets may feel that wellness care coverage doesn't make sense. Most people are already paying for the services out of pocket. Exceptions to that view involve puppies and kittens. With very young animals, several wellness visits will be required. Spay or neuter may be needed.
Furthermore, senior pets (those age 7 and older) typically need semiannual exams, more frequent teeth cleaning, and wellness lab testing more often.
Accident and Illness
Accidents and illnesses are unexpected events. You don’t know when such an event will occur or how much it will cost. Not uncommonly, medical care for these events is expensive, sometimes costing pet owners thousands of dollars.
Therefore, it's probably a good idea for pet owners to select a company that offers the best accident and illness coverage for their pet. The main focus should be on coverage for those things the pet owner cannot afford to pay out of pocket.
Factors That Affect Coverage
Some insurance companies may not offer accident/illness coverage for pets who already have certain chronic conditions such as diabetes and feline leukemia. Instead, pets with these conditions are offered accident-only policies.
Some companies may offer people with older pets either accident-only coverage or downgraded accident/illness coverage (higher deductible, lower reimbursement percentage, and lower annual maximum).
Also, certain insurance companies don't offer accident/illness coverage to pets over a certain age.
Some insurance companies, such as Nationwide, insure exotic pets like pocket pets, reptiles, and birds, but most pet insurance offerings are limited to dogs and cats.
What's Not Covered By Pet Insurance?
Exclusions vary from company to company. They're usually listed in a sample policy available on company websites. The big one, pre-existing conditions, is the reason the vast majority of claims are denied.
Pet owners should ask whether a pet insurance company will review their pet’s medical record and let them know up front if there are any conditions that they consider pre-existing and won’t be covered.
Unfortunately, not all companies do this automatically. So be sure to ask a company for a review before you choose it to insure your pet.
The Cost of Pet Insurance
Pet health insurance premiums are generally based on a pet's age, breed, and zip code. Premiums are higher for older pets because they are more prone to chronic diseases. The breed matters because some have more problems than others. Zip codes are important because veterinary care costs more in some locations than others.
Pet insurance premiums will increase over time. However, pet insurance companies allow people to customize the coverage to fit their budget.
You can choose among several annual maximums, deductibles, copays, and optional add-ons. Consider getting the best coverage you can afford at sign-up. You can always downgrade coverage to get lower premiums if the amount you're paying rises above your comfort zone.
When a company files its rates with the state, they have to show premium factors for every age, breed, and zip code that also correspond with each possible combination of policy maximum, deductible, and copay options they offer.
For $5,000 annual coverage, the average monthly pet insurance premium for dogs is $35. The average monthly premium for cats is $28. For unlimited annual coverage, the average premium for dogs is $56. For cats, it's $50.
Examples of Premiums
Generally, puppy premiums for most companies are $25–$60 per month without wellness coverage.
A policy with a $100 annual deductible and $0 copay will trend toward the higher number, whereas a policy with a $500 annual deductible, 20% copay will trend toward the lower number. For older dogs, the range could be $60–$200 per month.
Premiums for cats can be roughly half the premiums for dogs. Statistics show that of all the pets insured in the U.S., about 80% to 85% are dogs and only 15% to 20% are cats. So cat owners should know that it is very affordable to insure their cat—even if they're older.
Many cat owners may think that if they have an indoor cat, they don't need pet insurance. However, the top 10 conditions for which cat owners file claims are chronic or recurring conditions. These are just as likely, if not more so, to occur in indoor cats as outdoor cats.
When people get a quote on insurance for a young pet, they should also find out what the same coverage will cost when the pet is 8 to 10 years old. This will reveal the premiums a company charges for older pets and can be a real eye-opener.
There is a wide variation in premiums for older pets between companies. Querying various companies, the same maximum coverage amount, deductible, and copay options on a 10-year-old dog resulted in a premium range of $65 to $175.
The Value of Pet Insurance
Many pet owners have no idea of how much it can cost to treat a serious acute illness. Therefore, they don't have a plan to pay for unexpected accidents or illnesses when they occur.
They also tend to underestimate the costs of monitoring and treating a chronic illness over the lifetime of a pet, which can easily be thousands of dollars.
Pet insurance can be part of an overall plan to pay for such events. Pet owners could also earmark savings accounts for veterinary expenses. The purpose of pet insurance is to help bridge the gap between the costs of the healthcare a pet needs right now while savings are being gradually built up over time.
Pet owners might also consider a line of credit (credit card) dedicated to pet healthcare because of the way pet insurance works. Remember, you have to pay the vet bill up front and then get reimbursed. Most people don't have the ability to pay large vet bills out of pocket.
Bear in mind that we buy pet insurance to protect our assets and pay for medical care that's needed. If something unexpected happens, you'll have peace of mind knowing that your ability to pay doesn't depend on the size of your bank account.
Now, if you have the funds to pay any vet bill no matter how expensive, you don't need pet insurance. If you are someone who's not going to spend over a certain amount of money on your pet (e.g., $500), then you don't need pet insurance, either. However, the vast majority of pet owners don't fall into either of these camps.
You can generally use your pet insurance at any licensed veterinarian including at university, emergency, or specialty hospitals.
Regulation of Pet Insurance
Pet insurance is generally regulated by each state's department of insurance. If a problem occurs, you can seek help there or at the Better Business Bureau (BBB) (if a company is a member).
However, always try to resolve an issue directly with the pet insurance company first. Pet insurance companies have an appeals process to evaluate your complaint. It's spelled out in your pet insurance policy.
For example, if a claim is denied, it can be reviewed again by a different claims adjuster, a veterinarian on their staff, or sometimes by a veterinarian independent of the insurance company, who can rule in your favor and overturn the denial by the pet insurance company.
That said, not many denied claims are overturned. However, it's worth a shot and should be the first course of action if you have a complaint.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was designed to assist consumers with complaints related to financial products and services. If you suspect a law has been broken by your pet insurance company, you can file a complaint.
Alternatives to Pet Insurance
Eusoh is a community sharing platform similar to Medishare in human healthcare. It looks the most like pet insurance and has a monthly cap on contributions by members.
Therefore, for a lot of pet owners, the costs can be significantly less than pet insurance premiums. Pre-existing conditions aren't covered.
Pet Assure is a discount club where members get 25% off of most veterinary services performed at hospitals in their network. Generally, it doesn't cover things like lab testing referred to facilities outside the hospital, or take-home medications or prescriptions. However, pre-existing conditions aren't excluded.
In some areas of the country (smaller markets, rural areas), the number of veterinarians in their network is limited. They provide a search tool to find any veterinarians in your area.
Pawp is a 24/7 telemedicine service that also makes available an emergency fund of up to $3,000 (one-time access per year). You have to be referred by one of their veterinarians to a vet for a true emergency situation to gain access to the emergency fund.
Up to six pets in a household are eligible for access to the fund. Pre-existing conditions are covered.
Third-Party Financing and Payment Plans
Some veterinarians use third-party financing through, for example, CareCredit, Wells Fargo, and Scratchpay. Veterinarians also have the option to offer in-house payment plans through VetBilling and Veterinary Care Plans (VCP).
VetBilling offers payment plans for acute, unexpected accidents and illnesses as well as pet savings accounts and prepayment plans. VCP specializes in wellness care plans and payment plans for treatment of dental care and chronic diseases.
The payment plan alternatives that VetBilling and VCP offer can actually complement a pet insurance policy when a pet owner with an insured pet can’t afford to pay a large bill up front.
If their veterinarian uses one of these services, a payment plan will allow them to pay a large bill in several installments. After filing a claim, the pet insurance reimbursements can help them pay off the bill.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is There Some Kind of Dental Pet Insurance?
Generally, there are two categories of dental events. Dental accidents (broken teeth) and dental illnesses (periodontal disease, feline tooth resorption, or gingivitis/stomatitis). Considering that periodontal disease is the most frequent disease diagnosed by veterinarians in pets (especially dogs), it should be covered. Feline tooth resorption and gingivitis/stomatitis can be very expensive to treat. So try to get insurance that covers both dental accidents and illness.
Is Pet Insurance a One-Size-Fits-All Product?
No, it isn't. A pet insurance company and policy need to be chosen based on the needs of the pet, the wants of the pet owner, and the budget available for the pet's healthcare expenses. These differ for all pets and owners. Do your due diligence. Always read a sample policy before buying pet insurance. You'll find a lot of information that you won't find on a company's website. If you don't understand something, call the company for clarification.
Should I Speak to a Pet Insurance Rep Before Buying?
Certainly. You don't have to limit yourself to information that's available on a website. Talking to a representative of a company can result in added or updated details. It can also give you an idea of the company's customer service. Such a conversation just might be the deciding factor for which company to choose to insure your pet.
The Bottom Line
Spending on insurance can feel like a waste of money to some. However, when you're able to protect the well-being of the pets you love because you have pet insurance, the cost is worth it for most.
Be sure to carefully review the pet insurance coverage offered by various companies. Consider the reasons and times that your pet might need medical care.
Pet insurance can be a vital financial advantage that helps protect your assets when a health crisis occurs. It can mean that a very important member of your family gets the proper care they need, when they need it.