Enter pet insurance. Just like people health insurance, this type of insurance seeks to help even out the cost of your pet’s everyday medical care and protect your wallet in case of a health emergency. Unlike people health insurance, pet insurance is kind of all over the board in what it offers and what it costs.
Some pet insurance covers things like wellness visits and regular vaccinations. But many insurance policies are effectively for emergencies only. However, this type of insurance can be a good way to protect yourself from potential budget-breaking emergency pet care or long-term illnesses.
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Types of Coverage We Found
With human health insurance, some coverages are mandated by law. So you know what to expect when you’re looking at health care plans, and you can also look at plans that use standardized language. With pet health insurance, things may be a little different. No one regulates what pet insurers must provide or may not charge, so everything is a bit more up in the air.
For instance, we saw many plans that were only for emergencies. These plans covered 90% of your costs after the original examination. But they excluded everything pre-existing and preventative care like vaccinations, flea and heartworm medicine, and spaying and neutering. These plans are the equivalent of catastrophic health insurance for humans. They’ll keep you from breaking the bank in an emergency but come with a lot of exclusions.
Other plans have limited coverage for wellness care and standard vaccinations. However, these plans can be a lot more expensive, so it’s often best to just budget for these costs alongside your pet insurance premiums. We recommend using Personal Capital to build and track your budget.
What About Pre-Existing Conditions?
As of right now, no pet insurance plans cover pre-existing conditions. And some have limitations on treatment for common hereditary conditions, such as hip dysplasia, as well. So be sure that you understand these limitations when you sign up for pet health care.
Because of this issue, it’s best to insure your pet sooner rather than later and to keep them continuously covered. If you decide pet insurance is right for you, you’re better off getting in on the ground level before conditions have a chance to pop up and be labeled as pre-existing.
Limits on Coverage
Of course, you’ll want to be sure you know what this insurance policy, just like any other, covers and does not cover. You’d think that all plans would cover essentials like lab tests and surgeries, but this isn’t the case. In fact, some plans specifically exclude coverage for certain tests and treatments, so be sure you understand what your plan covers.
Also pay attention to lifetime limits on coverage. Many plans have a per-incident coverage limit as well as a lifetime coverage limit. Understanding these limits up front will ensure that you make better decisions when it comes to both choosing an insurance plan and making healthcare decisions for your pet.
Which Pets are Insured?
Every pet insurance provider we saw offered coverage plans for cats and dogs. But only a few offer coverage for pets outside of these categories. Nationwide has the most comprehensive coverage for exotic pets, including birds. However, you do have to call Nationwide to get a quote for coverage on these types of pets.
If you have a cat or dog, you’re in luck because you’ll have loads of options for pet insurance. However, keep in mind that insurers will have different rate policies for different breeds. Those with a host of typical hereditary health problems may be more expensive to insure. But check around with different insurance companies to ensure you’re getting the best possible quote for your particular pet.
How You Get Paid
Unlike human health insurance, most pet insurers do not pay for your claims up front. You’ll need to pay for the health care your pet needs and then file a reimbursement. Something to look for when deciding on your insurance company is how quickly the company typically fulfills reimbursements. And then, of course, be sure that you have a way to pay the out-of-pocket costs first, whether that’s on a 0% APR credit card or out of a savings account.
Top 3 Pet Insurance Companies
One of the oldest pet insurance companies around, Trupanion is a good bet. It’ll likely set you in the middle of the road as far as premiums go. But you get many benefits for what may be a slightly higher cost.
One of those benefits is an option for direct payment to the vet. Thousands of pet hospitals are working with Trupanion on this feature. Basically, they submit a claim as you leave, and then you pay only your portion of the claim at checkout. The rest goes from Trupanion to the vet directly. Just be sure to check if your vet is on the list before you lean on Trupanion for this feature.
Trupanion’s plan offers 90% reimbursement for all of your covered expenses after you reach your deductible. You can set your deductible between $0 and $1,000. A lower deductible will, of course, result in a higher premium.
You’ll only pay the deductible once for any particular diagnosed condition, even if treatment spans multiple years. This is different from most plans which operate more like human health insurance plans, which have a new deductible each year. However, with Trupanion, you might have to pay the deductible multiple times in one year if your pet has multiple qualifying diagnoses in a year. So keep that in mind when choosing your deductible.
Trupanion’s plan has no lifetime coverage limit. As long as you keep paying your premiums, your pet can continue to receive the 90% coverage for all covered events.
Like many pet insurance plans, this one has a waiting period for coverage. But it’s not very long. Once you’ve had coverage for five days, you can receive benefits for injuries. But you’ll have to wait 30 days before you can get coverage for illnesses.
Things that are not covered in these plans include exam fees, sales taxes, wellness and preventative care, and pre-existing conditions. However, Trupanion does cover hereditary and congenital conditions, and it pays for hospital stays, surgeries, supplements and medications, and even carts and prosthetic devices.
If you’re looking for a plan that covers both emergency and everyday care, Pets Best is the place to look. It offers a couple of different plan types.
The main plan is called the BestBenefit Accident and Illness Plan. It includes coverage for emergencies like accidents and long-term issues like cancer and chronic conditions. You can even get coverage for behavioral consultations or medication prescribed by a vet and for dental issues. Pets Best doesn’t have an upper age limit on pet insurance, though you’ll pay more for older pets, of course. Most Pets Best plans also include coverage for physical rehabilitation should your pet require this after a surgery or injury.
As with many plans, Pets Best has some exclusions, including herbal and holistic or experimental therapies, supplements not prescribed by your vet, parasite issues, and preventative procedures.
One good thing about Pets Best is that you can divvy up your coverage into different types. For instance, you can get accident only coverage if you’re on a tighter budget. This can protect your pet against potential issues, especially when they’re younger, without the cost of a full coverage plan.
Pets Best also offers coverage for routine care. The EssentialWellness plan costs $20 per month and pays for a variety of preventative care each year. It could be a helpful option to spread the costs of your pet’s basic wellness care out over the year, even if it doesn’t necessarily make those costs cheaper. The BestWellness plan costs $26 per month and covers more wellness issues and higher costs, as well.
One of the pluses for this company is that it typically gets reimbursements out within five days, and it can do reimbursement via direct deposit. You can also make claims easily and quickly online, which is convenient for most people.
This company has consistently high customer reviews, and it doesn’t have any caps on payouts. There are no per incident or lifetime limits. Healthy Paws processes most claims in 3 to 10 business days, and you can submit a claim by uploading a picture of your vet bill using their mobile app.
Healthy Paws is one of the few plans we found that covers alternative treatment options, so if you prefer to try more natural treatment options for your pets, it could be a good bet for you.
On the flip side, one interesting exclusion is that Healthy Paws considers cruciate ligament problems to be a pre-existing condition if your pet has the issue in one leg but not the other. Any cruciate ligament problems mean that treatment for this condition will be excluded for both legs.
Pet Insurance Cost – What Will You Pay?
As noted above, actual costs for pet health insurance can vary wildly depending on the company you choose, your pet’s breed, and more. Here are some example costs from the three companies listed above:
Example One: Large 2-Year-Old Male Mixed Breed Dog
Example Two: 10-Year-Old Male Labrador Retriever Dog
Note that the only available Healthy Paws plan for a pet aged 8 or older has a 60% reimbursement rate and a $750 deductible.
Example Four: 1-Year-Old Femaled Mixed Breed Cat
Choosing the Right Coverage for Your Pet
When it comes to choosing the best pet insurance for your pet, it’s all about balancing coverage and costs. You’ll need to look at your pet’s history and current health as well as potential problems related to your pet’s breed. If your pet is very active or more likely to be injured, pet insurance might be an even better idea.
Generally, wellness care coverage is only worthwhile if you’ll max it out so that you don’t pay more for the coverage than you would have for the care. But it can be worth your while when pets are very young and you are getting them spayed/neutered while also keeping up-to-date on all those vaccinations and wellness visits. After this point, you’ll need to do the math to see if the plan is worth your while.
Outside of this, be sure you’re working with an established company that has been paying claims for a while. The last thing you want is to pay premiums for years only for a company to bottom out right before you need to pay for a major surgery for your pet!
And, as always, be sure to read the fine print and shop around. Some insurers will have very specific procedures and exclusions. So be sure you’re getting the best pet insurance for your pet by looking deeply into what the plan offers and what it will cost.