Shopping for pet health insurance can be a daunting task; there are many
variables to consider, and it's not always clear what a given plan will and
will not cover. Experts say you should shop around, ask questions, read the
fine print on any policy, and consider how to meet your pet's needs at the
lowest cost to you.
The first question to ask, however, is whether you need pet insurance at
all. Some experts advise simply putting money aside each month in a savings
account; if your pet never needs expensive treatment, the money will still
be yours. You may be left unable to pay a large vet bill until enough money
accumulates in the account, however. If your pet is so important that you
would go to any length to keep him or her alive, it may be worth your peace
of mind to purchase insurance.
The simplest option is not insurance at all, but a discount plan. However,
while those can save a bit of money for routine care for your pet, they will
still leave you exposed should your pet need any expensive treatments. Additionally,
they are only honored by participating vets. If you decide to purchase a
traditional health insurance plan for your pet, experts say to consider the
- Choose a plan with a deductible equal
to the most you could afford to pay out of pocket at one time. The higher
the deductible, the lower the premium. If possible, choose a deductible
of at least $500, and check to see whether it is a per-incident or an annual
deductible. Annual is preferable, but a per-incident deductible would
still cushion you against catastrophic expenses, and the plan should cost
- Consider insuring your pet when he or she is 1 to
3 years old. Pet
insurance companies do not cover pre-existing conditions, and a young
pet is less likely to have developed a condition that may require ongoing
care. In addition, some companies won't insure older pets, but if your
pet is already covered he or she can remain so. You'll pay premiums longer,
but shouldn't face problems down the road. Watch out for policies with
more limiting definitions of pre-existing conditions.
- Check for any conditions specifically
excluded under a policy. These may include hereditary or congenital
conditions; one company will not cover hip dysplasia unless you buy optional
coverage for this when your pet is less than a year old.
- Check to see whether your
premiums will increase over the lifetime of your pet. Some companies
automatically raise premiums as your pet ages; others may raise them according
to how many claims you've filed.
- Choose a policy that reimburses actual veterinary
charges. Some only cover amounts that it considers usual and customary.
Many customers complain that such usual and customary payments are usually
much lower than actual ones.
- Get price quotes from several companies' websites
and compare them. You'll be asked where you live, whether your pet
is a cat or dog, and what breed and age she or he is. Some also ask whether
your pet has ever been treated for a serious illness. The site will then
generate a price quote, or sometimes a range of prices depending on what
deductible and co-pay you select. Consider the price quote an estimate;
you'll have to submit your pet's medical history before the company will
issue a policy.
- Be sure you read the actual policy itself before you sign up.