Pet insurance reimburses you for some of the vet bills when your furry pal gets injured or sick. Buying the best pet insurance requires careful shopping because the policies are not standardized, and the range of options and exclusions can make it difficult to compare plans. For example:
- Some policies cover treatment only after accidents, such as car accidents, poisoning and other mishaps, such as your dog eating a teddy bear. Other pet insurance plans cover accidents and the treatment of a wide range of illnesses.
- Pet insurance plans often include exclusions, payout limits and waiting periods.
- Some companies also offer coverage for routine care, such as annual vaccinations and wellness visits, and extras such as coverage to pay for finding a lost pet.
Here’s an overview of the leading U.S. pet health insurance providers.
Pet insurance company comparison
How to find the best pet insurance plan for you
The cost and types of pet insurance plans vary by company, so consider options from several providers before choosing. Here are some tips for buying.
1. SHOP FOR PET INSURANCE WHEN YOUR PET IS HEALTHY
Pet insurance plans generally don’t cover pre-existing conditions — meaning illnesses or injuries your pet had before you applied for a policy — so it’s easier to find broad coverage if your pet is healthy. However, the definition of “pre-existing” varies. Some plans will cover a condition if it has been cured for a certain number of months by the time you buy coverage. Read the plan’s definition of pre-existing condition to understand what the coverage will exclude.
Puppies and kittens must be anywhere from 6 to 10 weeks old to be insured, depending on the company. Senior pets may not be eligible for first-time enrollment with some companies. Once the pet is enrolled, though, most plans will offer coverage for life as long as you continue paying the premiums.
2. DECIDE HOW MUCH PET INSURANCE COVERAGE YOU WANT
Most pet insurance plans cap the amount they pay out per year, and some include lifetime caps for certain conditions. Only you can decide the amount that gives you reasonable peace of mind for paying vet bills.
Of the 10 most common medical conditions for dogs and cats, noncancerous skin masses were the most expensive to treat for dogs, with an average cost of $339, according to an analysis of 80,000 pet insurance claims in 2014 by Nationwide Pet Insurance. The most expensive common cat condition was lymphoma, with an average treatment cost of about $2,000.
3. UNDERSTAND HOW THE POLICY’S REIMBURSEMENTS AND DEDUCTIBLES WORK
Pet insurance plans reimburse you for a percentage of the medical care cost. Most providers let you choose a reimbursement level, such as 70%, 80% or 90%, when you buy the plan.
But here’s where it can get tricky: The calculations vary among plans. Some plans pay a percentage of the vet bill. Others pay a percentage of what the insurance company deems “usual and customary” charges for that treatment, which might be less than what your vet charges. You’d be responsible for the remainder.
Most plans also have a deductible — the dollar amount you pay out of pocket before the policy pays. You can choose from a range of deductibles, such as $50, $100 or more. Some plans apply deductibles to each injury or illness that’s treated. Others have you pay the deductible every year.
Generally, the lower your out-of-pocket costs are, the more you’ll pay for coverage. A lower deductible and higher reimbursement rate lead to a higher premium, while a higher deductible and lower reimbursement rate mean a lower premium.
4. READ THE POLICY’S FINE PRINT FOR EXCLUSIONS AND WAITING PERIODS
An accident-only pet insurance plan covers treatment of poisoning or injuries from a mishap. The insurance is cheaper than a broader pet insurance plan that also covers illnesses, but it offers no help if your pet gets sick.
Most plans include short waiting periods after you purchase the policy for general illness coverage, such as 14 days. Treatment during the waiting period is not covered. Some plans include longer waiting periods for coverage of certain conditions, such as cruciate ligament injuries, a common orthopedic problem for dogs. The cruciate ligament helps stabilize the knee; when injured, it can make it difficult for a dog to walk.
Meanwhile, some plans don’t cover certain conditions, such as hip dysplasia, a genetic disorder, or require you to pay extra for the coverage.
5. EXAMINE THE COST OF EXTRAS
Some pet insurance companies offer coverage for routine wellness. While this may sound tempting, do the math to determine whether it’s worth the extra cost. Compare the annual wellness insurance premium with the amount you’d pay each year on your own for services covered under the wellness plan. Read the details, because the items covered for “wellness” vary by pet insurance company.
6. COMPARE PET INSURANCE QUOTES
The cost of insurance varies by carrier and the amount of coverage. Some pet insurers offer discounts; you might be able to save money by insuring more than one pet, for example. But a discount doesn’t guarantee the plan is the best deal. The only way to find the best insurance for your pet is to dig into the details and compare quotes for several plans.
Understand the plan before you buy, so when your beloved pet is sick as a dog, you’ll know what the insurance covers and won’t be taken by surprise.
This post has been updated. It was originally published Dec. 9, 2015.
Image via iStock.