As nutty as I can get when it comes to berating myself for the things I should have done with Frankie, there’s only one thing I regret with any rationality: Not getting pet insurance for him.
So every now and then, as a public service announcement — usually after I come back from my vet — I dedicate a post to the topic.
Why Pet Insurance?
It’s against the law not to have car insurance and I wouldn’t dream of not having health insurance for myself, though I scream and curse at the insurers and their rising premiums and restrictions.
I also have homeowner’s insurance, which I’m sorry to report I’ve had to use because of break ins.
And yet…the idea of insuring my most precious possession, Frankie, was not on my radar. In my defense, it wasn’t really part of the conversation about dogs seven years ago when I adopted him. By the time I became aware that pet insurance existed and was a good thing, Frankie was too old to get the most useful kind, and he was already diabetic. Talk about preexisting conditions.
What About the Expense?
Every time I’ve brought up this topic before, someone asks why I would want to add another expense to my already considerable group of bills. That’s not the issue. Unless you have a robotic dog, there are always going to be health care or accident costs. It’s about having an anticipated, manageable monthly expense vs getting hit with a crazy expensive bill — or with the awful awareness that you can’t afford to pay for a treatment that might help.
There are people who set aside money each month for health care expenses, including for their pets. I applaud them; I just do not walk among them.
And the good news: Pet insurance is getting to be so common that prices have become more and more competitive (while not being common enough that the large companies have agreed to fix prices as they do with human health care in the US, she says cynically). You should always take the time to compare dog insurance quotes in order to find the best fit for your pet and for you.
What to Look For in Pet Insurance
It’s not always a question of finding the most inexpensive policy. It’s most important to find one that best matches your needs and your life circumstances. In all cases, be sure to check the small print.
A few questions to consider:
What is the policy’s deductible?
Some policies have a general deductible. Others have a condition deductible, so you can’t claim the first $50, say, in vet fees for a particular condition. This should be only payable once per condition, so if it recurs or is ongoing you don’t have to pay the deductible again for the rest of the policy year.
What are the exclusions?
There are always exclusions, usually related to the breed of the dog. For example, hip dysplasia may be covered for some breeds, but excluded in others, such as German shepherds, who are at high risk of developing the disorder. No insurer will cover you for a condition that existed prior to you taking out an insurance policy. Other exclusions may include preventable diseases, that is, those for which routine vaccines are available. Pregnancy-related expenses and nonessential procedures are other common exclusions.
Does the policy cover all or part of the vet bill?
Most insurers only cover part of the vet fees, say 70 or 80%. This is in addition to the deductible, and again you can often make this amount higher or lower by increasing or decreasing your premium.
What are the age restrictions?
Most insurers have age limits on new policies, and will not accept older animals — usually over 9 years old — as new clients. A pet insured continuously from a younger age, however, should be eligible to remain insured for her entire life.
What are the annual caps (limits)?
Insurers have an annual cap on what they will pay out on a policy, and within this limit there may be sub-limits. Annual amounts paid out for each condition or for medications, for example, may be capped.
Do they pay the vet directly, or are you expected to pay the vet and then be reimbursed by the insurance company?
Some vets don’t like the former type of insurance because they don’t get paid quickly enough; some owners are concerned that they won’t be reimbursed in a timely fashion. This is crucial to your choice so search peer review sites for what other people are saying about any potential insurer.
What are the payment options?
Usually you will have flexible options allowing you to pay annually, bi-annually, or monthly to make the premium costs fit your circumstances.
Do you have a choice of veterinarians?
Most plans let you see anyone you like; others are similar to HMOs, limiting you to certain health-care providers.
Is there a good prescription policy?
You often end up spending far more money on medicines than on office visits and services, so be sure your plan offers good coverage.
Is the language specific?
You’ll find plans that say they reimburse you for “reasonable and customary fees.” That’s way too much wiggle room. You’re far better off with an insurer that provides a chart detailing what you can expect to get back for what you pay out.
Are there rate guarantees?
Some companies adjust their premiums on a quarterly basis; that means if they pay a claim they can raise your rates in the next period. Make sure the company you choose offers contracts for at least one year, with no fee-rise adjustments if you submit a claim.
Is the policy renewable?
You want a plan that doesn’t consider a condition diagnosed after you first contracted with the company as pre-existing, and thus as a reason for not renewing your insurance.
Some things you might not have considered….
In addition to covering your pets against the cost of veterinary treatment, some policies will also provide third party cover in case they damage the property of others. This can be particularly beneficial if you have a canine escape artist. Similarly, some pet insurers provide help with pet care — the cost of boarding for a specific period, usually — if something happens to you and you need to go to the hospital.
For those who have, or who have considered getting, pet insurance: Have I missed any other things to look at?