Not everything in life can be reduced to dollars and cents. How could you possibly put a price on the love and comfort your floof, furbaby, pupperino or feathermonster provides you with every day?
Unfortunately, just because something is priceless doesn’t mean it’s free. Is pet insurance worth it, or is it better to pay for your best friend’s checkups, medication, and emergency surgery as the need arises? We know, you’d rather not think about them getting sick, hurt or old, but taking a moment to plan for the bad times when things are going well is really part of your responsibility as a pet parent.
Table of Contents
How Does Pet Insurance Work?
The basic idea behind any kind of health insurance is that numerous individuals take the money they expect to spend on medical bills every month and pool it together; the unlucky ones, in a sense, are subsidized by those who don’t experience major health problems. Since this semi-collective system is run as a business, the company takes a cut off the top in return for keeping things running smoothly and making sure the system is as fair as it can be.
That, aside from a bunch of paperwork, is basically it. One thing that distinguishes pet insurance from the human kind is that you typically pay the vet first and only then submit the bill and any relevant medical records to the insurer. This means that even insured pet owners might need small loans to tide them over until their next paycheck if their savings can’t cover the cost of treatment.
On a related note, your veterinary clinic usually doesn’t bill or negotiate with the insurance company directly – that will be your job. If you get into a dispute with them or discover too late that your regular vet isn’t part of their network, this can be a hassle, so taking a minute to scan through the worst and best pet insurance reviews about each company’s claims process will be time well spent. On the other hand, this system also cuts down on the insurance company’s administration costs.
What Different Pet Health Policies Cover
Pet health insurance is much less regulated than the human variety, and the levels of cover offered by different companies and policies are often poles apart. It’s essential to keep this in mind when looking for the best pet insurance 2020 has to offer.
In the bad old days and in some cases even today, insurance companies would simply reimburse their clients based on a schedule of prices: X dollars for this procedure, Y dollars for that, regardless of what the vet bill actually amounted to. At present, it’s more common for some proportion of the true cost to be refunded, usually 70% to 90%.
There are also a number of misfortunes beyond acute illness or injury that are included in some top-rated policies or available as add-on options with others. Not all policies, for instance, offer continuing coverage in case your pet develops a chronic condition while covered. If this isn’t part of the package, they may raise your premiums or simply cancel your policy rather than pay out more than they expected.
If you’re willing to pay a little extra each month, you can also choose to go with a policy that includes preventative care and “wellness” treatment like teeth cleanings and bi-annual checkups. Some pet insurance companies will even pay for things like acupuncture and chiropractic, though naturally, this costs more.
How Much Does Pet Insurance Cost?
Realistically, the best pet insurance for dogs, including all the bells and whistles, is always going to cost more than an emergency-only policy. How high your monthly premiums will actually turn out to depend on much besides the benefits you select, though.
It’s very difficult to talk about something like an average dog insurance cost, though you can take a look at the FAQ section below for some rough numbers. The breed, her age, and medical history as well as your ZIP code all play a role. You can also reduce (or increase) your monthly premiums by tweaking the following factors:
- Deductible: The amount you have to spend on pet care before the insurance kicks in, meant to discourage people from claiming for unnecessary visits.
- Reimbursement Percentage: Unless the insurance company pays out according to a set price list, they will refund a portion of valid claims. This is typically between 70% and 90% of the total bill.
- Benefit Limits: Although some no-limit policies exist, you can reduce your monthly premium significantly by accepting a ceiling to how much your insurer has to pay for treatment in any given year. This may seem heartless, but it’s a good idea to decide on a maximum amount you’re willing to spend on your pet’s quality of life now, while you’re not in emotional distress.
Where Can I Buy Pet Insurance?
Most companies only offer cheap pet insurance for cats and dogs, with reptiles and birds covered poorly if at all. If you don’t own an exotic animal, though, you have a wealth of options to choose from, and it’s recommended that you get a quotation from at least three of them: the average cat insurance cost over the animal’s lifetime can easily vary by $5,000 or more depending on which company you choose!
You may find that your university offers preferential pricing for students, or you can call up the life insurance company you already have a relationship with to see if they can offer you a good deal. Alternatively, you can search online, or contact any of the following trusted companies:
How to Benefit from Pet Insurance
Statistically speaking, most humoms and dog dads who opt to take out insurance end up paying significantly more than they would have if they’d simply put the same amount of money into their emergency fund each month.
The only exceptions are for pets that suffer serious but unlikely health troubles, and by far the majority of pet insurance claims are actually for relatively small amounts. This doesn’t mean that a policy for your pooch is necessarily a scam: there’s plenty of competition for your business, including ethical, legit companies who genuinely care about animal welfare. Perhaps more importantly, having pet insurance allows you to design your budget intelligently instead of responding to events as they happen.
|Cancer – Cat||$900.00||$3,200.00|
|Cancer – Dog||$750.00||$2,300.00|
|Chronic Allergies – Cat||$500.00||$850.00|
|Chronic Allergies – Dog||$750.00||$1,600.00|
|Swallowed a Toy – Cat||$650.00||$2,100.00|
|Swallowed a Toy – Dog||$600.00||$1,800.00|
Comparison of how insurance affects typical out-of-pocket expenses
If you want pet insurance to work for you as more than a personal finance planning tool, there are two basic strategies you can follow to save money fast. In the first case, you can think of it as being a little like mortgage protection insurance, meaning a safeguard if an unexpected calamity should occur. No-limit policies, especially, give you the peace of mind that comes from being able to think about the welfare of your pet instead of trying to figure out what you can afford. Remember, however, that vet bills of over $10,000 are extremely rare, even when accumulated over the course of a year, and often represent last-ditch efforts to save the life of an animal who’s unlikely to make it in any case.
Should you decide on this type of emergency safety net, you’ll most likely choose a policy with few exclusions (conditions that are explicitly not covered, like congenital defects), a high reimbursement percentage and a high deductible. The point, after all, is to pay for regular vet consultations yourself but have some security if tests and surgery push your bill into four or more figures.
In case you believe your pet to be sickly or prone to injury – as is the case with many working dogs, for example – you may want to do the exact opposite. Choosing a plan with a comprehensive wellness component and a low deductible will make routine visits more affordable, even if your fluffy darling develops a chronic condition.
Tips for Buying Pet Insurance
More often than not, saving money doesn’t have to mean doing without something you want. Frequently, the key is to figure out the right questions to ask and doing your research until you’re sure of all the answers. Good information and good decisions always go hand in hand, especially when it comes to a relatively obscure product like pet insurance.
- Talk to your vet
Taking care of animals is literally their job and, surprisingly, many vets will advise against taking out insurance even though they stand to make more money that way.
- Check online reviews
PetInsuranceReview is a good source for genuine customer ratings and rapid quotes.
- Get it while they’re young
Previously uninsured pets cost more to cover and may need veterinary records that won’t be available for rescues. Pet insurance for older dogs, who often need the most care, can be very expensive if you only get it once they’re certain to need it. The question is not: “is pet health insurance worth it for a puppy?”, but rather whether you can afford the best pet insurance for older pets if you only sign up for it once they’re in their sunset years. Staying with the same insurer from puppyhood onward also avoids you having to shell out serious bucks for pre-existing conditions, which no policy will cover.
- Read the fine print carefully
It’s absolutely essential to compare pet insurance plans and rates with a fine-tooth comb. Policies vary dramatically in what they cover. Unless you specifically want accident-only insurance (which is by far the cheapest, but doesn’t cover illness at all), chronic and genetic disorders, neutering, prescription medication, vaccines, and preventative care should all be covered, even if this means selecting them as add-ons. It almost seems like different providers’ terms and conditions are deliberately written to confuse people and prevent them from comparing their different options side by side; in fact, three out of the nine recommendations for pet insurance issued by the American Veterinary Association are about transparency. Looking out for the best pet insurance reviews is often the only way to separate the wheat from the chaff.
- Plan for the pet’s entire lifespan
One annoying thing about pet insurers’ marketing is that it often lacks a clear explanation of how your premiums will rise as your pet gets older. You may get sucked in by the best pet insurance for puppies, only to realize in later years that your policy has become uneconomical just when you really need it. In this regard, you’ll be happy to learn that Trupanion and Healthy Paws maintain roughly the same rates as your pet gets older.
- Research your breed
Several kinds of purebred animals are predisposed to getting sick in some particular way. Many large dogs are prone to developing hip problems later in life, for example. Make sure that you don’t get caught out without coverage for these specific conditions.
Should I Get Pet Insurance?
Estimates for the amount spent on pet care range from $17 billion to $24 billion per year. That’s certainly a hefty chunk of change, but is the average cost of pet insurance really cheaper than just paying for what you need when you need it?
On balance, the answer is no, especially for a pet that doesn’t experience many or major problems during their lifetime. This fact partly explains why only 1% to 2% of American pets are insured (the number tends to be much higher in European countries). What’s involved here is more than just the basic numbers, though: having pet insurance makes it much easier to budget for expenses incurred by your furry friend. If heaven forbid, the worst should happen, it can also cushion the financial blow and allow you to afford the treatment that would otherwise be difficult to pay for out of pocket.
The question “Do you need pet insurance?” is, therefore, better framed as “Do you need more stability in your finances?”. The more you can predict your spending, the better you can manage it – the proper role of pet insurance is to change an expense that’s beyond your control to one you can plan for. Don’t think of it as spending less; rather, pet insurance is all about paying when you can afford to instead of when your choice may be between going into debt or sending your best friend to the giant off-leash park in the sky.
Frequently Asked Questions
- You may end up spending less money over the years, and
- You don’t need to have that much cash in your bank account when you’re hit with a large vet bill.
For people who can cover routine veterinarian bills out of pocket, the former isn’t really a good reason to get pet insurance: most likely, you’ll pay much more in premiums than you’ll ever claim. If your pet is very important to you, though, and the prospect of paying $10,000 or more if he requires serious medical treatment leaves you feeling short of breath, a comprehensive medical policy might come in handy.