Pet insurance can literally save a dog’s life. If you’ve ever wondered what exactly pet insurance is, why you might need it, and if it really works, allow the past 20 years of my life to guide you into this decision. If you ever wondered if pet health insurance is truly worth it, read on.
I am a policy holder of a major medical plan with a major pet insurance company for the about two decades. Caveat: I would sell my teeth, lungs, kidneys, hair, and jewelry to do whatever I had to for my dog. A dog is a family member to me. Pet health insurance comes in handy big time when there is something catastrophic or insurmountable in cost. In my case, my dog had cancer. When 80% of a $5,000 bill is covered, I’d say that’s pretty darned good… reimbursed within 30 days.
There are literally dozens of insurance plans on the market for pets these days. Each plan and company is different and what works for some may not for others. I’ve heard amazing stories and not-so-good ones on reimbursement.
Here are some basic questions every dog parent should ask prospective pet insurance companies:
What questions should Fido’s guardian ask a pet health insurance company prior to starting a policy?
Find out what’s covered and what isn’t. In addition, ask how much of an illness will be covered and are there any financial or pre-existing considerations? How quickly are claims paid and is my breed covered? What are my deductibles and how quickly can I expect the claims to be paid?
I don’t care how fast claims are paid, but I DO care that my company is easy to work with and that I won’t have to fight with them every time I file a claim.
Example: My dog has had two ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) surgeries on his legs over the course of two years’ time. The ACL coverage did not kick in on his pet health insurance policy until I was a policy holder for 12 months. Thankfully, his ACLs did not rupture until long after the 12 months were up.
Though each bill neared $3,000, over 80 percent was covered by the pet health insurance plan, we were reimbursed within 30 days, and the policy did not increase by much.
Is routine wellness care covered? Will rates increase? Are medicines and prescriptions covered? What about holistic veterinary care?
Look for excellent customer service, quick turn-arounds, and that a company covers basic wellness/routine care. I like this because it helps foster pets as part of the family. Also, if you want to use services like acupuncture, laser therapy, or in our case, a custom stifle (knee) brace for your dog, there is some coverage available.
Are there any illness or accident caps? Can I ever be dropped from the plan? Do my out-of-pocket expenses increase every year? Does the policy increase as my dog ages?
I recall years ago interviewing Betsy Banks Saul of Petfinder. She told me,“I have a friend who is not the best money saver, yet she’ll do anything for her pets. She has pet insurance because she knows when an accident happens she won’t have saved enough to treat it and she doesn’t want to max out her credit cards each time one of her 3 very active dogs gets hurt. She experienced near financial disaster when her pooch tore his ACL and she’s had pet insurance ever since,” Saul shared.
At the age of 7, my dog’s policy just increased by $10 a year. At present, we have a major medical plan for him that costs us $64 a month. This pays for itself when a major event happens. It also pays for itself when routine office visits come around. Blood work can be costly, after all.
Can I make payments each month? Are there layers of plans/choices? Is there a waiting period?
Ask what the limits are per illness ($500, $1,000, $3,000, etc?) Find out the company’s customer satisfaction level.
As pet parents, knowing pet health insurance is available is all the reassurance some people need. Each individual can decide what plan is best for their unique situation.
In our case, there was a waiting period. This is in place so that people do not take advantage of the health insurance.
Other questions to ask:
Are there pre-existing exclusions? For our plan, the exclusions include elective procedures, congenital conditions, pet foods, grooming, behavioral problems and pre-existing conditions. This is fair, in our assessment.
Are there multiple pet discounts? For example, one carrier offers a 5% discount for 2-3 pets and a 10% discount on each policy for 4 or more.
Will you enroll my pet if he is over age 10?
What is the cancellation policy?
Five Tips on Pet Insurance
- Accident and Illness coverage makes the most sense: Consider getting coverage for accidents and illnesses as a safe baseline. While coverage for accidents can be the cheapest option for your budget, keep in mind the below points in beginning to assess what is sensible for your family. It’s reasonable to expect that at some point, your pet is going to have at least one of each. Generally speaking, the peace of mind with this base coverage on average can range from $20 – $40 a month, but this varies with features and where you live. As for wellness, you know the routine care your pet undergoes better than anyone. Does the additional premium each month adequately cover your pet’s routine care?
- Understand your plan deductibles and limits: There are creative ways to structure benefit payments. Most plans require you to spend a minimum amount before they start reimbursing your veterinary expenses, and this is the deductible. The tricky part is whether there is a true plan-wide deductible, or whether the plan has individual deductibles for different categories. On to ceilings: this is known as the policy limit. Is there an annual, incident, or lifetime limit? If a pet has cancer, which can require multiple rounds of treatment and therapy, is the insurance only covering up to $1,000 per year or $2,500 for the lifetime limit?
- Research your pet’s breed history: See if there are any genetic conditions or illnesses he or she is predisposed to, and check that the insurer covers that medical event for your dog. Some plans will only cover hereditary or congenital diseases if your pet is enrolled prior to his or her second birthday. If your dog is a rescue dog or a mixed breed, consider DNA testing to determine lineage in helping you educate the veterinarian on what to expect with the dog’s background.
- Read the fine print, especially on what gets covered. I found insurers who excluded different items from their claims reimbursements. Do companies cover the vet office visit fee, the diagnosis and treatment fees, and prescription medications? It is important to compare policies from different pet insurers you’re considering.
- Insure your pet sooner rather than later: Insurance providers start phasing older dogs out of general medical coverage, and this can begin as early as six years of age. They also universally don’t cover pre-existing conditions, so by the time the dog develops something, it will likely be too late to get a plan that will pay for their diagnosis and treatment.
Tips to Getting Proper Reimbursement
- Ask your dog’s veterinarian for records of all tests and then keep a copy for yourself before faxing or emailing/snail mailing the claim in to the insurance carrier.
- Follow the claim form instructions to the letter.
- Get proper signature(s) where required.
- Never lie or fudge information on a claim: This can get your policy dropped and is also illegal.
- Make sure your aware of the policy benefits/coverage in the level policy you purchased.
- Know what your plan covers before submitting a claim. For example, here is a breakdown of what the policy we have covers (look comprehensive): Top Conditions covered.
Don’t always believe everything you read online, dog moms and dog dads. There are a lot of inaccuracies and false information about pet health insurance. For us, the experience has been incredibly positive for a super long time, and we are grateful to have it. If you don’t have pet health insurance, at least start some sort of savings account, as catastrophic or unexpected illnesses can lead to very high bills very rapidly.
We continue in an effort to provide you a full and rounded assessment of healthcare topics for dogs. Our friend, Rachel at My Kid Has Paws, offers her medicine side of things as a former veterinary technician for our “Medicine Vs Mom” twice monthly series.
Do you have pet health insurance? What has been your experience? Bark at us below in the comments.