However, you need to be aware of some key factors regarding pet health insurance before you even start shopping around. Almost all of these insurance plans are reimbursement plans – meaning you have to pay out of pocket for the vet’s bill and then file a claim to get reimbursement from the insurance company. Therefore, fully understanding the terms of a plan – especially deductibles, copayment amounts and exclusions – is essential. Also, almost all of these plans exclude pre-existing conditions. This means you should get an insurance plan while your pet is young and healthy and to stick with that plan for the rest of your pet’s life. These factors and others are discussed below to assist you in properly choosing an insurance plan that is good for both you and your furry loved one.
There are three common components to a pet health insurance plan. You usually can select just one of them or combine them.
– Illness Coverage: Typically covers reasonable medical expenses incurred for treating your pet for illness. This can include the vet visit fees, medical
tests, surgery and sometimes medications.
– Accident Coverage: Covers medical expenses similar to illness coverage, but for treatment resulting from injuries.
– Wellness Coverage: This is to help pay for check-ups, shots and sometimes spading expenses. Note that this type of care is usually not covered by
illness coverage alone.
A major factor that will determine your insurance plan’s cost is how much reimbursement the insurance company will pay you. Typically, this amount is between 60% – 90%, with the higher the reimbursement percentage the higher the insurance premium and vice-versa. However, you need to be careful about the exact terms of the policy’s coverage. Some plans will only pay the specified percentage of an amount the insurance company deems reasonable – and many insurance companies have a pre-set table of reasonable expenses. If your vet charges more than the pre-determined reasonable amount, you will end up getting less than the percentage listed on your plan. Therefore, find out what these pre-determined expenses are before you buy a plan – and see if it “fits” with what your vet actually charges.
These plans also have deductibles – the amount of expenses that you must incur before they cover anything. The lower the deductible, the higher the premium and vice-versa. Not all plans treat deductibles the same way. Some use a deductible per incident, per procedure or bill and within a specified time frame. Know in advance the specific deductible terms of a particular plan.
Most of these plans have a maximum limit of how much they will pay out in claims, usually in a given time such as each year. But some may have separate maximums for each incident or certain types of procedures or treatments. The higher these maximums in a given plan, the higher will be the premium cost and vice-versa. Many lower cost pet health insurance plans have only modest maximums – which will not be enough to take care of any serious medical care expenses, so again know in advance what these maximums are.
There are some plans that run like a human HMO, where there is a network of affiliated vets. These plans will only fully cover you if you use one of these vets – so if you have a happy established relationship with a vet, make sure s/he is part of that network. A common advantage of these types of plans is that the insurance will pay their share directly to the vet, so your out of pocket cost is reduced.
The older your pet is, the higher will be your insurance premium. Some companies won’t even accept pets over a certain age. Therefore, always try to get coverage from a young of age as possible.
There are a few plans that will cover pets with some pre-existing conditions with restrictions. Usually this means the insurance company won’t cover any expenses related to these conditions for the first one or two years.
The average annual cost for a pet health insurance plan covering accidents plus illness was about $594 for dogs and $342 for cats. Wellness coverage usually incur an extra premium cost. The average annual premium for an accident-only plan was $218 for dogs and $134 for cats. This cost is usually a wise investment, as it can end up saving you thousands of dollars in the event of serious illness or injury of your pet.