As veterinary medicine becomes more advanced so does the rising cost of medical care for pets.
As a result, pet owners are now taking advantage of pet insurance to help make veterinary bills more affordable. According to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association’s report, 1.4 million pets were insured in 2014.
If you’re in the market for a pet insurance plan for your dog or cat, here are 10 important things to understand when researching various options.
1. Pet insurance works on a reimbursement model
Pet insurance reimburses you, the pet owner, on your veterinary bills when your dog or cat gets sick or injured. You pay the veterinarian up front at the time of service. Then, you submit your claim to your pet insurance company to be reimbursed.
2. Choose a deductible
Before a pet insurance provider starts the reimbursement process, you must first meet your deductible. Most pet insurance companies offer two common deductible options: annual or per incident.
- Annual deductibles are paid only once during the policy year.
- Per-incident deductibles are paid for each incident/vet visit. Depending on the types of incidents and how many times they happen, you could pay multiple incident deductibles during the policy year.
3. Choose a reimbursement percentage
Look for a plan that reimburses off the entire bill you paid your veterinarian. Most companies offer pet owners reimbursement options of 70%, 80% or 90%. The lower the reimbursement level you choose, the lower your monthly premium will be. And conversely, the higher reimbursement level, the higher your monthly premium will be.
4. What does the plan cover?
Pet insurance companies offer a wide variety of plans to fit your pet’s coverage needs as well as your budget. Before signing up for a plan, read the policy thoroughly or talk to a representative from the company to ensure you understand what is covered and what is not covered.
Accident and illness plans
The most common—and popular—pet insurance plans offer comprehensive coverage for accidents and illnesses.
Examples of accidents include:
- Broken bones
- Foreign object ingestion
Examples of illnesses include:
These plans should also include coverage for emergency care, surgery, hospitalization, visits to specialists, and hereditary and congenital conditions (e.g. hip dysplasia or luxating patella). Additionally, check what alternative options are covered such as physical therapy, hydrotherapy, chiropractic, and acupuncture.
These plans just cover accidents, not illnesses. They are typically a more budget-friendly plan for pet owners who are more concerned about accidents and injuries to their pets.
Examples of coverage include:
- Broken bones
- Snake bites
- Accidental swallowing
Wellness and routine care plans
This plan includes coverage for routine care items such as annual checkups, vaccinations, and flea/tick/heartworm preventative medications. Routine checkups and preventative care help catch disease and other medical conditions early.
5. Pre-existing conditions are not covered
Pet health insurance policies do not cover your pet’s pre-existing conditions like diabetes or allergies.
6. Are there age or breed restrictions?
Check the age restrictions of the pet insurance plan.
- How old does your pet have to be to get coverage? For example, Pets Best insures pets starting at seven weeks old.
- As your pet ages and becomes a senior, is there reduced coverage?
- If your pet is a senior, can you even get a plan for them?
Most companies allow all breeds of dogs and cats. However, verify with the pet insurance company to understand what breeds they cover.
7. Can you use any veterinarian?
Look for plans that allow you to visit any licensed veterinarian in the U.S., and don’t reduce coverage for emergency clinics and vet specialists in case your pet needs to be seen by an ophthalmologist (eye specialist) or oncologist (cancer specialist).
8. What is required to enroll?
Here are some questions to ask before enrolling in a plan:
- Will you need to pay an enrollment fee to sign up with the company?
- Will you need to submit medical records for your pet (from your veterinarian) to sign up with the company?
- Are your pet’s medical records required for the first claim and how often does the company request medical records? This is important to know because medical record requests can delay the claim processing time.
9. Options for filing a claim
How do you submit a claim? Is it a simple, hassle-free process? For example, can you submit a claim online on the company’s website or via email, postal mail, or fax?
10. Options for receiving your reimbursement money
The fastest way to get your reimbursement money back from a claim is through direct deposit. It’s easy to set up for your preferred checking or savings account. Getting reimbursed through a check is also another option, but this process takes longer for you to get reimbursed.