Pet insurance can cover unexpected veterinary bills, and, in some cases, routine wellness expenses, too. However, policies vary greatly in price and coverage. If you are considering insurance for your pet, be sure to understand how plans work before you sign up.
How to shop for pet insurance
- Get to know the different plan types. Different plans offer different levels of coverage. Accident-only coverage offers reimbursement for accidental injuries only, such as ingesting a toxin or breaking a bone. Accident and illness coverage includes reimbursement for common illnesses like cancer or genetic conditions. Some companies offer comprehensive coverage which includes illness, chronic conditions, accidents, and preventative care too. Some insurers have wellness plans as add-ons to accident and illness plans that cover vaccinations, annual wellness exams, and even flea and tick prevention. Every company is different, so it’s wise to make specific inquiries about what’s covered under each plan you’re offered.
- Decide how much coverage you need. Accident-only coverage is generally the cheapest kind of pet insurance, but it doesn’t cover chronic conditions or preventative care. If your pet is young and healthy and you are only worried about the cost of emergencies, this may be an economic option that offers peace of mind. Factors like your pet’s breed, age, and family history, as well as your own financial status, can help you determine if accident-only insurance is sufficient or if you need a more comprehensive plan.
- Compare prices and plans. Visit reputable pet insurance websites or call their customer service numbers to get a quote for coverage tailored to your pet’s age, breed, and health status. Get several quotes and compare them to choose the plan that is the best value and match for you and your pet. Keep in mind that most accident and illness plans cover surgery, emergency care, treatment for illnesses, x-rays and other diagnostic tests, and prescription medications. Beyond those basics, plans vary greatly. You’ll need to ask if behavioral therapies, rehabilitative treatments, exam fees, prescription diets, supplements, end of life expenses, dental care, and any other expenses you think you’ll have are covered or can be added on to a plan.
- Read the fine print. Make sure you know how each plan works and don’t assume that all companies handle deductibles, payout limits, and reimbursement in the same way. Most plans won’t cover pre-existing conditions, for example, and some require you to have a veterinary exam before they’ll give you coverage. Annual payout limits vary greatly, as do deductibles and reimbursement levels. You can usually choose your reimbursement level, such as 70%, 80%, or 90%, with higher reimbursement levels generating higher monthly premiums. Some plans reimburse consumers on a benefit schedule, but if your vet charges more than the amount on the schedule, you’ll have to pay the difference. Get to know all the ins and outs before you agree to a plan.
- Understand the waiting period. With pet insurance, you’ll need to make payments to your veterinarian up front and then wait to be reimbursed by your insurance company. The waiting period is the time you wait between paying for treatments and receiving reimbursement for your expenses. Waiting periods vary between insurers and can even vary depending on the type of treatment. For example wellness visits can have a different waiting period than accident coverage within the same plan.
- Insure your pet early. Not only are pet insurance plans cheaper when you pet is young and healthy, by purchasing a policy early on, you avoid being disqualified due to pre-existing conditions. In general, policies go up in price as your pet ages, but most companies will cover your pet for illnesses they develop as they age – even chronic ones – if you already signed up for a plan. However, always check with the insurance company first. Some companies will only insure your pet up to a certain age, and some don’t cover chronic or hereditary conditions under any circumstances.
- Get the best deal. If applicable, ask about multi-pet discounts, discounts for spayed or neutered pets, and military discounts. You can also find out if your home or car insurance company offers pet insurance too. Sometimes, bundling policies is a cheaper option. In addition, some employers may offer pet insurance. In some cases, you can save a percentage by making an annual payment instead of monthly payments too.
- Consider pet insurance alternatives. If pet insurance doesn’t seem like a feasible option for you, set up a dedicated emergency fund for your pet instead and start saving. Preventative wellness care, such as sterilizing your pet and applying monthly flea and tick control, can go a long way towards keeping your pet healthy and avoiding unnecessary trips to the vet.
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