As a veterinarian I frequently get asked:
Dr. Hugh, is pet insurance is a good deal?
Dr. Hugh, which pet insurance company do you recommend?
To best answer these questions, let's first clear up some important points about the concept of "pet insurance."
WHAT IS PET INSURANCE: It is important to understand what you are getting when you sign up for a pet insurance policy. Pet insurance is a third party billing system. Unlike with human medical insurance, with pet insurance you are still responsible for the initial payment of the vet bill at the time of treatment. You then submit a claim to the insurance company and are reimbursed for a certain percentage of any covered expenses.
TYPES OF COVERAGE: There are three broad categories of pet insurance coverage available: Wellness, Illness/Injury, and Comprehensive. Wellness plans generally cover the expected costs of pet ownership (routine checkups, vaccines, basic preventative care). Illness/Injury plans cover the unexpected costs of pet ownership (accidents, emergency surgery, sudden illness, diabetes, cancer, etc). Comprehensive (sometimes called Major Medical) plans cover both expected and unexpected costs. In general, the more a plan covers, the higher the premium (monthly payment) will be.
DEDUCTIBLE: Each plan will have a deductible. This is the amount the insurance company expects you to pay out of pocket before your coverage takes effect. Choosing a higher deductible may lower your monthly premium. When choosing your deductible, consider how much you would be reasonably comfortable paying out of pocket if your pet experienced a medical emergency, in light of what the plan does and does not cover. Also consider if the deductible is per year or per incident.
CAPS FOR REIMBURSEMENT: Some plans may limit the total amount of reimbursement per year, or it may be capped for the lifetime of the pet. Most pets will never reach their cap, but it is important to know if one exists to avoid surprises later.
PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS: Pre-existing conditions may be excluded from coverage, and it may surprise you to learn what conditions can be considered pre-existing. For example if your dog was diagnosed with a heart murmur as a puppy and later develops heart failure at 12 years old, the heart failure may be considered a pre-existing condition because of the earlier murmur. If your pet gets knee surgery for a torn cruciate ligament, a future tear in the opposite knee may be considered a pre-exisitng condition. Every policy will spell out exactly what it considers a pre-existing condition, and it is very important to read the coverage details carefully. For this reason, I recommend enrolling pets early in life before they develop any conditions that could be considered pre-existing.
EXCLUSIONS: Plans may specifically exclude coverage for hereditary conditions, elective procedures, routine dental care, prescription diets or supplements, experimental treatments, or behavior modification therapy. This can be frustrating especially if you have a pure-bred dog prone to certain hereditary conditions, or if your pet has a legitimate medical need for something the insurance company considers elective. Read the fine print carefully and consider how the exclusions apply to your pet. Ask your veterinarian for help if needed.
Now that we know more about the coverage options, here are my answers to the two questions.
Dr. Hugh, is pet insurance a good deal? Yes, pet insurance is a good deal if you do it right:
-- Sign your pet up on a plan when they are relatively young, before they start to develop pre-existing conditions, and stick with the same carrier for the life of the pet.
-- Choose a plan that just covers accidental illness/injury, and shop around for the best out-of-pocket prices on routine wellness care.
-- Keep monthly premiums low by choosing a high-deductible plan with a moderate to low reimbursement cap.
-- Choose a plan that excludes items you value less (for me that would be supplements and experimental treatments), and includes items you value more (for me that would be dental care and prescription diets). Talk to your vet if you have questions about exclusions.
Dr. Hugh, which pet insurance plan do you recommend? I recommend pairing a high-deductible accidental illness/injury plan from a reputable national carrier, with a general wellness plan from your local veterinarian.
-- This combo gives you a discount on routine expected costs, while offering a comfortable safety net in case of unexpected serious illness or injury.
-- Reputable national carriers I have had good experiences with include Trupanion, Embrace, Nationwide, and PetsBest. However the marketplace is constantly evolving and companies adjust their offerings frequently, so check online customer review sites like www.petinsurancereview.com for the latest ratings.
-- Make sure that dental care is covered by your local vet's wellness plan, like it is here at Durbin Creek Animal Hospital!
Pet insurance is a complex subject, but in the long run I think the industry will improve the affordability of veterinary care, which is a win for everyone. However, don't forget about the oldest pet insurance policy in the book, the Hellman's plan. Step 1) Rinse out an empty mayonnaise jar. Step 2) put a few dollars in it every month. Step 3) Reinvest the rollover at the end of the year :)
Have a great day and thanks for reading!