Is Pet Insurance Right for You?

How does pet insurance work?

In many ways, pet insurance plans aren’t much different from what’s available for humans. Most cover accident and/or illness, and some have preventive medicine options available as well. They all have a deductible, and all have exclusions for certain preexisting or breed-common conditions.

Be sure to read the fine print. For instance, most act just like human insurance companies and cover only what they deem eligible, less deductible and co-pay. In other words, your reimbursement may be far smaller than you think it should be.

Ask the right questions before you buy

Just as with human health insurance, there are some fairly major differences among policies, so make sure you get the answers to the following questions (along with any others you may have) before you sign on the dotted line:

Do I pay first, then get reimbursed?

You will probably have to pay your dog’s medical bill at the vet’s office, and then get reimbursed by your pet insurance company. Make sure that’s the case, and learn just how simple (or not!) the claims process is, and the average time it takes to get your reimbursement check.

Can I use any vet, or a network of providers?

If there are certain doctors you must choose from in order to get reimbursed, make sure your favorite vets are on the list.

How hefty is the deductible?

The lower the deductible, the higher your monthly premiums will be, and vice versa. And see if there’s a limit on the number of claims or visits you can make in a year (or over the life of the policy). If your dog is prone to eating things she shouldn’t, take note that some companies only allow surgical removal of ingested items once every 12 months.

Does the insurance plan end when my dog reaches a certain age?

Many policies are designed only for young, relatively healthy dogs. You may need a different policy entirely for an older dog or one with a chronic condition (and those are available, too).

When does coverage begin?

Does it kick in immediately, or does it require a visit to the vet first? Almost every plan has a waiting period of at least a few days for certain conditions—some are as long as a year.

Is there a cap on coverage?

It can be as low as a few thousand dollars annually or as high as tens of thousands–but know before you sign.

How long is the policy in effect?

Unlike human health insurance, pet policies tend to be short-lived; most are only a year long and are renewable only with the company’s approval. Most reputable companies won’t count illnesses that were treated during the previous coverage period as preexisting conditions, but you’ll want to be sure about that.

So is pet insurance right for me?

In the end, pet insurance will be right for some and not right for others. Give some thought to your dog’s specific needs, like chronic conditions and age. Consider your finances, too. A full-coverage plan for illness and injury will cost much more than an accident-only plan. And don’t overlook the value of preventive care coverage, especially for younger pups. If you do decide you want to purchase pet insurance, once you have a list of the conditions you want coverage for—and the monthly premium you can afford—it’s much easier to wade through all the pet insurance plan options.