Pet Health Insurance 101: Your Policy Shopping Checklist

Pet at vet
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I’m a pet health insurance devotee, and if a veterinarian thinks it’s worthwhile to insure her animals, you should probably consider purchasing policies for your pets, too.

It Just Makes Sense

Not buying it? Let me try to convince you with three simple reasons.

1. It buys peace of mind.
If you know you can afford only $500 toward your pet's medical expenses if something should go really wrong, pet health insurance makes it much easier for you to say, “Go ahead. Save her.”

2. Pet health insurance beats saving for emergencies. Putting money aside for an emergency may be the ideal approach to paying for your pets’ health care, but how many of us have the discipline to do that? Enrolling your pets in a health insurance plan allows you to protect them more securely than many of us can with savings alone. (And now that vet bills can reach astronomical heights, covering them through savings might be unfeasible anyway.)

3. Pet insurance works. It may not be perfect for everyone or all situations, but I don’t have a single insured client who regrets the decision to purchase a policy, whether they ended up needing the protection or not. 

Things To Consider

But keep in mind: Not all plans are created equal. And not all will suit your needs.

Luckily, as the pet health insurance industry has matured, the marketplace has expanded. You now have several major companies to choose from, along with dozens of plan options to meet your pet’s individual needs. Trouble is, so many choices can be confusing.

With that fact in mind, I offer a checklist of issues you’ll doubtless confront as you start your pet health insurance shopping venture. Above all, be sure to solicit your veterinarian’s advice — especially if you’re navigating these waters for the first time.

1. Pet health insurance versus a wellness plan. Are you purchasing a pet health insurance policy or an annual wellness plan? The two are different. A pet health insurance policy reduces your financial risk, typically by reimbursing you after you’ve had to spend an unexpected amount of money on your pet's care (though some plans will reimburse you for basic wellness care, too). You pay for the plans through monthly premiums — usually for the life of your pet.

Wellness plans, however, are typically purchased annually and tend to take care of only basic issues your general practitioner veterinarian can address in-house. It might be a great product, but it’s not the same as pet health insurance.

With most in-house wellness plans, your pet can’t see another provider and you won't be reimbursed for an after-hours emergency or specialized procedure. And that may be when you most need the protection insurance can offer.

2. Pre-existing conditions. You should know that most pet health insurance plans won’t cover pre-existing conditions. That means your pet’s current diseases will almost certainly not be covered. But some plans are a little more lenient. They may, for example, allow for future coverage of a pre-existing issue as long as a disease-free year has passed. But be prepared to pay a little more for those plans that are more compassionate about covering such conditions.

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