The ABCs of Pet Insurance

by kerrimarshal ; Updated October 17, 2017

Like most types of insurance, at first blush health insurance, let alone health insurance for your pet, can seem hard to decipher, with policies and coverage varying widely by provider. While most of us consider our pets cherished members of our family and want to provide them with the best possible care, it can be confusing trying to understand what insurance really covers, and if that monthly payment really offers peace of mind in the event that something happens to your pet. Though none of us want to think about that day, the reality is that unexpected accidents or illness are not uncommon and, with rising costs in veterinary care, medical insurance for your pet can provide the safety net a family needs to make the best decisions about care for Fluffy or Fido.

Pet medical insurance doesn’t need to be confusing. While each provider is different and offers varying coverage, plans and pricing, the basic premise is simple – pay a monthly premium in order to be covered for unexpected or costly veterinary expenses. This simple alphabetical guide breaks down the key factors to help you decide whether insurance is the right fit for your family.

  • Age – Many times, the age of your pet will influence the cost to insure them. Some companies will increase the price of the premium as the pet ages, while some only price based on the age at the time of enrollment. Insuring your pet as a puppy or kitten does have benefits—it is often less expensive and more likely that a pre-existing condition will not already exist. But if your pet is middle-aged or older don’t think that they can’t be insured, some plans allow dogs and cats to be enrolled until age 14 and continue covering your pet through the rest of their life.
  • Breed – Certain breeds are predisposed to costly conditions, such as luxating patellae in Yorkshire Terriers, chronic lower airway disease in Siamese cats and cancer in Golden Retrievers. The right medical insurance coverage will protect your animal even if they are prone to hereditary or congenital conditions.
  • Coverage – Each company will offer varying degrees of coverage, and some have coverage schedules and limits. Look for a provider that covers the largest portion of your veterinary bill, offers coverage for congenital and hereditary conditions, and has no limits to the amount they will pay out.
  • Deductible – Choose a deductible that fits your budget and pay attention to how they are applied. Deductibles can help you control your premiums while still making sure that you see coverage before you hit your budget limit. Some deductibles must be met yearly, and some only apply once per condition. Some companies offer adjustable deductibles that allow you to adjust the premium cost that best fits your budget.
  • pre-Existing conditions – No pet medical insurance company currently covers pre-existing conditions, but each company identifies pre-existing conditions differently. Make sure you understand how each company identifies a pre-existing condition and how they may decide if it relates to a future claim. Even if your pet has a pre-existing condition, like allergies or chronic ear infections, they still may be a good candidate for insurance if they develop an unrelated condition down the road.
  • Flexibility – Look for a policy that does not lock you into a long-term contract and gives you the freedom to adjust your deductible or premium payments to fit your changing financial needs. You also want a policy that gives you the freedom to go to any veterinarian or specialist you choose.

Click here for a full breakdown of additional terms in the ABCs of pet insurance.

In addition, there are some key questions you can ask to determine which policy is right for your pet.

• Is the policy and information easy to understand and readily available on the company’s website?
• How will your pet’s age influence the cost and coverage of the policy? Does your pet meet the age requirements to enroll?
• How will your pet’s breed influence the cost and coverage of the policy? Is your pet more prone to certain health conditions? Will those conditions be covered?
• How much coverage will each company provide? What percentage of the veterinary bill will they cover?
• Does the company set limits or have a benefit schedule where they determine when and what they will payout rather than just pay the bill?
• Is there a deductible? What are the options for the policy? Is it flexible? Will it fit your financial situation?
• How long does it take to get reimbursed for the veterinary bill? Can the company pay the veterinarian directly?
• When is a condition considered pre-existing?
• What flexibility does the company offer? Will you be locked in a contract? Will you be able to use your coverage at any veterinarian in any state?
• Does your veterinarian recommend them?

If you’re still not sure if medical insurance for your pet is right for your family, talk with your veterinarian. Ask questions specific to your pet’s health and breed to determine if insurance is likely to help you offset medical costs down the road and keep your four-legged family member happy and healthy.

Dr. Kerri Marshall, DVM, is Trupanion’s Chief Veterinary officer, responsible for inventing and developing a veterinary software system to help pay veterinarians directly so pet owners do not have to pay the full veterinary bill out of pocket upfront. Before joining Trupanion, she worked for 16 years at Banfield Pet Hospitals and in private practice at the University of California, Davis. Dr. Marshall graduated with her doctorate in veterinary medicine from Washington State University. She also completed an executive program and received a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Oregon.

Photo credit: Getty Creative