Is pet insurance worth it? Veterinarians explain how to choose the best plan

Most pet owners love their four-legged friends unconditionally and would do anything in their power to ensure their happiness and well-being, but caring for an animal can be particularly costly when it comes to its health.

According to the 2021-2022 American Pet Products Association (APPA) National Pet Owner Poll, 70% of US households, or 90.5 million households, have a pet, and Americans spend a total of $32.2 billion per year on veterinary care and products.

Veterinary expenses vary, but on average dog owners spend about $242 on routine visits and $458 on surgical visits per year, while cat owners spend about $178 on routine visits and $201 on surgical visits.

Sure, there’s a financial commitment involved in having a furry companion, but is pet insurance worth it? And what does it cover? news week experts asked.

How much does pet insurance cost?

Most pet owners pay an average of $133 to $594 a year for insurance, but the price varies based on a variety of factors, including the animal’s species, breed, age, any pre-existing conditions, and geographic location.

According to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA), the price of pet insurance can range from as little as $11 per month for accident-only coverage to $29 per month for accident and illness coverage for a cat, while for dogs prices range from $18 to $49 per month also depending on the level of coverage.

dogs playing with cats
Some pet insurance plans practice disease exclusion. Before choosing your plan, check to see what disease your pet’s breed is prone to and make sure it’s covered.
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What does pet insurance cover?

There are different levels of coverage for pet insurance, and typically the two main categories are accident-only coverage and accident-and-sickness coverage. The first category only covers unexpected accidents, while the second generally covers accidents and common illnesses like infections or emergency care.

According to Dr. Ann Hohenhaus, a senior veterinarian at Schwarzman Animal Medical Center in New York City, the first step is to assess what type of coverage you want for your pet.

She said news week: “Do you want coverage for annual wellness care, preventive health care like immunizations, blood tests, and preventative medications like heartworm, flea, and tick products? And if a big emergency happens, you’ll pay for it out of your fund.” for emergencies. OR Do you want coverage for a catastrophic illness and plan to pay out-of-pocket for routine care? Once you’ve answered these questions, you can start reviewing policies that might meet your pet’s needs.”

Insurance policy coverage usually has a deductible, which is the portion of the veterinary bill you’re responsible for before coverage begins. High deductible plans are less expensive, while lower deductible plans cost more. You can also choose the level of coverage that can vary from 50 to 90% of the total cost.

How does pet insurance work?

Pet insurance works similarly to human health insurance and, according to Dr. Hohenhaus, in some cases is even offered as a benefit from your employer.

Pet insurance typically reimburses your medical expenses rather than paying the veterinary clinic directly. You buy a policy that meets your needs, submit the required paperwork, and then money will be paid toward the cost of your pet’s medical care.

Hohenhaus said, “In human medicine, bills are sent to the insurance company first, and then a bill is sent to the patient. Most of the time in veterinary medicine, the customer pays the vet and then gets reimbursed by their insurance provider.” .

Beagle dog and brown cat lying together
About 70% of American households have a pet. And most pet owners spend between $133 and $594 a year on insurance.
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What pre-existing conditions does pet insurance cover?

Some insurance companies have significant exclusions in their coverage plans, so it’s always best to check the fine print in your policy.

In general, insurance does not cover pre-existing conditions.

“Get insurance early as a puppy/kitten is less likely to have a pre-existing condition. If you are insuring an 8 year old dog, the insurance company will ask for your dog’s medical records to determine if there was a pre-existing condition or clinical signs of a pre-existing condition. It’s always best to get insurance right after or around the time your pet was adopted,” says Hohenhaus.

Some insurance plans also practice age exclusion, meaning they won’t enroll an older pet. So before you sign up for a plan, it’s important to check if the policy covers pets of any age and if it runs out when your pet reaches a certain age.

Some policies also deny coverage to repeat offenders. For example, if your dog eats something that needs to be removed by endoscopy or surgery and eats something a second time, he may not be covered.

Policies may not cover exam fees, limit primary care visits per year, and limit the number of vaccines covered per year.

Additionally, some policies also practice disease exclusion and breed exclusion. “If you own a purebred dog, know what diseases occur in your breed. You can find this information by going to the breed club website and finding the health information for your breed, and once you know that information , check how the policy handles those specific diseases.”

You can easily find this information online. Look up your dog’s bread, for example, if your dog is an affenpinscher, go to the Affenpinscher Club of America, click on the breed, and then scroll down to health and wellness to read about what disease he’s most prone to.

Are there big differences between dog and cat insurance?

The difference between dogs and cats is the illnesses each species is more prone to, and therefore the illnesses that need to be covered.

“Cruciate ligament rupture is common in dogs, not cats. I wouldn’t turn down a policy for my cat if it didn’t cover cruciate ligament repair. Liver shunts are common in small breed dogs, but not so common in cats. I’d like to liver bypass coverage if you had a small breed dog, but probably not if you had a cat or Labrador. Hohenhaus explained.

What other aspects should I review before choosing your insurance policy?

Dr. Hohenhaus recommends asking your veterinarian for a detailed quote submission that the company calculates for pre-approval. In some cases, this will allow the company to pay the hospital directly instead of you paying out of pocket and being reimbursed.

If you have more than one pet, it might be worth asking if there’s a discount if you insure them all at once. Be sure to double check if the policy is capped, lifetime, annual, or based on a diagnosis.

“A diagnosis is usually required for reimbursement. This can get complicated when a pet has multiple issues. Be sure to match the diagnosis to the test or treatment.

For example, if your pet has kidney disease and a skin infection, blood tests would be to assess the kidneys and skin cytology to determine if the infection is yeast or bacteria.”

Is pet insurance worth it?

Dr. Hohenhuas recommends pet insurance depending on your financial situation: “If you’re disciplined enough to save and have $15,000 in savings for your pet, then you don’t need pet insurance. That amount will cover most catastrophic illnesses.” “If you’re having trouble saving money, then yes, pet insurance is a good investment. But if you’re on a tight budget, a policy that covers ‘well care’ will make it easier for you to budget for your limited means.”

Other pet care experts also share the same opinion. Kristen Lynch, executive director of NAPHIA, also believes that insurance is a good investment, because the pets in your life are likely to get sick and the cost of veterinary treatment continues to rise, so you’ll see a return on investment after all. .

She said news week: “My 4 1/2 year old dog, who has always been a very healthy dog ​​with access to the best vets and the best food, recently had an ear infection, has been on and off antibiotics and the problem is almost gone. But we managed several trips to the vet, so my insurance paid for itself.”

“For me, it’s more about ensuring my quality of life. Today we live month to month, so it’s really about preserving your quality of life and being able to deal with illness when it comes.”

dogs playing with stick
Some insurance companies practice breed exclusions or disease exclusions. Be sure to check the fine print of the policy before signing up.
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