Pet health insurance can feel almost unnecessary—until it’s not. When my dog, Kelsey, got deathly ill about four years ago, the unexpected veterinary bills wrecked my perfect credit card balance and the modest-but-healthy savings I had built up. Three months of almost-constant vet care put me in a significant debt hole (and emotionally shook me to my core). Had I had pet health insurance for Kelsey at that time, I may have had a markedly different financial experience and a lot more peace of mind. But it’s hard to know when these things will happen. Pets are unpredictable sometimes.
Pet health insurance, much like human health insurance, can help defray the cost of medical visits and procedures to keep your pet healthy. Like human health insurance, pet health insurance also has many different providers and offers a variety of coverage levels. Navigating the murky waters of pet health insurance can be tricky. It’s hard to know where to begin!
From my own research, here are four things to consider when you’re getting health insurance for your pet:
This completely depends on the insurance provider. Some coverages might limit how much you can claim for your pet, and others offer different tiered plans that cover different levels of needs.
The two most common types of plans are:
- Accident and illness: This is the most common plan offered by providers, and works one of two ways. Some providers offer a baseline accident and illness plan that covers the basics you’d expect, such as cancer treatment, chronic or genetic conditions, prescription coverage, and more intricate exams like MRIs, x-rays, and lab tests. Other providers offer a few options based on monthly cost, with the difference being a few dollars between varying levels of coverage.
- Routine care only: The tests and exams even in a routine check-up can get pricey. Routine care plans help cover the cost of annual or semi-annual wellness exams, vaccinations, and preventative tests, such as for heartworm.
If you want nose-to-tail coverage for your pet, it is common to select an accident and illness plan and tack on routine care for an additional cost.
Many, if not all, providers base their premium on a variety of factors: your pet’s age, breed, size, your geographic location, and so on. Some might offer more flexibility based on you and your pet’s needs and financial situation, and some might just have a flat rate. Kelsey is rapidly approaching the age of nine; I understand that only just now looking for health insurance for her might be a little more costly, purely based on age. If your monthly budget is tight, I would recommend looking into providers that offer greater flexibility so you can find health insurance that better fits your budget. As with human health insurance, premiums usually increase annually, and the same can be said of pet health insurance as your pet gets older, too.
Some providers also offer flexible plans based on what you’d like to have for an annual reimbursement limit, annual deductible, and reimbursement percentage—all of which will dictate your monthly cost. Many, but not all, providers operate by either full- or partial-reimbursement only, so it’s important to consider when comparing plans. If your pet has recurring health ailments or your pet could have genetic health ailments as they get older, opting for a plan with more coverage options could be worth the higher cost.
Using Kelsey’s current age and breed, below are some examples of how the cost might break down based on the options you select:
|PROVIDER 1||PROVIDER 2||PROVIDER 3|
|ANNUAL DEDUCTIBLE||$1,000 (lower and higher options available)||$1,000 (lower and higher options available)||$750 (and lower)
|ANNUAL REIMBURSEMENT LIMIT||$5,000 (and up)||$5,000 (and up)||$4,000 (and up)|
|REIMBURSEMENT PERCENTAGE||70% (and up)||70% (and up)||70% (and up)|
|AVERAGE MONTHLY COST FOR ACCIDENT & ILLNESS COVERAGE||$22||$14 to $17||
|AVERGAGE MONTHLY COST WITH ROUTINE CARE ADDED ON||$40 to $75||$30 to $40||$60|
As you can see, there is no cookie-cutter plan and cost! Be sure to read the coverage details carefully for each provider; each plan is a little bit different.
PRE-EXISTING HEALTH CONDITIONS
It is unfortunately common for providers of pet health insurance to not cover pre-existing conditions that your pet may have. It’s impossible to predict the future, however, so unless you suspect your pet will have increased health ailments as it gets older, the cost may be prohibitive for you. You can also consult with your vet on what sort of ailments generally might occur in your pet’s breed to try to be mentally, emotionally, and financially prepared for down the road. Virtually all providers of pet health insurance have some sort of limitation on pre-existing conditions built into their plans, so be sure to read the fine print closely.
In my case with Kelsey, I know that she will suffer from premature arthritis as she ages and potentially also have some back issues. While she’s healthy now, it’s in the back of my head constantly that she will eventually need more frequent vet visits and likely also need medicines to help alleviate any pain or discomfort. Buying pet health insurance now, while she is healthy, might save me a mountain of debt later and also give me peace of mind, which can be priceless.
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Even if you do have health insurance for your pet, you may still need to pay upfront regardless. Some insurance plans operate on full or partial reimbursement only, and some do not. It’s always a good idea to have emergency funds squirreled away for yourself and your pet. You just never know!
Buying pet health insurance can feel like a gamble or even a waste of money. We pay into our own health insurance every month for those just-in-case moments; why not do the same for your beloved pet? Finding an affordable health insurance plan for Kelsey will bring a lot of peace of mind for me, even if it’s another bill to pay each month. If I am lucky, she may never need this additional care and continue to be in good health, and I’d just be out of the annual plan cost.
But, again, pets are unpredictable. I’ve already had one close call with Kelsey that (temporarily) derailed my finances, and that’s enough for my liking. On the flip side, the financial (and emotional) burden could be exponentially worse without the added security of health insurance. However, opting for pet health insurance may not be in the cards for everyone.
I recommend checking out this useful pet health insurance comparison tool by Forbes Advisor. There you will be given a list of providers, plans, and detailed premium/monthly costs based on your pet’s size, breed, age, and geographic location. I should note that this tool does not capture the full breadth of all pet health insurance providers, but it’s certainly a great place to start. If you are looking for more detailed insight on your own pet’s health and your insurance options, consult your veterinarian.
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