One minute, you and Spot are playing fetch at the park; the next, you hear a whimper and he’s limping back to you. When you take him to the vet, you find out Spot has a torn knee ligament. Healing it will take a $3,000 surgery. Talk about ouch. Expensive surgeries, treatments, and prescriptions for dogs and cats are becoming more common- and pet insurance can help by offsetting some or most of the costs. But pet insurance isn’t for everyone, and there’s no magic formula that will tell you if it’s right for you and your pet. If you’re considering pet insurance, talk to your veterinarian and do some research on your options. Here are some basic questions to ask any pet insurance provider.
1. How much does the plan cost?
The average plan costs about $30 to $35 a month. Generally, the more expensive the policy, the more it will cover. For instance, you can get accident-only coverage for $10 a month, but a comprehensive policy with a $100 deductible and $15,000 annual payout limit could run $100 a month.
2. Which states are covered by the plan?
Not all pet insurance companies are licensed to sell insurance in all states. Therefore, before buying a pet insurance plan, make sure the company sells plans in your state and in any state you may be thinking of moving to, and that the coverage will be the same in the new state.
3. What is the acceptable enrollment age?
This is the age your pet must be to sign up for a new policy. There is usually a maximum as well as minimum age. There can be one range for dogs and one range for cats. There can also be ranges for certain breeds.
4. What does the plan cover?
Look for plans that cover accidents, illnesses, hereditary and congenital conditions, and optional routine care.
- Accidents – Common accidents like cuts and broken legs should be covered. Also, look for a plan that will help pay for surgery needed to remove swallowed objects.
- Illnesses – Curable conditions and chronic diseases, like cancer and diabetes, should be covered.
- Hereditary and congenital conditions – Examples include hip and elbow dysplasia, glaucoma, epilepsy, IVDD, luxating patella and cherry eye.
- Routine Care – This optional coverage is usually available for an extra price, and should help pay for preventive measures like annual exams, vaccinations, blood work and dental cleanings.
5. How is your reimbursement calculated when you file a claim?
Generally, reimbursement is calculated in one of two basic ways:
- As a fair and straightforward percentage of your veterinarian’s bill, or
- As a percentage of a benefit schedule which limits the amount the insurance company is willing to pay.
6. What will affect your reimbursements?
Avoid plans that limit injury and illness payouts by using a benefit schedule, incident deductibles or exam fee exclusions.
7. Can you choose any veterinarian?
Look for plans that allow you to visit:
- Any licensed veterinarian in the world
- Emergency clinics – Even after hours
- Specialists – In case your pet needs to be seen by an ophthalmologist (eye specialist), or oncologist (cancer specialist), for example.
8. Does the policy provide lifetime coverage?
In the event of a chronic problem such as diabetes or cancer, it’s important to know your plan will continue to cover the problem after your policy renews. Otherwise, illnesses may be considered “pre-existing” when it’s time to renew your policy. Pets Best provides continuous care coverage at no additional cost on all of its policies.
9. How and when can your premium increase?
The premium is the amount you pay monthly or annually for your pet insurance policy. However, this will not remain the same for the duration of coverage. Ask the insurance company how and when your premium can increase.
If covering your cats or dogs is beyond your budget, here are four other options:
1. Wellness plan
PetSmart stores house Banfield Pet Hospitals, which offer Optimum Wellness Plans. For a onetime sign-up fee and small monthly payments, Banfield provides shots, checkups, screenings, and discounts on additional services such as neutering.
2. Discount deal
Companies like Pet Assure provide cut rates on care and supplies, via a network of professionals. Make sure there’s a participating vet in your area, and compare the cost with what you’d pay a vet charging standard rates. Visit petassure.com for info.
Some vets work with financing companies that let you pay over time with no or low interest. Acceptance is based on credit history. Check with your vet.
4. Financial aid
If all else fails, nearly two dozen privately funded organizations underwrite critical care for pets whose owners are in financial distress.