Finding the right pet insurance can be a complicated, time consuming task, especially if you have a sick or hurt pet. Our strongest suggestion when it comes to insurance for your furry companion is to get it as soon as possible. Unfortunately, unlike with human health insurance, pet insurance companies don’t cover pre-existing conditions. This means that if you wait to get insurance until your pet has a serious injury, accident, or illness, you will be out of luck and have to cover the entire cost of health care for that injury or illness. Before you select your insurance company, we strongly suggest that you seek out answers to the following questions from your potential insurers.
A good place to start is how long have they been in business? Since pet insurance is still a relatively new service, the longer an insurer has been around the more likely it is to be there when you need it.
If you are worried about whether or not an insurance company works with your veterinarian, there’s no need to fret: unlike human health insurance, pet insurance covers you regardless of the veterinarian you go to.
One thing to watch out for though is different payment coverage for emergency and specialty care. Some plans offer less coverage at these facilities because that health care tends to be much more expensive. Accordingly, we highly recommend finding an insurer that doesn’t discriminate between regular and emergency/specialty practices.
Find out what they cover: Unfortunately, not all medical procedures and charges are going to be covered by a given insurer. We’ve already mentioned that any malady affecting your pet before you acquire insurance will go uncovered. Similarly, there are certain services and procedures which a given plan may exclude. For example, some plans have significant restrictions regarding congenital and hereditary conditions, and may even exclude a given condition in the future despite the fact that they’ve paid for it in the past. In addition, some insurance plans cover alternative and holistic care options and some do not.
Many pet owners wonder whether pet insurance will cover preventative (wellness) care for their pets—costs that are predictable, expected, and relatively small in nature. Some plans do offer wellness coverage as an add-on that increases your premium, but many find that it’s most economical to pay preventative costs out of their own pockets. What pet insurance is really meant for is to protect yourself from unknown and large bills that may occur in the future.
Maximum payout: Another important factor that you’ll want to consider is something called maximum payout. There are different kinds of maximum payouts but the basic idea behind all of them is that they set a limit on how much money an insurance company has to pay you for veterinary bills. Some companies have maximum lifetime payments, which means that there is a cap on how much money they will reimburse you for a given pet during a year or over its entire lifetime. Other types of maximum payment are per injury or even per body system (such as a pet’s digestive system). Always inquire about maximum payments to make sure that you aren’t buying into a plan that will leave you out to dry if your bills climb past a certain amount. Given how sophisticated veterinary medicine is today, it’s important to remember that specialty bills in the tens of thousands of dollars are becoming commonplace, and that this trend will likely only increase as new medical advances become available.
Waiting Periods: This goes back to our original suggestion to get insurance as soon as you can. A waiting period is the amount of time it takes for your insurance to take effect after you have purchased it. So, if you are planning to wait until your pet seems sick before purchasing insurance, your plan will likely not cover your pet right away and you’ll be stuck with the entirety of the bill. Also, when asking about waiting periods, make sure to ask whether there are different periods for different types of problems. For example, some companies will have an illness waiting period that is different from an injury waiting period. In addition, ask whether there’s a way to eliminate the company’s waiting periods.
How quickly will the insurance company reimburse you?
Another difference between human health insurance and pet health insurance is that, for pets, all insurance benefits typically come in the form of a reimbursement after the owner has already paid the veterinarian. That is, you will have to foot the bill upfront, and then send in a claim form to your insurance company to get money back from them. As such, it makes sense that you will want to know how fast their average turnaround is for submitted claim. It may not be very helpful to have insurance which doesn’t reimburse you until 2 months after a claim is submitted!
One insurance company has partnered with specific hospitals to offer immediate payment of the pet owner’s portion of a bill; so, if paying the full charge out of pocket and then waiting to get money back sounds problematic, we recommend asking your veterinarian whether they offer this type of service.
Finally, if you are thinking of moving or traveling frequently, we highly recommend asking your insurer whether they will cover treatment that your pet receives in a state other than the one you currently live in. Sometimes insurance companies only cover veterinary costs in one or some states. Seeking medical care for a pet when you are away from home is stressful enough without having to worry about whether or not your insurance will help you foot the bill. Some companies will even cover costs in Canada and Puerto Rico.
As mentioned in the beginning, searching for good insurance can be a complicated and time consuming affair, but we hope these questions will help narrow the field and allow you to find the best plan for your lifestyle and wallet. For a more in-depth break down of how veterinary insurance works, please see our article titled “Deep Dive: Understanding Pet Insurance” which clarifies the components that make up health insurance (premiums, deductibles, copayments, etc.)
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