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Should I get pet insurance?

I am often asked by clients if purchasing pet insurance is a good idea, and my answer is always “It depends.”  Before I can really answer that for someone, they have to understand a little bit about pet insurance, what it can do, and more importantly, what it cannot do.

First of all, similar to human health insurance, pet health insurance can help cover the cost of medical expenses in case of accident or illness.  Although some companies provide coverage for routine wellness care (vaccinations, spay/neuter surgery, dental cleanings, etc.), most companies provide insurance just for major, unexpected, and expensive health issues.  And just like people,  there may be various levels of coverage, including differing co-payments, deductibles, maximum payouts, waiting periods, disease-specific riders, and exclusions on certain genetic and pre-existing conditions.

What many people don’t understand is that pet health insurance works on a reimbursement system.  In other words, when your pet is treated by the veterinarian, all your financial dealings are handled with the veterinary office as they usually are.  The veterinary staff provides a service, and the client pays the bill at check-out.  A  staff member will  fill out a fairly simple claim form which is then submitted to the insurance company.  Assuming the illnes or injury is covered, the insurance company will send the appropriate reimbursement, as detailed in your policy.  Therefore, you should realize that even if you have health insurance, you must still have the means  to pay for your veterinary care up front. 

When I discuss health insurance with clients, I encourage them to think about what they want from an insurance company.  Do they want the broadest, most complete coverage available (along with higher premiums)?  Do they want routine wellness care included (vaccines, spay/neuter, etc.)?  Do they just want to insure against expensive catastrophic illnesses or injuries?  Are they willing and able to pay for the less serious and less costly health issues?   Once they have decided if pet health insurance is right for them, and what level of coverage they wish,  only then should they meaningfully investigate and research the various companies and their plans.  The research part is fairly straight forward.  If you search pet insurance online, you will find  links to all the major pet health insurance companies.  You will be able to research the various  plans they offer, and will even be able to compare them to competing insurance companies. 

There are two common scenarios that I occasionally face that I need to point out.  I find that many people purchase health insurance while their pet is young.  They obtain a new puppy or kitten, and since the premiums are relatively low, and they are new, well-intentioned pet owners, they purchase a perfectly good policy.   After several years of paying premiums, their pet has always been  relatively healthy, and (thankfully) they never have had the need to “collect”  on the policy.  So finally, after a few years, they decide to cancel the policy.  Big mistake!!  Of course they never had to file a claim, because they have taken such good care of their pet!  However, just like people, serious  illness usually strikes us when we are older.  So finally after many years of good health, their pet gets ill, and they may be faced with expensive care.  This is usually when they tell me they dropped their policy a year ago because they didn’t think it was worth it.  You should never hope to “collect” on your policy (isn’t that hoping that your pet gets ill or injured?).   Pet insurance should give you the assurance and peace of mind such that, should something happen to your pet, you will have the insurance in place to cover your financial outlay.

The other scenario that I often find is that people attempt to get insurance after their pet is ill or injured, and they cannot understand why they are not approved.  This is because it is now a pre-existing condition.  No insurance company will cover your pet after your pet becomes sick or hurt.  By this time, it is too late.  The time to get insurance is before your pet becomes ill or injured, because it won’t be available after your pet needs it.

So, do I think pet health insurance is a good idea?  Again, I say, “It depends.”  It may be for some, but not for others.   However, it is very important to spend some time considering it.  Do your homework.  Think about what you want out of pet health insurance.  You may decide that it is not for you.  But if you decide that pet health insurance is right for you , choose a policy that fits your wants, your needs, and your budget.  Your pets health may depend on it.

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