It is very easy to put off planning for something that might not happen. It's just part of human nature. Sure, you might get away with it for a while, and maybe that rainy day never comes. But sometimes, you'll find out you shouldn't have waited to at least consider your options. This is doubly true when it comes to your dog, because few people set aside money to help in the event of a veterinary emergency. Dog health insurance isn't right for every pet owner - and different types of insurance may be more useful to you, depending on your pet's situation - but it makes sense to at least explore what's available, find out what it costs, and make an informed decision.
Understand What Dog Health Insurance Does Before You Buy
Up front, you need to know that most insurance policies for dogs don't work the same way human health insurance works. Your personal insurance coverage probably pays your health provider directly: You go to your doctor, show them your health insurance information, and your provider covers your expenses (minus a co-pay or out-of-pocket deductible, for example).
In most cases, pet insurance providers do not pay upfront, and do not interact directly with your veterinarian service (however, some do offer plans that pay directly - check with providers, and with your veterinarian, as well). Typically, you have to pay your veterinarian's bill with your own money, and your pet insurance provider will reimburse you for covered expenses after you submit a claim.
It's also not possible to get around paying high monthly premiums by purchasing pet insurance after your dog has a health problem. No insurance plan works like that. Almost all pet insurance providers build waiting periods into their products, so their customers can't run out and purchase a plan when they know they have a bill due.
Pet insurance usually works only if you purchase a plan early, before you need to use it. This is where it gets really tricky. Weigh the value you get from your pet insurance plan against your pet's needs and the cost of your monthly premium. You also need to know how long it takes to submit a claim, how difficult approval is, and when you can expect to be repaid. These key takeaways can help you better understand what you're getting for your money.
- Generally, You Pay Out-of-pocket: Very few insurance companies offer to pay veterinarians directly (and not all vets accept such arrangements).
- You Have to Plan Ahead: Few providers will cover your dog's vet bill a week after you start paying premiums.
- Figure Out When You Get Paid: Some providers have excellent reputations for paying claims quickly. Be sure you can afford to wait if claims take more time.
Find the Ideal Provider
Reputation is a very important part of the pet insurance business. Start by researching the company's history and ownership. Do they have a good reputation? Can you find information about their financial statements? How long have they been around?
If you're not sure, ask around with friends who have purchased pet insurance for their dogs, or search for impartial feedback online. Your friends and family may have valuable experience that might warn you against making a mistake with a provider who won't meet your needs. Online reviews are not always reliable, but you may find a pattern of complaints or reports of quality customer service. Ultimately, you have to decide which insurance carrier and plan are right for you (or if dog health insurance is worth it at all).
Be Ready to Do Some Leg Work
Once you have found a few companies you are interested in, you need to be ready to dive into the specifics of what a particular plan covers, and what you're getting for your money:
- Get a few quotes from insurance companies and compare their features.
- Decide whether you are more concerned with monthly costs or types of coverage offered. Keep in mind that paying a low premium also reduces the amount of insurance coverage.
- Speak with your veterinarian about the costs associated with treating the more common conditions for your dog's breed.
Questions to Ask
Once you have made the decision to buy pet insurance, carefully read the terms and conditions of each policy to determine if it meets your needs. Ask these questions:
- Does this plan offer the coverage I need? Determine whether the policy covers pets for accidents only, accidents and illness, and/or preventive care.
- How long do I have to wait before submitting a claim? This is the policy's waiting period - to prevent fraud, policies specify a delay between when you purchase a policy and when your coverage actually begins.
- What do I pay for coverage? Monthly and annual costs, deductibles, co-pays, and caps (limits on the amount of reimbursement).
- What incentives does the plan include? Discounts offered on insuring more than one pet, or reduced deductibles based on the length of time between submitting claims.
- What doesn't the plan cover? Find out the exclusions for service, including costs for preventive medicine and procedures, and for conditions related to your dog's medical history and breed.
- Are genetic conditions or pre-existing conditions covered? Find out if chronic, hereditary, and congenital diseases are covered.
- When do I get paid back? Find out how long their reimbursement process takes - Some pet insurance companies reimburse rather quickly, whereas others may take some time.
If you have any other questions, don't hesitate to ask. Make sure the answers you receive match what's actually written in the policy you're considering. Always get it in writing. If a policy doesn't include coverage for cancer, chronic diseases, hereditary and congenital diseases, and medical conditions that are common to your dog's breed, be prepared to buy additional coverage as an add-on (or end up paying out of pocket). If a pet insurance company does not want to answer certain questions, this could be a huge red flag. As with any other company, transparency with customers is key.
Choosing Your Level of Coverage
Most pet insurance providers offer a wide variety of plan options so that you can customize your care based on your dog's needs. Before you buy, you need to shop around to find the best policy to suit your (and your pet's) needs. Most plans allow you to select your maximum amount of annual coverage, the percentage of your expenses that will be reimbursed, and your deductible, among several other options.
It's important to understand that not every policy covers every single medical expense associated with your pet's care. For example, imagine that you anticipate needing $4,000 of coverage annually for your dog, at a 90 percent reimbursement rate (meaning that 90 percent of what you spend on vet bills is what your insurance provider will reimburse you for), and you want a low deductible.
Depending on the provider you choose, you can likely tweak those figures in a lot of ways. However, the general rule of thumb is, the higher the amount of your annual coverage, the greater the reimbursement percentage, and the lower the deductible, the more you will pay in premiums for that plan. If you do file a claim, and it is approved, you will be reimbursed for 90 percent of the cost, up to a maximum of $4,000. A plan like this will cost you more in deductible payments than a plan paying out 80 percent of costs up to a maximum of $3,000, for example
Popular Insurance Companies
More pet parents are purchasing pet insurance than ever before, so if you do a search, you'll likely find quite a few options. We'll go over a few of the most popular companies. These aren't the only pet insurance plans available, and it's important to do your own research before selecting a plan that's right for you and your dog.
Trupanion offers 24/7 emergency care, 90-day prescription coverage, and lifetime wellness benefits. Trupanion is the only company that covers cancer treatment, which is usually excluded by most other companies. This means that if your pet needs chemotherapy or radiation therapy, they will be covered. Trupanion is also one of the only companies that does not raise the cost of insurance coverage as your pet ages (though the company does sometimes raise premiums on an annual basis, so check your contract closely to understand how your bill might change over time).
Fetch! Pet Insurance is a leading pet insurance provider in the United States. They offer comprehensive coverage, including accident insurance, illness insurance, wellness plans, and more. They serve all 50 states and provide coverage for dogs and cats of all ages and breeds. This insurance provider does not currently cover routine or preventative maintenance, prescription dog foods, or grooming.
Embrace is an Ohio-based company that offers pet insurance in all 50 states and is noted especially for its flexibility in allowing you to choose any vet, even covering some alternative therapies. It's also customizable, allowing you to choose what you would and would not like covered. Buyers should know that if your pet had cancer before your policy went into effect, a recurrence of any type of cancer will not be covered. Also, if you want prescription meds covered, that is an additional add-on and not part of the base coverage.
Nationwide pet insurance is one of the most popular pet insurance providers in the U.S. It's also one of the most affordable. Nationwide pet insurance offers a variety of plans, including annual, monthly, and even one-time reimbursement options. You can also purchase an optional policy to cover your pet's behavioral therapy sessions or prescription medicines. You can choose your deductible and reimbursement amount, and you can even set up automatic payments. If you already have some type of insurance with Nationwide, such as car or home insurance, you may also qualify for a discount. You can also check to see if your employer is listed in their network to get preferred pricing.
Healthy Paws is known for being incredibly compassionate. Despite being a newer company, Healthy Paws still offers a generous payout, coverage for some pre-existing conditions, and coverage for chronic diseases and conditions. Customers should note that the insurance does not cover exam fees for diagnosing an illness or injury (but does cover treatment). In addition, pet lovers might feel good knowing that when you insure your pet through Healthy Paws, a portion of the money they make goes to the Healthy Paws Foundation, which donates money to shelters.
Your veterinarian may also be able to recommend reputable agencies they have had experience with, and you can check out agencies through your local Better Business Bureau.
Is More Expensive Coverage Worth It?
The more you spend, the better your options are. Most dog health insurance providers are happy to offer you more coverage for higher premiums. Whether you end up gaining from this depends on your dog's healthcare needs, and there is no way to predict what those will be with certainty. Consider what you think your financial needs will be, and put those expectations against what you can afford to spend.
- It saves you having to make a hard decision. Veterinarian medicine is advancing rapidly, and so is the cost of newer, more demanding treatments. Without coverage, choosing newer, more exensive treatments may not be an option.
- You have peace of mind. With good coverage, you know a large bill won't break your bank account. If you otherwise wouldn't be able to afford a large vet bill, having quality coverage could save your dog's life.
- You can match your means with your needs. You give yourself options for coverage (especially if you plan ahead), and end up saving money in the long run.
- It's expensive - especially if you pick better coverage. You take your chances knowing that you could spend a considerable amount of money in insurance premiums and your pet may never develop a serious condition.
- There are a lot of details to understand. The type of injury or illness, your dog's breed, age, medical history, and where you live affect how much you pay to have your dog insured.
- It's limited. Many policies don't cover pre-existing or hereditary conditions.
- It can take time to get your money back. Most plans require you pay your vet directly and submit a claim, so be sure you can still cover costs up front.
One way to decide whether a policy is right for you is to think about whether it would be easier for you to handle a big expense should one arise, or if it would be easier to handle ongoing payments in the form of premiums. Also, it is relatively easy to save money in an account to cover potential future veterinary costs. If you can stay disciplined and put money away each month (essentially paying premiums to yourself), by the time your dog is likely to have health issues, you've already saved enough to cover most costs.
Getting Coverage for Your Pet
A health insurance policy for your pet is only as good as the coverage it provides, so be certain you understand exactly what you'll be getting for your money. Comparison shop before you settle on a specific company or policy, and take the time to check the background of any agency you consider doing business with. Make a list of what you're looking for in a plan and see which plan best matches your needs. Thinking ahead and carefully considering your options is the best way to protect your dog and make their health care easier to afford.