Since 2017 Americans have spent between $17 and $18 billion annually on veterinary care and medications for their pets—including everything from well pet visits and immunizations to prescription meds, surgeries, and boarding. And while this figure highlights both an increase in adoptions and a deep commitment to the loving care of our companion animals, it also illustrates how quickly veterinary expenses can overwhelm the typical household budget.
Pet insurance is one great way to reduce the often-unanticipated expenses of veterinary care, and it isn’t exactly new. Famous television dog Lassie became insured in 1982, making her the first American pet to have health insurance, and millions have followed since. Yet, pet insurance remains largely underused, with The New York Times estimating that 2% or fewer of American pet owners have health insurance for their animals.
If you’re a long-time pet owner, or among the millions who’ve become a first-time pet owner since the onset o the COVID-19 pandemic, pet insurance can help save you money on veterinary costs. Let’s take a quick look at how pet insurance works.
What is Pet Insurance?
Veterinary medicine and technology have made great strides forward in recent decades, with the introduction of new diagnostic tests, medications, and surgical interventions aimed at improving both care and outcomes. As a result, our furry companions are now able to live longer, healthier lives. But paying for some of these advanced procedures and techniques can be costly. A cruciate ligament repair in a large dog, for example, could cost several thousand dollars and requires months of convalescence. Can your family budget take that kind of hit? For many, the answer is no. That’s why pet insurance companies offer various competing plans from which to choose—each with its own set of copays/deductibles, covered conditions, and restrictions. When pet insurance works at its best, you choose the plan that’s best for your pet and pay a low monthly premium. Then if your pet is unexpectedly sick or injured, you file a claim. If your pet is covered, you receive a reimbursement for part or all of the covered veterinary costs.
What You Need to Know about Pet Insurance
When deciding whether you need pet insurance, there are a few factors to review.
How many pets do you have?
How old are your pets?
How is their overall health?
Are any of your animal's outdoor pets?
- Are they at risk for any health conditions because of their breed or age?
Comparison shopping for pet insurance is one way to be sure you’re getting a policy that suits both your pet’s needs and your budget. An unexpected illness or injury to your pet can quickly send your finances into damage-control mode. Pet insurance is designed to help you blunt the costs of the most severe and unexpected of these conditions.
Depending on the type of policy you have and what it covers, you could see significant savings if…
Your pet is unexpectedly injured in an accident
Your pet ingests a toxic substance
Your pet is diagnosed with a malignancy requiring surgery
Your pet requires an in-hospital stay at the vet to recover
- Your pet requires long-term care or physical rehabilitation
Most pet insurance does not cover well-pet visits because these visits rarely result in the kind of expenses that could over-stress the family budget. Pre-existing health conditions are typically also not covered by pet insurance; however, not all pre-existing conditions are deemed chronic, and some insurers have a timeframe after which a curable condition may again be covered. So, it pays to do a little research before choosing a pet insurance provider.
How to Research Pet Insurance
When researching pet insurance providers, there are several things you’ll want to watch. Each plan will have different coverage options, deductibles, copays, and claim-filing options. Fortunately, comparing pet insurance plans online is relatively easy.
When researching pet insurance options, you may want to begin by writing down a few basic questions.
What would my monthly premiums be for a dog/cat?
Will my premium increase each year?
Is pet wellness or dental procedures covered? Is there an extra fee?
Can I file a claim using my smartphone?
How are pre-existing conditions defined?
What is/isn’t covered?
Are there waiting periods? If so, what are they?
Do you offer plan discounts (ex. discount for insuring multiple pets)?
Using a simple framework like this, you can better compare prospective insurers one-on-one. It’s important to note that some workplaces are now offering pet insurance as an extension of their benefits package! Be sure to check with your HR department.
Is Pet Insurance Worth the Cost?
Few of us are financially prepared for the sudden expense of a serious illness or injury affecting our pets. Pet insurance provides an important buffer against unforeseen.
When reviewing pet insurance options, it’s important to remember a few basics:
Pet insurance is designed to help blunt the costs of sudden, unexpected, or costly veterinary care
Pet insurance may cover up to 100% of a procedure or treatment!
Pet insurance lets you make care-based, rather than cost-based, choices about your pet’s health care.
Pet insurance providers vary—so do your homework and find the most appropriate provider and policy.
We hope this tip sheet helps you make more informed choices for the health of your pet—and your budget!
Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.
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