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High Vet Bills? They’ve Got Ya Covered (Veterinary Health Insurance)

Recently, one of my clients discovered that his veterinary health insurance policy reimburses him for up to $500 in pet sitting fees in the event that he is admitted to the hospital! Hearing this news got me thinking about looking into veterinary health insurance again.

People who purchase health insurance policies for their dogs and cats do so for the same reasons people have health insurance policies for themselves: to offset unexpected medical expenses caused by accidents and sudden illnesses.

Coverage costs vary widely for veterinary pet insurance. Costs average between $19-$29 per month for dogs’ major medical coverage and between $12-$25 for cats’ major medical coverage. Routine care (annual exams) is usually covered by a rider policy and tends to cost an additional $10-12 per month per pet. If you take your pets to the vet for annual exams, why not purchase insurance that pays for the exam and that will kick in if you have veterinary emergencies?

The biggest factors determining the monthly premiums are: age of the animal that will be insured, type of animal, state or province of residence and specific plan selected. (Like human health insurance, pet health insurance plans are more costly when coverage benefits are more broad). Veterinary health insurance policies carry deductibles and these deductibles vary greatly, just like other insurance policies.

What companies offer pet insurance? A quick web search for “pet insurance” will uncover dozens of pet insurance companies.

If you have health insurance for your pets, please comment on this post to tell us what you like or dislike about it.

Companies offering veterinary health insurance

I contacted each of these companies asking whether they have policies that cover pet sitting and/or boarding fees. I’ve included notes about those companies that replied.

  • Trupanion, http://trupanion.com/  (Covers boarding, only if (1) if you have purchased the additional $4.95 Rider B Pet Assistance Package, and (2) if you’re in a qualifying situation. Does not cover sitting.)
  • VPI, http://www.petinsurance.com/ (Does not cover sitting or boarding , even when medically necessary.)
  • Embrace, http://www.embracepetinsurance.com/ (Does not cover boarding or sitting, even when medically necessary.)
  • ASPCA, https://www.aspcapetinsurance.com/(Does not  cover kenneling or pet sitting, but does cover hospitalization in qualifying situations.)
  • 24PetWatch, http://www.24petwatch.com/
  • PetPlan, http://www.gopetplan.com/ (To be honest, this was initially my favorite of the plans I reviewed, but that changed after a VERY confusing conversation with a sales rep.) (We have mixed info. One of my clients is a PetPlan customer whose plan states it does covers up to $500 in qualifying situations. The PetPlan sales rep gave me conflicting info: sometimes stating the same thing seen in my client’s plan, sometimes stating that PetPlan does not cover sitting/boarding under any circumstances.)
  • PetFirst, https://www.petfirst.com/
  • Pets Best, http://www.petsbest.com

Tips for comparison shopping for veterinary health insurance

Comparison shopping is an important part of the process of choosing among insurance options. Some companies exclude certain breeds, ages, illnesses and tests. It’s best to ask before buying coverage than to find out that a beloved animal is excluded from coverage. Some do not cover routine checkups and vaccinations, but do cover emergencies and unexpected illnesses. Some cover treatment, but do not cover diagnosis. It’s a good idea to get complete coverage information – including the fine print – before signing on the dotted line.

First, it’s a good idea to talk with your veterinary staff to find out if they have preferences. They might be able to provide insight into which companies are easiest to work with.

Below are a few questions that you might want consider when comparing and choosing veterinary health insurance plans.

  • Does the insurance plan cover only emergencies and unexpected illness, or also routine care? If routine care is covered, what aspects are excluded (annual exams, vaccinations, teeth cleaning, spay/neuter procedures, flea and worm medication)? Are there any add-ons or riders that can be purchased?
  • Can people choose their own veterinarians or are they limited to a certain vet or vet network?
  • If your pets have preexisting conditions, are they eligible for coverage?
  • Is a physical exam required before coverage begins? If not, is acceptance guaranteed?
  • What are the policy’s exclusions? Does the coverage include both diagnosis and treatment? Are both lab tests and x-rays covered? Are there any excluded diagnosis tools or treatments? Are there any exclusions for accidents or for illnesses? Does it include congenital & hereditary health conditions? Does it cover hospital stays? Which prescriptions, if any, are covered?
  • Are preexisting conditions covered? If not, how does the company define “preexisting conditions”? Note: some companies consider conditions they have covered under a policy to be “preexisting” the next time that same policy is renewed.
  • What are the premium and deductible amounts?
  • Are there maximum benefit allowances, either per incident or per year?
  • How and when are premium increases determined? Some are based on the animal’s age, while others are based on the amount of veterinary claims filed. Some review and update premiums annually, while others do this quarterly.
  • How is coverage determined? Pet insurance providers commonly use one of these methods in determining coverage: a benefit schedule that identifies how much coverage is available per incident, or “reasonable and customary fees” that can change at the insurer’s discretion.
  • Does the company offer any discounts? Some companies offer discounts on microchipping, multipet coverage, and 24-hour on-call veterinary hotlines.
  • How is billing handled? Some plans provide reimbursement coverage while others have veterinarians bill them first and bill you for the remainder later.
  • What is the company’s history and reputation? How long have they been in business? Has your vet had any experience with them or with their competitors? Has the Better Business Bureau received any complaints against them? Have any lawsuits been filed against them? Does state’s insurance commissioner state that the company has legal or ethical issues that consumers should be aware of?

I’d love to hear from folks who have veterinary health insurance for their animals, especially if they have experiences that would help me (and others) decide which company to work with.

Select sources

  • Barlyn, Suzanne. “Is Pet Health Insurance Worth the Price?” Wall Street Journal. 13 March 2008. ProQuest. Timberland Regional Library. 22 Oct 2008. http://www.proquest.com.
  • Kristof, Kathy M. “Pet Insurance: Lots to Chew on.” Los Angeles Times. 5 Oct 2008. ProQuest. Timberland Regional Library. 22 Oct 2008. http://www.proquest.com.
  • Lynch, Eric. “Pet Insurance: A Pet Owner’s Guide.” Pet Insurance Info: Answers for Pet Owners. 22 Oct 2008. http://www.pet-insurance-info.com/.
  • MacDonald, G. Jeffrey. “Weighing Pet Medicine.” Christian Science Monitor. 24 Nov 2004. ProQuest. Timberland Regional Library. 22 Oct 2008. http://www.proquest.com.
  • Stone, Jennifer. “Pet Insurance May Help Keep Pets Healthy.” PetColumn. 24 Sept 2001. University of Illinois’ College of Veterinary Medicine web site. 22 Oct 2008. http://vetmed.illinois.edu/petcolumns/showarticle.cfm?id=311.
  • Weston, Liz Pulliam. “Should You Buy Pet Insurance?” MSN.com. 12 June 2008. 22 Oct 2008. http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/Insurance/AssessYourNeeds/ShouldYouBuyPetInsurance.aspx.
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2 comments to High Vet Bills? They’ve Got Ya Covered (Veterinary Health Insurance)

  • Great article, Kari! I have often wondered about vet health insurance, but each time after researching, would determine that it is better to fund a savings account each month that is dedicated to pet health. I really like the idea of it, but it seems like there are so many exclusions and “tricks” that the insurance companies employ (much like our own human insurance!).

    We just recently signed up for a Wellness Plan at Banfield Vet Hospital. It costs about $35 a month per dog (cats are about $26) for the plan that we are on and includes 2 comprehensive exams per year, all vaccinations (including leptospirosis, lyme, and bordetella along with all the usuals), deworming, some diagnostic testing and unlimited office visits. The “Active Prevention” plan which we are on also includes dental cleaning with full pre-anesthetic blood work. You also receive 15% off of other services which are not included. It’s a pretty good value considering a dental cleaning can easily cost over $500 – and that’s without any extractions or other problems. I feel like it also encourages pet owners to be pro-active and not let a possible problem fester since office visits are always free.

    We’ll see how it goes – we have been on the plan for less than a month, so I can’t report on the actual reality of it :)

    Hope this is helpful information for the forum.

  • Yes, that’s very helpful, Bridget. It’s sorta like a PetSmart/Mars Co HMO for pets. It does sound like the plan pays for itself if ya do the recommended annual maintenance exams. Very good to know. Here’s a link for anyone who’s interested. http://www.banfield.com/Optimum-Wellness-Plans

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