Is Pet Insurance Worth It?
Many veterinarians swear by it, but should I get it?
By Samantha Grossman
All pet owners just want the best for their furry friends — and that includes the best veterinary care. For many fur-parents, a major point of confusion surrounding their pet’s healthcare is insurance. Is it necessary? Is it worth the cost? How does it even work?
“The veterinary industry has experienced major advances in technology and medical therapy. As a consequence, pet owners are seeking out high-quality care for their animal family members,” says Dr. Dee Ann Dugger, senior emergency clinician at BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Tampa. “The costs involved with ‘state-of-the-art’ care can be prohibitive, which is why more and more pet owners are looking into insurance plans to help defray the cost.”
Here’s everything you need to know about pet insurance.
What is pet insurance, exactly?
You can purchase a pet insurance plan and pay a monthly premium to lower the overall cost of your veterinary bills. Plans can be purchased through private companies, and the specific services covered by each plan will vary.
“Typically, pet insurance covers sickness and injuries, and some offer coverage on wellness care,” says Trisha Lay, office manager at Boston Veterinary Clinic. “There can be breed restrictions, pre-existing condition restrictions, and loss of coverage as the pet ages. It is recommended to do research on the different companies to see what they do and do not cover.”
Standard medical plans typically focus on acute illness, emergency surgery, orthopedic procedures, and long-term therapy for chronic disease. Plans that include wellness care will usually cover things like vaccines, heartworm and flea prevention, and annual exams.
Like human health insurance, pet insurance involves paying a monthly premium, but there are a few key differences.
“Pet insurance differs in the fact that the client will always pay their bill up front to the clinic that is caring for their pet, then they will submit their claim and be reimbursed directly from the pet insurance company,” says Lay. Clients are sometimes confused about this process, so she always makes sure they understand that they’ll pay upfront, even if their pet is insured.
Another key difference, says Dr. Dugger, is pet plans “usually have no network restrictions and the cost for treatment does not vary between insured pets vs. uninsured pets.”
Which pets should be insured?
Both Lay and Dr. Dugger agree that while all pets benefit from being insured, the best time to purchase a plan is when your pet is young and healthy, before any major illness or injury has occurred.
“Young animals would benefit from enrollment into a comprehensive plan that covers both wellness and illness,” says Dr. Dugger. “If owners have an older animal, they can still benefit from an insurance plan, but they need to evaluate the plan for age limits and restrictions on ‘pre-existing conditions.’”
Additionally, Lay and her colleagues at Boston Veterinary especially recommend pet insurance if you have a breed prone to ear infections (like Basset hounds or cocker spaniels), allergies, disc issues, or cruciate injuries.
How do I choose a plan?
“There are currently about nine to 11 major plans,” Dr. Dugger says. “Most companies have different options for premium rates, deductible amounts, and wellness vs. illness plans. This allows pet owners to choose plans that fit within their budget.”
To find the right plan, make sure to do plenty of research and talk with your primary care veterinarian for their recommendations. They can likely provide you with a comparison chart that outlines the pros and cons of each plan. If you have two or more pets, some companies will offer multi-pet discounts, so be sure to look into that option.
“Most plans can be used anywhere in the U.S., but if you travel with your pet, it is important to check if there are any restrictions for care outside of the continental U.S.,” Dr. Dugger adds.
So, is pet insurance worth it?
“Absolutely!” says Dr. Dugger. “Paying a premium once a month is much more palatable for most families than incurring a multi-thousand dollar bill for an acute illness or emergency surgery.”
Additionally, if you’re interested in reducing future medical bills and helping prevent illnesses that may appear down the road, you can do some research to find a plan that includes wellness/preventive care.
Though paying a monthly premium may seem intimidating at first, you’re ultimately making a wise investment in your pet’s long-term health — and you could end up saving big bucks.
“I have insurance for all my pets and it gives me peace of mind that when making decisions about medical care, I can take money out of the equation,” Dr. Dugger says. “With all the insurance options available today, it can be very affordable for most families. This growing industry is allowing veterinarians to provide the best care for animal family members.”