Vanessa Armstrong•March 26, 2020•5 min read
There are many pet health insurance options out there, not just in terms of different companies vying to be your pet insurance provider, but also in terms of the different types of coverage. Even if you’ve chosen a provider, there are still a lot of decisions to make in order to determine what type of plan works best for you and your pet. Do you want full coverage including reimbursement for routine wellness check-ups, for example? Or do you want to pay a lower monthly fee but have a high deductible plan instead? Do you even need pet insurance at all?
The answers to these questions and others depend on your financial situation, your risk tolerance, and the current health and age of your cat or dog. Read on to learn what are the key questions you should ask yourself when deciding what type of pet health insurance is best for you. Once you’ve got this down pat, you can also check out our list of the best pet insurance providers of 2020, broken down by age and breeds.
Unfortunately, most pet health insurance plans won’t cover any pre-existing conditions your dog or cat might have, so it’s important to know your pet’s current health history (i.e., what your veterinarian has already diagnosed them with) when you’re considering whether it’s even worth getting plan in the first place. Generally speaking, if your dog or cat does have a pre-existing condition that requires ongoing veterinary care (and costs), paying for pet health insurance on top of that may not be the best option. Each pet is different, however, and each person’s risk tolerance is different as well, so getting coverage may still be the right option for you regardless of your pet’s current health.
Another factor to consider when looking at different providers is whether you’re planning to cover more than one pet. Some providers like ASPCA and PetPremium offer a discount of usually 5-10% if you have more than one pet you’re looking to cover, so if you decide you want multi-pet health insurance, it’s worth considering plans that offer a discount.
Most pet health insurance plans follow a monthly payment structure. The price of that monthly payment, however, can vary significantly depending on how much coverage your specific plan will provide as well as other factors like where you and your pet live (certain regions have higher veterinary costs on average than others) and the current age of your dog or cat.
In addition to location, other major factors that will influence your monthly payments are: what size deductible you have, what percentage of costs are paid back by the provider after the deductible is paid off, and whether there is an annual cap on reimbursements from your provider.
Most plans offer a deductible option. Just like with human health insurance, the deductible is the amount you’ll have to pay out of pocket before any insurance coverage kicks in. This amount can range from zero dollars to thousands of dollars and, generally speaking, the higher the deductible you choose, the lower your monthly payment will likely be. The tricky thing to balance is how high a deductible you feel comfortable handling in a given year versus what you’d like to pay for a monthly payment.
Once your deductible is met (or if you have a zero dollar deductible), your plan will reimburse you a certain percentage for approved veterinary costs. Some providers, like Trupanion, structure their plans to cover a percentage of total costs (in Trupanion’s case, 90%). The thing to consider in this case is you may have a lower monthly premium than a plan that has 100% coverage, but your out of pocket expenses may be significant if your pet ends up needing expensive medical care.
If a provider does over 100% coverage (or less), it’s also important to check if there is an annual cap on how much they will reimburse you in a given year. If there is a cap, and it’s only a thousand dollars or so, a better option may be choosing a no-cap plan that covers a high percentage of costs instead.
Pet health insurance plans fall into two broad categories: narrower plans that only cover unexpected health incidents, and more comprehensive plans that also cover routine care, like yearly wellness checkups.
Certain plans, even those marked as comprehensive plans, may also not cover specific ailments your pet may have. This could include treatment related to behavioral issues or known hereditary issues that certain breeds are prone to. Sometimes you can have these “known” issues covered by adding a rider to your insurance plan (which also means you’ll pay a higher monthly rate), but some plans don’t offer coverage of certain ailments at all. Be aware of what each plan offers, and what ailments are important for you to have covered.
It’s also important, if you can, to make sure you get pet insurance before your dog or cat has any major issues, not only because pre-existing conditions aren’t covered, but also because some providers have a “waiting period,” where certain things like illness-related issues aren’t covered until you’ve had insurance for a certain amount of time.
The amount you pay monthly will vary widely depending on your pet’s breed, age, size, and your location. Dogs cost more than cats, and larger dogs cost the most of all. Some monthly premiums are as low as $10 and some are around $120.
According to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association via Value Penguin, accident & illness coverage for dogs cost an average of $47.20; just accident coverage comes in at $15.84. For cats, accident & illness coverage averaged at $29.54 while just accident coverage was $11.74.
This should provide at least a range of what you should expect to pay. Obviously, more comprehensive plans mean higher monthly premiums, but will also mean a lower out-of-pocket cost.
As mentioned above, there’s really no definitive answer which plan or option is the best for everyone, as so much depends on the specifics of your pet. That said, we put together a comprehensive guide to picking the best pet insurance based on age and breed you can read. We ran some quotes for various breeds at various ages and compared the most popular companies’ offerings to determine which providers offered the most at the best value.