If you find the topic of pet insurance confusing, you’re not alone. Many people wonder if they should buy pet insurance, but aren’t sure if it’s worth it or not. There is no one correct answer for every person and every cat, but understanding how pet insurance works can help you decide if it’s right for you. Here are some things you need to know before buying pet insurance.
With human health insurance, you pay only the co-pay and the insurance company reimburses the doctor for the balance. Pet insurance works differently. Typically, you pay your veterinarian for all services rendered, then submit a claim to the pet insurance company, which mails you a reimbursement check. At least one company (Trupanion) has the ability to pay the veterinarian directly so you only have to cover the co-pay.
Pet insurance provides coverage for illnesses and injuries only; it does not cover preventive and annual checkup-type services, such as vaccines, annual bloodwork, dental cleanings or flea preventives. Some providers offer wellness plans, which are basically the opposite of pet insurance. Wellness plans do not cover illnesses or injuries, but reimburse you a set amount for vaccines and other well-pet services. You can often add a wellness plan to your illness and injury policy for an additional fee. Wellness plans might be a good idea for people who have trouble budgeting throughout the year, although the cost savings for wellness plans are often minimal or nonexistent.
If you have a new kitten with no known health problems, buying pet insurance might make financial sense. Kittens are generally the least expensive to insure, and they can also get into quite a bit of trouble. It’s not uncommon for rambunctious kittens to chew and swallow things they shouldn’t or become injured while playing. One bowel-obstruction surgery bad fall can easily make your policy worthwhile.
The older a cat is, the more expensive he is to insure. This is because older cats tend to develop more health issues like arthritis, cancer and kidney problems. If your senior cat has never been insured, any pre-existing health conditions he already has will not be covered, so it might not make financial sense to insure him. In fact, many companies “age out” cats after a certain age, and will not offer coverage at any price. However, if your young-adult or middle-aged cat has not experienced any health issues to date, you might be able to find a policy with a premium that isn’t too high and you will then have peace of mind that if he does become ill or injured, he will have coverage.
If you decide to purchase pet insurance for your cat, be careful: Navigating the world of pet insurance is confusing and you need to do your research to avoid getting burned. Here are the key areas to look at when comparing policies:
Your annual premium (the cost to purchase insurance for one year) is based on several factors, including your cat’s breed and age, whether he is spayed or neutered, and where you live.
The deductible is the amount you must pay out of pocket before the provider will reimburse you for covered expenses. Some providers offer different tiers of deductible: low, mid-range and high. In general, the higher your deductible, the lower your annual premium will be.
The payout is how much money you will be reimbursed by the insurance company. Some pet insurance providers offer different tiers of payout of the claim after the deductible: low (for instance, 80 percent), mid-range (90 percent) and high (100 percent). In general, the higher your payout percentage, the higher your annual premium will be. Most pet insurance companies cap payouts at a certain dollar amount annually, and some allow you to choose your cap. Again, a higher total annual payout will result in a higher annual premium.
Depending on the pet insurance company, the deductible will either be annual, per condition/incident or per visit. The best option is annual—once you reach the deductible, you are set for the year, no matter how many times your cat goes to the vet. “Per condition/incident” means you only pay the deductible once in a calendar year for the same problem. For instance, if your cat has a skin problem and goes to the vet four times in a year to treat it, you only need to reach the deductible once and then all future care is covered. “Per visit” is your worst option. It means that every time your cat goes to the vet you must pay the deductible before anything will be covered.
Before purchasing a pet insurance policy, carefully review it so you know what is covered and what is not. If you are unclear about what is covered, call the company and ask them to clarify. Some policies exclude major issues like cancer or hip dysplasia; others cover these types of events. Some insurance plans exclude or limit the benefits for cancer treatment, but offer cancer riders you can add on to your policy for an additional fee.
If you own a purebred cat, listen up. A number of pet insurance policies exclude diseases and conditions that are genetically linked to certain breeds, for instance, entropion in a Bengal or polycystic kidney disease in a Persian. If you own a purebred cat, choose a pet insurance provider that does not exclude hereditary conditions in purebreds.
This is an often overlooked but important area to consider when choosing a provider. Ask your friends, family and veterinarian about the providers you’re interested in. Search out reviews on social media and other sites and see how people like the customer service. Does the company review and payout claims in a timely manner? Do they fairly reimburse for covered conditions? A company with a good reputation for customer service is superior to one with shoddy reviews.
Making the Choice
Whether you choose pet insurance for your cat is a personal choice. In lieu of insurance, some cat owners choose to put aside some money every month. If you put $300 or $400 a year into a savings account specially set aside for your cat, you can grow that into a nice little sum that will be waiting in case your cat ever has a major illness or injury. Of course, a major veterinary issue can cost into the thousands — $300 a year might not cut it if your cat swallows something that obstructs his bowel when he’s 3 and needs a $2,000 surgery. On the other hand, you could buy an insurance policy for your kitten and never need to use it beyond a random claim for diarrhea or kitty acne. Whether you’re buying it for yourself, your cat or even your iPhone, insurance is a gamble. You might never need it, but if you do, you will be glad you have it.
Take a look at this list of pet insurance providers for a brief comparison of some of the most important items to consider when selecting pet insurance. Always read (and re-read) the fine print before choosing a plan for your cat. For more in-depth reviews of these and other pet insurance companies, as well as comparisons, visit this pet insurance comparison on Canine Journal.
Nationwide (formerly Veterinary Pet Insurance/VIP)