7 Things You Need to Know About Pet Insurance


Do you need pet insurance? That depends. It can mean life or death for your pet if they experience a major medical issue — especially an expensive one that requires hospitalization or emergency surgery — but it can seem like an unnecessary monthly expense if you're paying into the plan and not using it. To make a decision whether pet insurance is right for you, here are a few things you should know. (See also: Is Pet Health Insurance Worth It?)

1. There are three types of pet health coverage

Most pet insurance companies break down coverage into three categories. The lowest tier is an accident-only plan, which only covers accidents and emergencies, like if your dog gets hurt by another dog at the park. This coverage does not include any hereditary issues or serious health conditions. Conversely, there's a wellness plan, which doesn't include anything that the accident-only plan includes, but rather focuses on wellness and routine care, like annual exams, dental cleanings, and routine medications, like heartworm and flea-and-tick prevention.

Two plans that don't overlap anywhere kind of force pet parents into the all-encompassing third option, and that's where the more expensive, major medical plans come in.

More than 90 percent of all pet insurance plans purchased are in this category, according to PetInsuranceQuotes.com, which helps users compare coverage and prices among leading providers. It's likely major medical plans are so popular because they cover everything except wellness and routine care. Accidents, illnesses, cancer, orthopedic issues, hereditary conditions, and prescription meds are under the veil of these plans, the price of which is mostly determined by the breed of pet you have.

2. Pet insurance can help you avoid major debt

For many pet parents, putting an animal down when an expensive health issue strikes just isn't an option. They'll use any means possible to come up with the money to keep their pet alive. Using money from your emergency fund if it's readily available is one thing, but putting the bill on a credit card when money is already tight just isn't smart.

Pet insurance, however, can eliminate that issue altogether. You'll pay a small amount each month so you don't have to experience even greater stress about your finances when your pet is in the hospital. The premium is probably worth the peace of mind. (See also: 5 Pet Costs You Don't See Coming)

3. Having coverage could mean saving your pet's life

When I first moved to Manhattan, barely able to pay my bills, my husband wanted a dog. I was dead-set against it, but his continued pleas caused me to cave, and before I knew it, we had a rambunctious puppy.

Fast forward to a year-and-a-half later, still struggling to make ends meet, and our dog Jaxon is rushed to the hospital with a respiratory infection that cost about $8,000. There was a brief period of time when we weren't sure if our pet insurance would cover the cost of treatment — or how much we would have to spend out-of-pocket — and we had to make a tough decision. It was a quick decision. We could afford up to $3,000 in out-of-pocket expenses and nothing more; otherwise we would have to say our goodbyes. Thankfully we didn't have to, because the little bugger is still my best bud. Pet insurance saved Jaxon's life that day, and it could very well save your pet's life, too. (See also: 6 Pet Expenses You Should Never Skip)

4. Age plays an important part in the coverage you'll get

It's important to enroll your pet while they're young and healthy enough to get the best coverage at the lowest price. No pet insurance provider will cover pre-existing conditions, which makes getting coverage as the pet ages tougher and more expensive, if possible at all.

"If your pet is a senior and/or has pre-existing conditions, you may want to consider the accident-only plan," says Chris Middleton, president of Pets Best, a leading pet insurance provider. "Or get the accident-only plan and add routine care to it."

I decided to end major medical coverage on Jaxon because he doesn't go anywhere that he'll get hurt and he hasn't had any major medical issues for years; that level of insurance was becoming an expense that wasn't worth it. He's also getting up there in age, and at some point I have to let nature take its course. For now, he's happy, healthy, and we're enjoying life together.

5. Your pet's breed will influence coverage and cost

Some pet breeds are more prone to hereditary conditions and medical issues than others, which will affect the price you'll pay for pet insurance right off the bat. For example, you can expect to pay an average of $45 a month for a Labrador retriever versus $53 a month for an English bulldog, according to PetInsuranceQuotes.com. Both of these breeds come with their own set of hereditary issues that can be expensive to treat, which affect prices. If you know you want pet insurance but haven't found the perfect pet yet, it's worth researching insurance premiums based on breed; it may inform your decision on what breeds to focus on and which to avoid. (See also: 8 Ways to Lower Your Vet Bills)

6. Find the coverage that works best for your pet and your wallet

To get the most for your pet insurance price, look for a provider that covers the largest portion of your veterinary bill, coverage for congenital and hereditary conditions, and has no limits to the amount they will pay out.

"Choose a deductible that fits your budget and how they are applied," adds pet insurance provider Trupanion. "Deductibles can help you control your premiums while making sure you see coverage before you hit your budget limit."

7. Pet insurance usually works on a reimbursement model

Pet insurance is a reimbursement model, meaning the pet owner pays their bill at the veterinarian (and often you must pay it in full before your pet is allowed to leave the facility), then submit the proof of payment to the provider for reimbursement. You should research the company's options for submitting claims before choosing a provider, advises Middleton.

"Since pet insurance is a reimbursement model, getting your money back quickly is one of the most important features," Middleton says. "It's also important to look at how they will reimburse you. Some companies will only cut a check to pay your claim; so you have to factor in the time to cut the check, get it mailed to you, then deposit it."

Direct-deposit reimbursement also is available at some providers.

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