Pet Health Insurance: The Big Debate

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As a pet parent, there is nothing more important to you than the happiness and wellbeing of your four-legged bestie. Having your companion by your side has surely changed your life for the better and, just like any good parent, you’re committed to providing your furry loved-one with the best life you can offer. You make sure that they’ve had their vaccinations, been spayed or neutered and attend annual check-ups to ensure that their health is on track. Preventative health care is one of the best ways you can ensure a happy life for your fur-baby. But what happens when your pet unexpectedly falls sick or becomes injured? The reality is that, more often than not, in an emergency, rationality goes out the window and all you want is the best possible medical care for your pet. With the latest advancements in diagnostic capabilities as well as treatment and surgery options, there is more that a vet can do for your sick or injured pet than ever before. However, this all comes at a price and a hefty price at that. Of course, the more complex or urgent your pet’s ailments are, the higher the price you’ll be expected to pay and many veterinary hospitals require upfront payment or a large deposit to begin treatment or surgery. Being emotionally unprepared for an emergency is natural but being financially unprepared has the very real potential of sending you into serious debt or, perhaps worse, preventing you from being able to provide the best care for your family member.

Enter: Pet Health Insurance

Just like human health insurance, you can take out a policy that covers your pet for unexpected emergencies, illness, injury and the maintenance of chronic conditions. You will be required to make monthly or annual contributions and once you submit a claim, your insurance company will reimburse you for a portion of your pet’s medical bills provided that they fall within the requirements of your chosen plan.

There are a myriad of pet insurance companies available and each company will have a range of plan options to suit different families’ needs. Different plans will vary in cost and coverage according to a range of factors including breed, sex, age and current health of your pet and your location will also determine your annual membership contributions as the cost of health care differs from state to state.

Upon making a claim, you will usually be required to pay a deductible, after which your insurance will cover a portion of the veterinary bill and you will be responsible for covering any outstanding amounts. Pay-out rates can vary from days to weeks. Having so many so many options to choose from with varying benefits from each company is a reassuring fact for many pet parents but the decision can also leave you feeling confused and overwhelmed.

Giving your pet the best possible chance at a healthy, happy life is a top priority for every loving pet parent but with something as complex as insurance, many parents have debated the value that it can realistically offer your family.

So, the question is: do you really need pet health insurance and what are the pros and cons of your decision?

First, let’s contemplate the pros of having pet health insurance:

  • When it comes to your pet, medical bills can pile up fast so you can have some peace of mind knowing that you’ll be able to cover a large portion of the essential expenses in an emergency.
  • Some companies offer tailor-made packages that will cover exactly what you need and cut out the miscellaneous costs that tend to elevate standard package prices. You’ll be able to pick and choose exactly what your pet needs according to your budget as well as their age, breed, sex and current health circumstances.
  • You can often purchase additional coverage for the things that matter most to you or that you know your pet will more than likely need in the future, making your plan relatively flexible in its coverage.
  • Due to a highly competitive market, you’re more than likely to be able to find affordable options (a few hundred dollars per annum) but it’s important that you understand exactly what you’re covered for as lower premiums often mean reduced coverage or delayed pay-out rates.
  • Most insurance companies will allow you to go to the vet of your choice so you don’t have to worry about being ‘out of network’. This means that you won’t need to change your family vet and your fur-baby can continue to visit the vet that they’re most comfortable with.
  • Having pet insurance opens up many different advanced treatment options that might, under different circumstances, be unaffordable to you. This includes treatments for cancer, which half of the population’s pets will require at some stage of their life. Chemotherapy and radiation can cost upwards of $5000 so pet insurance can make life-saving treatments like this accessible to the average pet parent.
  • Regardless of the age of your pet, you will more than likely have multiple plan options available to you. While the annual or monthly contribution is often calculated on a sliding scale according to a range of factors, insurance for older pets is common. This means that no matter what stage of life your pet is in, you can still ensure that their quality of life is maintained and their health is always taken care of.
  • Perhaps most importantly, having pet health insurance can help you to avoid going into debt or draining your savings account to cover unexpected medical bills and will allow you to make the best choice for your pet’s health without having to consider euthanasia as your only option.

While there are many upsides to having pet health insurance, there are some cons that you must consider before making your decision:

  • While there are many affordable plans available, pet insurance is another cost that you will need to budget for and you must feel comfortable in knowing that you might never have to use your policy. You won’t get any of your monthly or annual contributions back if you don’t claim so this is something you must be prepared to live with.
  • Pet health insurance doesn’t cover everything. Depending on what plan you choose, you will be reimbursed for a portion of the costs but you will still need to cover a certain amount. Many people think that having insurance means that you are entirely covered for any eventuality but this is not the case. Make sure you know exactly what your plan covers and how much you’ll be reimbursed for certain claims.
  • Finding the best fit for you and your fur-baby can mean sifting through tons of insurance companies who all offer different plans and have varying pay-out policies. This can be time consuming and you might feel overwhelmed during the process. If you are going to go ahead with signing a contract, it will mean putting some time aside to consider all of your options and to read through the terms and conditions of your specific plan.
  • Most plans don’t cover preventative care such as spaying and neutering, routine check-ups, vaccinations or grooming. Dental hygiene is also not on the list for many insurance companies. This can be a hard pill to swallow as the majority of annual expenditure on your pet comes from routine health care. Unless you have an emergency injury or unexpected illness, your pet insurance will probably not be covering much of your day-to-day pet care expenses.
  • Just like human insurance, pre-existing health conditions are usually not covered, which means that if your pet has already been diagnosed with a chronic illness, it’s likely that this won’t be covered. In some cases, this also applies to congenital or breed-specific illnesses so it’s important to enquire about this at the outset so that you know exactly where you stand before you need to claim.
  • Many plans have a cap on the total amount that they will pay out for a specific illness or injury and the same applies to a cap on lifetime coverage so you need to enquire about this before you sign on the dotted line. Be sure to do your numbers so that you know how much you’ll end up paying each year and work out if the lifetime cap will cover your expenses. In most cases, the cap far outweighs the contribution but it’s necessary to know this information before you make your choice.
  • Some insurance companies require a waiting period before you can start claiming your reimbursements so if you’re looking for immediate coverage, it’s important to establish this at the outset.

What’s your informed decision?

While you may not see the immediate benefits of pet health insurance, having a policy is more geared towards making a long-term investment in your and your pet’s futures.If you do end up signing up for insurance, familiarizing yourself with the company’s terms and conditions is essential. You need to ensure that you know exactly what your pet is covered for and the circumstances that will disqualify them for a full or partial pay-out. One of the main concerns that pet parents have is avoiding euthanasia due to diminished finances. If this is the case then a thoroughly-considered pet health insurance plan might be the best option for you. At the end of the day, the most compelling reason for any pet parent to sign up for insurance is so that in an emergency, you can remain focused on the wellbeing of your fur-baby instead of worrying about bills and payments that you know you can’t afford. Whatever you decide to do, you can feel proud that just by considering the pros and cons of pet insurance, you’re being a great pet parent and giving your beloved bestie’s health the attention and care they so richly deserve.