Your four-legged loved one is certainly part of your family, and as a result, it makes sense to provide him or her with the best care and medical insurance you can find. The question no longer is whether you should buy pet insurance for your cat or dog, but how much coverage to purchase. As you hop on the pet medical insurance train, beware of certain pitfalls and do your homework in advance. Pet coverage traps include improper coverage-meaning, you end up paying much of the vet treatment-financial instability of the insurer, and pre-existing conditions that are not clearly defined in the insurance contract. Other things you should keep an eye on include your veterinarian's policy preference, claims processing and reimbursement procedures, and ways to reduce your overall premium payments. More generally, I suggest you compare pet insurance plans at Pet Insurance University and PetInsuranceReview.com before making a final decision.
How Much Does The Pet Insurance Policy Cost?
Read the insurance policy-and the fine prints-attentively, says Robert D., a retired vet and expert in pet insurance matters. Pay attention to things like deductibles, surcharges and exclusions-meaning all conditions, treatment needs and risk events that the medical insurance company does not want to cover because either they could be extremely expensive or there is no coverage precedent to justify the inclusion of such conditions in the policy. Robert, the pet insurance expert, says it is always preferable to ask your insurance agent directly how much your monthly premium will be, as well as how much you would fork over should your pet need medical care. Insurance companies typically quote pet coverage premiums based on:
- Your deductible amount,
- The maximum dollar amount the insurer wants to dole out on each incident,
- The maximum amount you would pay on each incident-in cases of co-payment, and
- The maximum cash the insurer plans to spend on your pet during his or her lifetime.
What Is (Really) Covered in My Pet Insurance Plan?
Know what type of coverage you are paying for. Don't trust the "goodwill" of your insurance agent or believe that the pet medical insurance company is here to "help" you and take care of your pet when medical misfortune strikes. I'm not saying you should not believe what your insurer tells you, but just remember that things like fine prints along with terms and conditions often contain important information that your insurance broker may not tell you-not to mention that the company itself could be a little "economical" with the truth when it comes to disclosing important information.
Questions to ask include:
- Are accidents covered?
- Will the insurer reimburse me if my four-legged loved one underwent surgery?
- Are X-rays and prescription drugs covered?
- What is the maximum annual benefit the insurance company will pay?
- What is the reimbursement amount per incident?
- Is your pet covered for cancer?
- Are hereditary diseases included in the insurance plan?
- How much will the insurance company pay for hospitalization?
- Will the insurance company work with my vet-and vice versa?
- Besides cats and dogs, does my insurance company cover other animals-say, the 12-foot king cobra I saw at the zoo the other day and want to buy so much?
What Is the Insurance Company's Operating History-And Financial Rating?
Figure out the company you are dealing with, even before reading its policy and coverage options. I want you to research the company, figure out its financial strength, and know more about its operational history. Call your local Better Business Bureau (BBB) branch and ask a representative about the insurance company's BBB rating-do the same with the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
Read online reviews; talk to other pet parents and hear their experiences with various pet insurance providers. Seek feedback also from your vet and make sure he or she would accept payments from your prospective insurer.
Call the pet insurance company and ask a customer service representative what the company's financial rating is. Credit and financial ratings vary, but suffice it to say that they range from A-for "Strong"-to C and D, which is the category you definitely want to avoid when shopping for a pet insurance company.
Does the Insurance Policy Cover All Kinds of Pets – Or Just Some?
Future pet parents usually ask "what pet type is right for my family," but I think a better question is "what pet type will my pet insurance company cover?" In a modern-day economy in which medical pet insurance is getting more expensive by the day, you definitely want to be covered when it comes to pet insurance. This is because, as a pet parent, the buck ultimately stops with you and you will be paying for your pet's health incidents or other liability issues.
Most insurance companies only cover dogs and cats-which makes sense, given that the majority of Americans have only those two pet types in their households. If you have bird, snake, rabbit or horse, among others, talk to your insurer beforehand and explore coverage options.
If the insurer does not cover your pet, ask the customer service rep to refer you to another coverage provider. A great place to enquire also is your local zoo. Call the zoo's customer service department. A zoo typically has a diverse assortment of animals for which it provides pet insurance, so you have better odds of finding a solution to your pet coverage problem by talking to the zoo's manager.
PETA also can help when it comes to pet insurance referrals, so give them a call or email them.
Would My Vet Like the Insurance Company and the Policy?
If you currently have a pet, ask your vet what company he or she likes. If you are a future pet owner, talk to family members, friends and colleagues who have four-legged loved ones. It is important that your vet like the pet insurance company you want to choose. Also, make sure your insurer does not have breed-specific limitations that could exclude your pet.
I suggest you select an insurance company who does not have a network; that way, you have some leeway in choose the vet you want.
How Does the Reimbursement Process Work?
Know in advance how your policy's reimbursement process works. Stay away from medical insurance companies that have a long claims filing and reimbursement process-the kind of organization that requires so much paperwork to file a claim and get reimbursed, you are out of money before it finally gets back to you with a reimbursement check.
Remember three things as you dig deeper into your plan's reimbursement process:
- How much will the insurance company reimburse?
- How long will it take to dole out the cash?
- How much do you pay upfront?
The key thing with pet insurance-and for all insurance policies, for that matter-is that upfront costs can be hefty, especially if your four-legged little one has a rare condition or needs a prolonged hospital stay. So you would need to have enough money to pay initially, with the hope that the insurance company will keep its part of the bargain and disburse the funds as soon as possible.
Let me use an example to further break down the reimbursement process.
For example, say you sent your cat to the vet for a rare-condition treatment, and the disease is covered. You file a claim for $2,000, and your policy has a 75% reimbursement option, with a $100 deductible. Your insurance provider generally has a 90-day window to review and approve your claim and mail you the reimbursement check.
- Claim: $2,000
- Reimbursement: 75% of $2,000, or $1,500 (to received within 90 days)
- Deductible: $100
- Insurance company payment: $1,500
- Your out-of-pocket: $600 ($100 deductible + $500 to be paid after the insurance company's reimbursement)
How Can I Reduce My Pet Insurance Premiums?
To reduce your medical pet insurance premiums, talk first with your insurance agent. Ask him or her discount options that are available to a pet parent like you. Enquire about pet-related discounts as well as rebates and other price reductions linked to things like food, prescription drugs and wellness initiatives.
There are five fundamental ways to lower your insurance premium (although I must admit that this list is not exhaustive):
- Increase your deductible,
- Cover all your pets with the same insurer,
- Cover your pet with an affiliate of your traditional insurance company (the one covering for things like health, life, home and car),
- Sign up for pet-oriented organizations like PETA, and use your membership status to receive discounts, and
- Enroll your pet in a fitness or general wellness program
Pet insurance is a relatively easy concept, but pay attention to a few specific things to prevent the kind of inconvenience that happens when you find out that your four-legged loved one has a condition that is not covered or can only be covered if you dole out all the cash you have. When reading and signing a pet medical insurance policy, things to heed coverage types, reimbursement amount and process, medical exclusions, and the insurance company's rating and how long it has been in business.