Although the first pet insurance provider began offering coverage for cats and dogs in 1980, the pet insurance industry has been growing consistently since the early 2000s. As of this writing in 2019, there are many options from which pet owners can choose, which has made finding the right coverage easier and more affordable as companies compete for clients.
However, despite the numerous options available, the question that many cat and dog owners struggle to answer is whether or not they need pet insurance in the first place. While we cannot give a binary answer to you, we can help you navigate the basics of pet health insurance.
Pet Health Insurance Basics
Just like human health insurance, pet health insurance helps cover the cost of medical bills for your cat or dog. Pet owners can choose policies that cover wellness and preventative costs like annual exams, vaccinations, spaying and neutering, and other veterinary expenses that are part of the everyday life of a pet. Other policies cover only illnesses and accidents.
Also similar to human health insurance, most pet insurance providers offer a variety of levels of coverage so that you can find a premium, or monthly payment, that works for your budget. It is important to research how much you will pay in copays for veterinary visits and what the deductible is before coverage begins. Also take into consideration if there is a maximum payout per incident, as well as each year and for the life of the pet.
Pre-Existing Conditions and Waiting Periods
Most pet insurance providers do not cover pre-existing conditions. Additionally, most pet insurance companies will require that all of your pet’s veterinary records from a specific date range be submitted from the veterinary office to the pet insurance provider before any claims can be paid. You should also expect a waiting period between when you start to pay your pet’s premiums and when coverage actually begins. If an illness or accident occurs during that waiting period, it will be considered a pre-existing condition.
Genetic and Breed Specific Conditions
Unlike human health insurance, some pet insurance providers do not cover genetic and breed-specific conditions. These can include things like hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, intervertebral disk disease, patellar luxation, allergies, and more. It is very important to research whether or not this affects your pet and the coverage available. For example, a Basset Hound has a genetic predisposition to intervertebral disk disease because of their long body and short legs, and might not be covered, whereas a Labrador Retriever would be covered because it is not considered to be associated with their breed.
According to the American Veterinary Association, one in four dogs will be diagnosed with cancer. This number increases to half of the dogs ten years of age or older. As a result, it is important to examine the coverage offered by each provider when shopping for pet health insurance. It is also important to review what kind of treatments are covered, including traditional veterinary care, holistic veterinary care, and whether or not they will cover comparative oncology treatments found at many veterinary teaching hospitals so that you know all of your options should your pet receive a cancer diagnosis.
How Claims are Paid?
Another major difference between human health insurance and pet insurance is that pet insurance only reimburses pet owners after the claim is submitted and processed. The pet owner must still pay the veterinarian’s bill in full before being reimbursed for the medical expenses. However, this can still be the difference between having a large medical expense for your pet on a credit card for a short time rather than paying it off out of your own pocket.
An Active, Outdoorsy Dog
Many dog owners are attracted to the RV lifestyle because of a love of the outdoors and the ability to take their dogs on adventures. You never know when a medical emergency might arise as the result of an encounter with another animal, whether another dog or a wild animal or reptile. Walks over rough terrain can result in cuts and scrapes that require medical attention. Dogs love to sniff and eat their way through life, resulting in digestive upsets, and even a simple veterinary exam with medication can cost several hundred dollars.
Depending on where you are located geographically, you may not be able to get to your regular veterinarian. While emergency veterinary care facilities are a life-saver for many dogs, their services also come at a greater fee, so make sure you research coverage when you are choosing a provider.
The What-if Factor
When it comes down to it, deciding if pet insurance is right for you comes down to a lot of “what if” situations. What if your dog stays healthy and accident-free? Are you just wasting money each month? What if you don’t purchase pet insurance and something does happen? Can you pay for their care or would you have to euthanize your pet at a young age if the worst-case scenario happened? Much of your decision should be based on your ability to pay for emergencies entirely out of pocket.
The value of pet insurance cannot be calculated by comparing the premiums paid each month to the coverage that you are reimbursed. Like any insurance, pet insurance is something you probably do not want to pay for, or even think about, but can be a life-saver if you need it. Some pet owners may pay their monthly premiums each year and never use their insurance. Their payoff comes in having a healthy pet. And some pet owners will face bills that far surpass the premiums that they paid to have coverage and the ability to treat their dog or cat when they are sick or injured.
Researching Pet Insurance
Because so many companies offer pet insurance and have a variety of plans from which to choose, staying organized with a notebook or Excel document is important. Remember to compare the following items: deductible, annual maximum, lifetime maximum, the monthly premium, whether or not wellness visits are included, and if you have a discount for multiple pets.
Also, remember to consider genetic limitations for certain breeds and the level of coverage for cancer treatments. You can also search Google for pet insurance comparisons and reviews, as many websites offer a detailed analysis of the most popular pet insurance providers.