Life with pets can be unpredictable. Unexpected illnesses, injuries, and emergencies can leave you torn between paying for extensive veterinary care and keeping food on the table. Pet insurance provides a way to do both.
As a premier veterinary facility in Southeast Texas, our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Waller team provides pets with advanced medical care. We regularly see pet owners having to make difficult decisions—sacrificing their own personal needs so their beloved companion can receive necessary care. As part of our commitment to delivering the greatest care to the greatest number of pets, our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Waller team explains pet insurance basics, and offers you tips for finding the best pet insurance policy for your dog’s or cat’s health care needs and your budget.
What is pet insurance?
In many ways, pet insurance parallels human health insurance. You should select a policy based on your pet’s current and anticipated health care needs, paying a monthly premium, and receiving coverage benefits for eligible services after your four-legged friend’s health care costs reach your policy’s deductible. Unlike people’s health insurers, pet insurers are not grouped as networks, and your furry pal can receive care from any veterinary hospital—including a university or a specialist. Your insurance provider may pay your pet’s veterinary costs at the time of service (i.e., direct pay). However, more commonly, you pay your veterinarian, and your pet insurance provider reimburses you after you file a claim.
How does insurance help pets and their owners?
Pet insurance benefits go beyond offsetting unexpected veterinary expenses. More than simply accessing a necessary service for your beloved companion, pet health insurances provides these additional benefits:
- Prompt care — When you have a pet insurance policy, you do not have to delay your pet’s care to weigh your options, price shop, or wait until your next pay day.
- Improved recovery process — Comprehensive care (e.g., hospitalization, pain management, surgery) ensures your pet recovers more quickly and efficiently.
- No sacrifices — Other than paying a monthly premium and deductible—for which you have budgeted—you do not have to sacrifice your needs, such as buying groceries, to ensure you can afford your pet’s health care.
- Earlier diagnosis — If you have a pet insurance policy, you will be more likely to schedule veterinary visits for your pet’s minor problems, which can increase the likelihood that your veterinarian may detect and diagnose an adverse condition early, resulting in a better outcome for your beloved companion.
- Preventive care — The money you save on unexpected veterinary care costs can help offset your pet’s routine wellness care costs. Some insurance providers offer incentives for preventive care and healthy pets, such as a vanishing deductible for every year you do not file a claim.
What are the limitations to pet insurance?
As with health insurance policies for people, pet insurance includes a lot of fine print—including exclusions, waiting periods, exceptions, clauses, and caps. Before you sign on the policy’s dotted line, ensure you understand the limitations. Be mindful of the following:
- Pre-existing conditions — No pet insurer will cover pre-existing conditions (i.e., those issues diagnosed before the policy start date). Rare exceptions may be made for minor problems (e.g., ear infections) if no claims have been filed within a specified period.
- Breed-specific restrictions — Some providers have specific exclusions for breeds who have known genetic disease histories.
- No wellness care — Pet insurance providers generally exclude preventive pet care (e.g., vaccines, annual exams, screening tests) from standard policies. However, some providers offer supplemental well care coverage.
- High premium cost based on breed or age — Premiums are typically more expensive for senior pets and high-risk breeds.
- Waiting periods — Policies establish brief waiting periods for accidents, illness, and orthopedic claims. During these periods you cannot file a claim.
- Payout caps — Pet insurance providers set a maximum monetary amount you can receive per year, condition, or lifetime.
- Reimbursement-based payment — Although many companies provide quick reimbursement turnaround, the review process can take days to weeks. Prepare to pay out-of-pocket expenses and wait until the insurance provider approves your benefits. Some companies will reimburse you more quickly if you opt for direct deposit rather than a mailed check.
- Pet age — Some insurance companies provide limited coverage (i.e., accident-only policy) for pets who are older than a specified age.
How to select the best policy for your pet’s care and your wallet
A pet insurance internet search will call up countless companies and policies. Before you settle on any particular company or plan, consider the following:
- Your pet’s health status, risks, and lifestyle — If you have concerns about your pet developing specific conditions—and you are willing to pay extra for the insurance coverage—your monthly premium will reflect this coverage, and your payments will be higher. Do you want your pet covered for specific conditions such as cancer, allergies, and autoimmune problems? Does your dog compete in agility or other high-impact sports in which orthopedic and soft tissue injuries are common?
- Waiting periods — Confirm with the insurance company the date your pet’s coverage will begin. Do not be caught off guard because of delayed coverage.
- Your budget — Acknowledge the premium amount you can comfortably afford per month and for your deductible. While some plans offer flexible rates and payouts, a lower premium generally comes with a higher deductible and vice versa.
- Sample policies — Pet insurance providers usually post a sample policy on their website. Review these documents to determine the nitty-gritty coverage and exclusion details.
- Quotes — Obtain quotes from your top three insurance company choices. To receive a free quote, input your dog’s age, breed, and where you live.
- Limitations — More affordable pet insurance plans may include additional restrictions such as per-condition payouts, bilateral exclusions (i.e., not covering an orthopedic injury such as patellar luxation or cruciate ligament rupture on the second leg), and lifetime limits.
Now that you are armed with pet insurance basics, our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Waller team encourages you to research policies before signing on the dotted line. The North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA) buyer’s guide is a great resource to learn insurance terms, conditions, coverage options, and the impact some policy choices may have on your pet’s future care. Pet insurance helps us do more of what we love—provide top-tier veterinary care to Southeast Texas pets. Contact our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Waller team to schedule your pet’s next appointment.
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