by David Thompson
Veterinary pet insurance pays the vet bills if your dog or cat is sick or injured. If a beloved pet needs expensive medical treatment, having insurance can give you confidence that you'll be able to pay for treatment to save the pet's life or make it more comfortable in its old age.
Like all insurance, different policies cover different things. Veterinary pet insurance can range from around $15 a month for a basic policy, up to $50 or more per month. Search online to read comparisons or find the details of different policies, to decide which is best for you.
Insurance or Discount?
Some plans that seem like veterinary pet insurance policies are actually discount programs which give you a discount on all veterinary services, usually about 25 percent. There's no deductible and no maximum dollar limit. However, this means you'll still be responsible for most of your pet's health care bills.
True veterinary pet insurance usually has a deductible, so you'll pay all costs up to the amount of the deductible. Once you reach that amount, the insurance company will pay either a percentage or a fixed amount of all veterinary care from then on, up to a pre-arranged limit.
When you compare insurance prices, look for what the insurance covers and consider what things are most important to you.
Basic coverage usually includes treatment for injuries or accidents, including medication, surgery, and lab fees, in case your pet is hit by a car, injured by another animal, or any other mishaps that can occur. Eating poison or something harmful, getting cut, breaking a bone, having an allergic reaction are all things that might be included under the general category of accidental injury.
Coverage for illnesses may include hospitalization, medicine, and other expenses such as X-rays for minor conditions like ear infections, up to serious illnesses such as cancer. The amount of the deductible may cause the insurance not to actually pay for minor treatment, until the deductible is reached, so the benefit may be greater if your pet has a serious accident or major illness requiring long-term care.
Some policies cover preventative treatment also, such as vet-prescribed flea and tick prevention, heartworm prevention, annual vaccinations or teeth cleaning. These policies will be more expensive, so you may want to add up what you'd normally spend in a year on preventative activities and see if the extra cost of the policy would be worth it.
If a policy pays when you visit vets on a list of approved providers, see if your vet is on it or if you'd be willing to switch to a veterinarian who is.
Consider how much the deductible is and what limits the policy sets per incident, per year or per lifetime. Policies may exclude a pre-existing condition or common problems for certain breeds, such as hip dysplasia. They may also require annual exams and vaccinations.
You can save money by purchasing a policy which only covers illness or injury, or invest more in a policy that also covers spaying or neutering, routine treatment, preventive care or even advertising for a missing pet that's lost.
Also check to see if the insurance company offers a discount for insuring more than one pet. If your pet is elderly, make sure it's still eligible for coverage, or that coverage won't be discontinued if it reaches a certain age. Usually, if you bought the insurance when the pet was younger, the company will continue to let you keep the insurance for the pet's lifetime, even if the pet would be too old to insure otherwise.
Ask Your Veterinarian
Ask your veterinarian if he or she has had experience with any particular policies and if so, which ones offer the best value. Ask the insurance company how much they'll pay for a particular procedure, then compare it to the cost your vet would charge. Some pet insurance policies may pay a certain percentage of a fixed cost for a procedure, but if your vet charges more, you'll have to pay the difference. So if an insurance company will pay 80% of a procedure that they say should cost $100, you might expect to pay $20. If your vet charges $150, you'd need to pay $70.
Also ask if you're responsible for all the costs up front, until the insurance company reimburses you. You probably will be, unless you're signing up for a veterinary discount program.