Updated on July 11, 2019
Deciphering pet insurance terms and figuring out the policy options can be tricky—you might not know where to start. Here are the top 12 things you should know about navigating the process of buying pet insurance.
1. Never buy pet insurance without doing your own research.
Your pet’s health is an important investment. It’s not an impulse buy, but something you should put time into researching to make sure you get the right coverage for your pet’s age, breed, health conditions and lifestyle. Use a pet insurance comparison tool to compare policies side by side to make an informed decision. Each company’s website will also have a “Get a Quote” button that you can click to see exactly how much you would pay and what coverage limits you would have.
2. Do not pick pet insurance solely based on the cost of the monthly premium.
It is very tempting to just go with the policy that offers the lowest monthly premium. And if you simply can’t budget for more than the lowest premium, then of course, get that level of coverage. But if you can make higher monthly premiums, then you should also consider the other factors, including deductibles, co-pays and claim reimbursement limits.
3. Read all the terms and conditions of the pet insurance plan.
You want to find out things like age restrictions (some plans lower the coverage once a pet becomes a senior, or they may not even cover senior pets) and breed and hereditary condition exclusions. If you are confused about the terms, contact the company you are researching to ask questions.
4. Ask for a list of exclusions based on your pet's past medical history and breed.
Typically, you have to purchase the policy first to receive this type of review; this includes submitting medical records. But you can always ask a customer service representative about your pet’s particular health issues to see whether anything would not be covered.
5. Do not wait until your pet has an illness or injury before you buy pet insurance.
Almost all pet insurance plans will not cover pre-existing conditions. When you buy pet insurance, there is a waiting period before the coverage kicks in. You will have to submit records of your pet’s last vet visit, or take your pet for an exam right away, and the insurance company will use that record to determine pre-existing conditions.
6. Know the enrollment age range of the plan.
This is the age your pet must be to sign up for a new policy. There is usually a maximum as well as minimum age. Some companies will have one range for dogs and one range for cats or ranges for certain breeds. Make sure each of your pets would be covered.
8. Ask the insurance company how and when your premium can increase.
With many policies, the insurance company will raise your premium when your pet ages or becomes what they determine to be a senior age. They may boast that they will never drop your pet from being covered or reduce the coverage, but they will probably increase the premium instead.
9. Ask the insurance company what their waiting periods are.
Waiting periods determine how long your pet has to have been free of a condition before you start your policy. You will probably see three different types of waiting periods for each company: accident, illness and orthopedic condition. There could be no waiting period up to two weeks for an accident, 14-30 days for an illness, or two weeks to a year for orthopedic conditions.
10. Ask the insurance company for a list of pre-existing conditions.
No pet insurance companies cover pre-existing conditions. That’s why many pet parents might consider getting pet insurance very early in their pet’s life, when there are no documented medical conditions. Ask for a list of which types of things are considered to be pre-existing conditions that the policy won’t cover. This usually includes diabetes, allergies, cancer, heart disease, arthritis and epilepsy, as well as other conditions.
11. Make sure you understand the company's bilateral conditions policy.
A bilateral condition is any condition that can happen on both sides of the body. Some companies have restrictions on how much they will cover for these types of conditions. Examples of bilateral conditions include hip dysplasia (could happen in both hips) and cruciate injuries (could happen in both knees).
12. Remember that pet insurance companies are businesses.
As such, one of their top priorities is to be profitable. They can and may change your rates and terms to meet that priority. A change of business ownership or underwriters can also be a catalyst for changes in your rates and terms. When you purchase pet insurance, make sure you have a realistic understanding of this and how it can affect you.
By Frances Wilkerson, DVM
Featured Image: iStock.com/MachineHeadz
Dr. Wilkerson is the author of Pet-Insurance-University.com. Her goal is to help pet owners make informed decisions regarding pet insurance. She believes that everyone can make great decisions when given good, reliable information.