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Pet insurance is a great way to help you afford veterinary costs while making sure your pet has access to the medical care they need.

However, buying pet insurance can be an overwhelming experience, especially if you don’t have a lot of experience with other types of insurance, such as homeowners or health insurance. Even if you do, it can still be confusing.

Not only are there several types of pet insurance, but you also have to take into your account your unique situation. Factors like your pet’s breed, age, and health history can affect which policy is the best fit for your family.

Never fear! We can break down some important factors to consider as you compare pet insurance and how to match your needs with the right policy for your pet.

How to Compare Pet Insurance

The first step to buying pet insurance is to know what you need. If you have an idea of what you are looking for, you aren’t quite as easily swayed by marketing information designed to encourage you to spend more money.

Answering the following questions can give you a place to start:

  • Is your pet young and healthy, or getting to an age where health problems start to develop?

  • Is your pet a senior and at higher risk of developing a serious condition?

  • Is your pet’s breed susceptible to certain health conditions? 

  • What’s your budget for pet insurance? How much could you afford each month?

  • How much can you afford to spend out of pocket in a health emergency if you had to meet a higher deductible?

With these answers in hand, you can start researching different companies. Try asking friends and family if they have pet insurance, where they got it, and what their experience has been. Look online for reviews and assess how long the company has been in business. You want a company that has a generally good reputation and has been in business for a long time—if you are insuring a young cat, you may be working with this company for 20 years or longer!

Comparing Pet Insurance Features

After getting a list of companies to check out, you’re ready to start comparing policies. Go to each website and get quotes for the pet or pets you want to insure.

Here’s a list of what you should be comparing and what these things are, in plain terms. It may help to create a simple chart to track the factors listed below.

Premium—This is the monthly cost of the pet insurance plan. Although this is important, it’s only one element of your overall costs. The monthly premium should be considered in relation to the deductible and reimbursement percentage. Together, these three factors will determine the overall cost to you. If you choose a lower premium, you will usually have a higher deductible and/or reimbursement percentage.  

Pet Insurance Deductibles—The deductible is the amount you’ll have to pay before the insurance policy kicks in to start partially covering expenses. Deductibles are usually offered as annual deductibles, meaning the amount resets each year. The other kind is a lifetime per-condition deductible, meaning that each condition may have its own deductible, but they won’t reset as long as you have the policy. If your pet has a long-term illness, a lifetime per-condition deductible is likely the most cost-effective. If not, you may want an annual deductible.

Percentage Covered / Reimbursement Rates—This is the rate at which your policy will cover eligible expenses after you meet your deductible. For example, a policy with a 90% reimbursement rate will cover 90% of qualified expenses after you meet your deductible. This rate can make a huge difference in your out-of-pocket costs. Usually, a lower reimbursement percentage means a lower monthly premium, but if you have a major bill, you will be responsible for a lot more of it. Be sure you don’t exceed your budget by choosing a lower reimbursement rate with an appealing monthly premium. 

Age Limits—Many companies will not accept older, high-risk patients for coverage. Check the policy’s age limits if you have a senior pet. Similarly, pre-existing conditions are usually not covered, although you can find policies that allow for certain conditions. If your pet has a pre-existing condition that’s not covered, they can still have a policy that covers many other things.

Waiting Periods—Many policies will not go into effect immediately after you sign up. Instead, there is usually a waiting period because they want to make sure your pet is healthy at the time the insurance takes effect. Make note of each policy’s waiting periods. There may even be a waiting period after an illness or injury is covered again. This may affect treatment costs for conditions such as recurring ear infections.

Exam Requirement—The policy may require that your pet be examined by a veterinarian before coverage begins. This is to protect insurance companies from unexpected or hidden health conditions at the time coverage starts.

Coverage for Congenital or Hereditary Issues—Hereditary issues are those that are passed on from your pet’s parents. This includes health issues of certain breeds. Hereditary issues can show up later in your pet’s life. Congenital issues are those that are present at birth, and they are not necessarily hereditary. Different companies will have different policies regarding these types of health issues. If you suspect that your pet may have, or is prone to, a congenital or hereditary issue, find out if it is excluded.

Annual Limits / Lifetime Limits for Reimbursement—Some policies have annual caps or lifetime limits for reimbursement. These commonly come into play if you have a pet with a chronic illness, or one that will need long-term care, such as for cancer.

Wellness Plan Options—Most companies will not include much, if any, wellness care into their standard accident/illness or accident-only plans. Wellness care is typically offered as an add-on to the main plan, or you can sometimes buy a separate wellness plan that covers routine veterinary care, vaccinations, and more. This is especially important for younger pets. Compare whether wellness is offered as part of a comprehensive plan or a separate plan, and find out what exactly it offers.

Claim Process—A claim is your request for the company to pay for part of your pet’s treatment. This will affect your out-of-pocket expenses. Do you have to pay the veterinarian at the time of treatment and wait to be reimbursed, or does the company pay the veterinarian directly? How long does this process take? How do you make claims—by mail, a website, or an app? Knowing the process will help you determine how long you’ll wait for a reimbursement check.

Ratings of Current Customers—Current customer ratings can be an important signal of a company’s overall treatment of its customers. If a company has bad ratings, try to understand why. Is it a consistent complaint, or someone who had an isolated bad experience? Look for companies that regularly get positive ratings and where the negatives appear to be isolated problems.

Perks—Some companies and policies offer perks that can make a policy more attractive. Although this shouldn’t really be the “make or break” factor in choosing a policy, it is nice to get extras that might sweeten the deal. This can include things like chats or video calls with a vet, training services, pet acupuncture, or coverage for special therapeutic diets and medications such as flea/tick prevention. If you have policies that are quite similar when you’ve compared all of the major factors, these perks may tip the balance.

Discounts—Look for any special discounts or bundling discounts. A company may offer one if you have multiple pets or if you already have another type of insurance policy with them. If you don’t see any advertised discounts, try asking the company directly. Sometimes they can work with you, and it never hurts to ask.

There is much to consider when purchasing pet insurance. Having a plan in place can help you make the right decision. When the worst happens, it’s reassuring to know you have a financial safety net so you can concentrate on getting your pet healthy again.

Featured image: iStock.com/vgajic

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