There’s no way to predict what the future will hold for our families (animal members included). Unfortunately, no magic ball can tell us when or how our pets might get sick, injured, or accidentally lost! When unforeseen tragedies strike, our hearts AND our wallets pay the price. Even though we never know what lies ahead, we can choose to have a game plan for the “what if” scenarios. Those who own a pet, but don’t have a money tree growing in the backyard (eh em… most of us), should ask “is pet insurance worth it?” While pet insurance can protect against unexpected veterinary bills, there are many things to consider before determining whether insurance is the right fit for your situation.
You will be happy to know that pet health insurance is available for all species of animals, including furry, scaley, feathered, and farm-friendly varieties! Some insurers may not cover particular breeds associated with higher hereditary health risks (e.g., vision trouble, respiratory issues, or hip dysplasia), so you should consider doing some research beforehand. Even if you decide to adopt from a rescue, it is necessary to try and gather some information about the individual animal’s genetic background.
According to the American Pet Products Association, 70% of American households own a pet. They estimate that 1 out of 3 will need emergency medical treatment in those pet’s lifetime. Unfortunately, no pet insurance company will cover a pre-existing condition, so if you’re interested, you should consider enrollment early on (generally within 6 months of adoption).
To answer this question reasonably, we have to explore the cost of pet ownership as a whole. If you own an animal, then you will have regular (or routine) pet care costs. The ASPCA estimates that dog parents spend anywhere from $300 to $600 annually on food, toys, treats, and other random material expenses. Of course, different species of animals will come with extremely varied “start-up costs” and yearly expenditures. No matter what type of pet you own, however, they all need food, a habitat/personal space, entertainment, and many will need intermittent well-visits to the veterinarian.
When we talk about considering pet insurance, it is in the context of the unexpected veterinarian bills and associated costs (e.g., special diets or medications). You can easily budget for routine care, but accidents or sudden illnesses will always catch you off-guard. We all know that healthcare costs are rising across the board, and pet healthcare is no exception. Usually, companies determine the cost of coverage by the animal’s age (the older, the pricier), current health synopsis, and the level of coverage you choose.
How much you pay for pet insurance will vary greatly. Monthly premiums can range from as low as $10 to more than $100. Pet insurance, on average, is significantly higher for dogs because their risk of illness or injury is more significant. You can choose between accident-only coverage, accident + illness coverage, or the combo plan with a wellness add-on. These options are summarized by the Insurance Information Institute here.
If your income is tight, any additional monthly cost might seem daunting. I get it. I’ve totally been there. I have to point out, though, that paying a small bill upfront often makes it possible to afford high-priced emergency bills that would otherwise be impossible. Unlike human care facilities, veterinarian clinics are under no legal obligation to treat your animal regardless of your ability to pay. If you don’t have coverage or a savings fund set aside, you may have to be prepared to go into credit card debt or watch your pet suffer.
Let me use a real-life scenario to help here. My family used to have a guinea pig. His name was Banner, and my kids loved him dearly. One day he suddenly started losing patches of fur all over his body. I tried to see if it would resolve for a few days, but the poor thing just kept getting worse. We took him to the vet expecting a quick visit with an inexpensive topical cure. After all, how much could it really cost to treat a fuzzball that could fit into the palm of my hand? Right? … Wrong!
It turns out the little guy had SOMEHOW contracted ringworm. To my dismay, I forked over $300 and left with what was needed to treat him over two weeks successfully. Now imagine if our guinea pig had been a large breed dog! I would not have wanted to see that bill. Many major problems (far greater than ringworm) can cost thousands upon thousands of dollars to resolve.
At this point, you are probably wondering what in the world all of this really means. What does it look like to utilize a pet insurance policy when it comes down to the nitty-gritty? It’s a great question. It’s essential to understand a policy’s deductible, reimbursement rate, max payout limitation, waiting periods, and exclusions to determine its individual potential value. Let’s explore each of those terms further…
Your annual deductible is the amount of money you’ll need to pay each year before your plan will reimburse you for veterinary services and treatments. Many of the best pet insurance companies allow you to choose your deductible amount, but it does affect the cost of your monthly premium. Higher annual deductibles tend to carry lower premiums.
Once you’ve paid your total deductible amount, the insurance company will reimburse care costs at the percentage your policy outlines. Reimbursement rates generally average between 70 and 90 percent. The higher your level of reimbursement, the higher your monthly premium will be.
There are usually choices for annual policy limits. These limits reflect the absolute maximum amount your policy will pay in any given year. For example, if your policy has a $5,000 annual maximum, the total amount of reimbursements your policy will allow (for all the claims in that given year) cannot exceed $5,000.
Some policies have a gap between the time you sign up and the time your policy actually takes effect. You’ll be surprised to know that waiting periods can even vary by the condition needing coverage. Make sure to ask when any and all effective coverage dates will be before trying to access your benefits. You will also find that there are exclusions (things not covered) within the fine print. Do not skim through that portion! Unfortunately, it can be easy to assume that you are paying for something you are not. When it truly counts, you’ll want to make sure your pet is covered.
Now that we understand the terminology let’s use a hypothetical, simplistic scenario to see this in action! Let’s say that the Humphrey family has a pet Poodle named Benny. They enroll Benny in an accident-only pet insurance policy. The policy has a $200 deductible, 85% reimbursement rate, and $10,000 maximum payout limitation. Tragically, Benny runs into the road and is struck by the neighbor’s minivan. He ends up with an emergency bill of $8,000.
First, Mr. Humphrey will have to pay the $200 deductible. That leaves $7,800, of which the insurance will reimburse 85% (or $6,630). The remaining amount owed by the Humphrey family comes to $1,170. The total out-of-pocket expense paid was $1,370 for Benny’s accident. Without insurance, they would have paid the entire $8,000 price tag. Keep in mind that this scenario presumes no specific waiting periods or exclusions affect the coverage for exams, diagnostics, procedures, and medically necessary supplies; also, that the annual maximum payout limit has not been met yet through previous claims.
Whew! That’s a lot to consider. Let’s summarize.
→ Every pet owner should weigh the pros and cons of pet insurance. Even if you think you have enough money to cover veterinary costs, pet insurance could still save you thousands of dollars if your pet gets unexpectedly sick or injured. If you own more than one pet, your out-of-pocket costs could add up considerably without insurance. Animal species such as reptiles, birds, or small rodents typically need less medical care than cats, dogs, or other large pets. While they have a lower probability of needing emergency services, don’t forget my guinea pig, Banner! They are not entirely exempt from risk, and illnesses still occur.
→ The monthly premium costs of pet health insurance vary depending on the pet and your plan choices. The average monthly price for a dog is about $47 and about $29 for a cat. Remember that you can opt for less coverage, a higher deductible, or a lower reimbursement rate to keep your monthly cost lower. Keep in mind that all three of those factors play a part in how much you will ultimately be responsible for at the vet.
→ Pet insurance is accepted at any licensed vet or animal hospital across the nation. You don’t have to worry about being “in-network.” This is possible because the plan reimburses YOU instead of paying the doctor directly. You pay upfront (which satisfies the doctor), and the insurance company pays you back.
→ If you decide to get pet insurance, do it early on, and shop around for the best deals. Rates are partially determined by the animal’s age & any pre-existing conditions will not be covered.
→ Make sure to understand the policy terms we discussed before purchasing: deductible amount, reimbursement rate, max payout limit, and the fine print for waiting periods or exclusions!
As a pet owner, you only have a few financial options for covering the cost of veterinary care if you are paying out of pocket.
• Set aside money from each paycheck to save up a pet emergency nest egg
• Borrow from friends or family
• Ask for donations via an online campaign such as GoFundMe
• Apply for medical financing programs your veterinarian office may offer OR regular zero percent interest credit cards
• Take extra precautions with your pet daily to preemptively reduce the likelihood of issues arising (not always practical, but certainly worth a shot!) You may end up one of the lucky few whose animal never experiences major medical trauma. The odds are slim, but it is possible.
So what then is the verdict on our question, “Is pet insurance worth it?”
While I cannot advise one way or the other due to individual circumstances, I believe pet insurance can offer many great benefits, including peace of mind (especially for dog and cat owners). Researching the different companies and options and obtaining multiple quotes can sometimes be a big undertaking. How Stuff Works offers a concise overview and customer satisfaction scale for the top pet insurance providers of 2021. Their tools can help you narrow down your search!
No matter what you choose to do, your animal is (and always will be) a treasured member of the family. I wish you many years of health, love, happiness, and memories together! If your companion also functions as your Emotional Support Animal or Psychiatric Service Dog, their health and well-being take on an additional level of importance. You’ll want to make sure that their housing, travel, and public accommodation rights are “insured” too! Click the link below for more information on ESA housing letters and PSD training/registration assistance. American Service Pets would love to help you in the same way they helped me.
Due to the new Department of Transportation (DOT) policy, Emotional Support Animals are NO longer allowed to fly in airplane cabins for free. However, Psychiatric Service Dogs are eligible.
The benefits of an Emotional Support Animal certification and a Psychiatric Service Dog certification are drastically different. Fortunately for you, American Service Pets’ network of active board certified doctors can help you find the right path to certification. To find out whether you need an ESA or PSD letter, take our easy, three-step Pet Owner Survey!
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