How to Choose Pet Health Insurance

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How to Choose Pet Health Insurance. Everyone's talking about health care costs these days -- but sometimes they can be even more exorbitant when your pet gets sick.

If you've ever left the vet's office thinking, "I spend more on my dog's health than I do on my own," or "My cat's 'free' exam turned out to be kind of expensive" -- odds are, you're a responsible pet owner. And like any responsible pet owner -- the thought of pet health insurance has probably crossed your mind. And since your own health insurance (or lack of it) is complicated (and costly) enough -- chances are -- you've put that idea on the back burner -- until your pet gets sick again.

Pets tend to have more medical issues and ailments in their comparatively short lives than we do, so odds are there will be a few visits to the vet. In these tough times; however, shelling out money on yet another monthly bill -- that could be a gamble -- may not seem like the best way to go.

Pet health insurance has, however, become more competitive lately with some more options out there. And what may not have made sense 5 years ago -- may be more feasible today.

The ASPCA, for example, started its insurance program 3 years ago, in keeping with their broader mission of championing animal welfare. According to an article in "The New York Times," one policyholder, for instance, purchased a basic $11-a-month accident policy for her dog, who subsequently racked up a $350 emergency room bill after injuring her leg jumping over a fence. "Insurance helps you plan for the stuff you don't anticipate," this pet parent says.

Another policyholder's 6-year-old adopted greyhound was diagnosed with a rare form of canine lupus that involves an expensive treatment regimen that may even continue after the disease is in remission. She had purchased the Level Three insurance (out of four levels), with a monthly premium of $38.50. The plan pays up to $3,500 per injury or illness (or both) yearly, with a total cap of $10,000. This policyholder has paid a total of $998 in premiums since signing up, but in just the year since her dog's diagnosis, was paid nearly $1,548 in claims. So for her, the insurance paid off.

As in the case of human healthcare, however, there are still those other pesky little issues like: pre-existing conditions, continuing care, necessary vitamins and supplements -- and on top of that -- having to pay up front for what IS covered. So, to insure or not to insure? It's gonna require some shopping around.

And maybe once we agree on how to reform human healthcare -- a pet healthcare bill will follow. Well, after you purchase that swampland in Florida. So, in other words, don't hold your breath.

In the meantime, here are some ways to make some sense of pet health insurance -- and figure out if it's an investment that's worth it -- for your furry family member and your budget.

Step 1

Check online for pet health insurance providers. Two of the largest providers are VPI Pet Insurance, which has been insuring pet owners since 1982, and ASPCA, which offers policies through the Hartville Group. And if you're a member of the Automobile Club of America (AAA), your local club may also offer pet insurance. Yes, you can now insure your hybrid car and your hybrid pooch under one roof. There are about a dozen other companies, including Pets Best, that also provide pet health insurance.

Step 2

Consider your pet's age and breed. Older pets are more expensive to insure than younger ones (or non-insurable) and certain breeds are at a higher risk of more frequent and costly health problems than others (therefore higher premiums). There may be other factors taken into consideration as well, including where you live and whether your pet lives indoors or outdoors.

Step 3

Compare monthly premiums, deductibles, the reimbursement percentage and the benefit schedule. For instance, deductibles can range from 0 to $1,000 (a higher deductible means a lower monthly premium, but more out-of-pocket each time your pet begins a new treatment, and a lower deductible means a higher monthly premium), and certain policies will allow a limited amount per visit or incident, which means you would be responsible for anything over that allowed amount.

Step 4

Know exactly what the plan covers; most policies just include illness and injury. Check whether routine care such as annual exams, vaccinations, teeth cleaning and blood and urine testing may be added options.

Step 5

Check with other pet owners you know that have pet insurance and with your vet for a possible recommendation. When it comes to insurance, it's always helpful to learn from others' personal experiences.


With most policies, you pick the vet, pay the bill and are reimbursed from the insurance company, after deductibles are subtracted. Know whether the plan provides lifetime continuous coverage, so that you are covered from one policy term to the next. This is important if your pet has a chronic problem such as diabetes or cancer.


Read the fine print. All policies are different, with some treatments and ailments either not covered or not fully reimbursed. Certain companies may require you to use one of the vets in their network. Your vet may not be on the list.