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5 Questions to Ask When Shopping for Pet Insurance

Find the best policy for your pet and your pocketbook by asking these questions


Natasha Ashton, Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer for Petplan Insurance

Natasha Ashton, Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer for Petplan Insurance

Guest author Natasha Ashton is the Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer for Petplan pet insurance. In this article, Natasha offers 5 questions to ask of prospective pet health care insurance providers to ensure that you find the best plan for your pet and your pocketbook.

From Natasha Ashton

Pet insurance can be a tricky topic to tackle, mainly because there are just so many companies offering so many different products out there. For the average pet parent, it can be confusing trying to sort out what it all means, which plans offer the best protection, and how to get the most value from a pet insurance policy. Our pets are a part of our families (they are certainly the easiest to get along with!) and we want to be able to give them the very best life.

Pet insurance is designed to offer you protection against a major financial loss, should your pet ever have an accident or become ill. It sounds simple enough, but there are certain nuances to be aware of when picking a provider.

Below are some questions you should always ask before purchasing a health insurance policy for your pets.

1. Does the company reimburse policyholders based on benefit schedules or actual vet fees? Beware of any plan offering coverage based on a benefit schedule; you may find that you quickly max out per-incident and per-illness caps.

For example, if your dog has an ear infection that costs $600 to treat, and coverage for an ear infection is limited to a $325 maximum payout, you'll be paying the difference out-of-pocket. Look for a pet insurance provider that pays you back what your vet charges for services (minus your chosen deductible and/or co-pay).

Flat-rate reimbursement of your actual vet bill is a better buy in the end - especially if your dog winds up with one very expensive condition.

2. What kinds of riders and add-ons does the company offer? If you're researching plans, and there are options to purchase things like hip dysplasia riders or additional coverage for chronic diseases, proceed with caution. A high-value plan will include coverage for hereditary and chronic conditions as standard - which means you don't need to purchase add-ons to include them in your basic coverage.

Also make sure that if your pet develops a chronic condition, it will be covered for the rest of his life. Some companies cover chronic conditions initially, but when the policy year expires, they exclude that condition as pre-existing during the next policy term. You will get the most value from a policy that covers chronic conditions for life.

3. Are specialized treatments and complementary therapies covered? Pet insurance should allow you to take your veterinarian's advice in pursuing the best possible course of treatment for your pet, and many veterinarians today look to both Western and complementary therapies to treat a condition or disease.

Always ask if the insurer covers fees for specialist and referral veterinary treatment like cardiology, dermatology, orthopedics and oncology. Alternative treatments like acupuncture, hydrotherapy or chiropractic treatment should be covered, too (ideally as part of the standard coverage included with every policy).

4. Does reimbursement include a per-condition or annual deductible? The purpose of a deductible on a pet insurance policy is to help keep premiums affordable by having you share some of the cost.

Typically, deductibles are applied either per-condition or annually. One is not necessarily better than the other, but it helps to understand the difference.

A per-condition deductible is applied once per condition your pet goes to the vet to have treated. So if you have a $100 deductible, and your pet visits the vet six times during the year for diabetes treatment, you will only pay $100 rather than $600. On the other hand, if your pet goes to the vet for six different conditions throughout the year, you will pay $600 ($100 per condition).

An annual deductible would apply once for the entire year, but be aware that cost-sharing might be happening elsewhere. Some companies with annual deductibles exclude doctor's exam fees from reimbursement, so while you'll pay a $100 deductible just once that year, you'll pay the $150 exam fee each time you visit the vet.

5. Are prescription medications covered? Look for an insurance plan that provides coverage for prescription medications, including nutraceuticals recommended by your vet. Again, a policy that includes this coverage as standard is going to give you the most value.

In Summary

Hopefully, this information gives you some idea of where to start when researching pet insurance providers. Additional resources you should also consult are independent reviews by actual policyholders on a website like www.PetInsuranceReview.com, where you can check out each company's rating and read about actual experiences their customers have had with the product.

The other "must read" is the Terms and Conditions of the pet insurance policy you are considering buying. Companies typically provide a sample of their Terms and Conditions on their website. This document is your user's guide to your pet insurance policy; it clearly lays out what is and is not covered by your policy, explains any waiting periods, and defines terms like "pre-existing condition." Never buy a pet insurance policy unless you have read and fully understand the policy Terms and Conditions.

If you need further explanation about something, call the company and ask. At the end of the day, a good pet health insurance policy will be there for you so that you never have to make a pet health decision based on financial considerations. Sure, you could start a savings account and tuck away a few hundred dollars a year in case of emergency - or you could take that couple hundred dollars and buy insurance that will give you $20,000 in annual coverage.

Do your homework now, and you can keep your pet on the road to good health for life.


Natasha Ashton is the Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer for Petplan pet insurance. Read Natasha's full bio here.

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