Pet health insurance, like other forms of insurance, is a gamble. You're betting your cat will need it, and the company is setting odds that it won't. There are a number of factors to consider before you buy pet health insurance for your cat. You may, in fact, decide against it, depending on your own situation, and your willingness to gamble. Here are some questions to raise about any pet health insurance plan before you buy it, along with other considerations.
Does the Company Use a Network or Provider List?
If you are determined to stay with your own veterinarian, check with your veterinarian before buying. Insurers' approved lists of veterinarians may require extra driving time. (Of course, if your veterinarian is listed, you're one step ahead.) Fortunately, many pet health insurance plans allow you to use any veterinarian you choose. The four companies listed in this article all state on their websites that you have a free choice of veterinarians. Ask all companies to see their policy, before signing.
What Are the Exclusions?
All pet health insurance policies have exclusions. One of the most common is the "pre-existing condition" exclusion, which can be defined loosely as "injuries, medical conditions and symptoms of concern that were evident prior to enrollment." Naturally, this is an issue if your cat is not in relatively good health.
Other exclusions may include neutering/spaying, hip-dysplasia, vaccinations, flea control, heartworm medication, dental care, or limitations for certain illnesses of cats not neutered prior to their first birthday.
What Are the Deductibles and the Co-Pay?
Some companies will charge a flat deductible of $50 to $100, depending on the age of the pet, for each procedure. In addition, almost all policies will require a co-pay of 10% to 20% of the veterinarian's fee.
Deductibles and co-pays (also called "co-insurance") may be significant.
These out-of-pocket fees are intended to lessen both the number of total claims paid and the number of unnecessary procedures and diagnostic tests.
What Are the "Incident," Annual, or Lifetime Caps?
Many companies provide a cap (maximum) amount for each covered illness or procedure (incident cap). Some companies also utilize an annual cap, over which no further coverage is provided for that calendar year. Still another cap used by pet health insurance companies is a lifetime cap. One company has a $12,000-lifetime cap, citing that only one in 50,000 cats ever exceeds that amount in a lifetime.
Does the Insurer Offer Options or Only a "One Size Fits All" Policy?
Fortunately, some companies offer a variety of plans depending on the needs of your cat. One company even provides a policy specifically for senior cats. Another has a plan for accident coverage only. Riders are also available for dental, extended cancer coverage, or preventative care (well-care). You might be able to save premium costs through picking and choosing the plan that is right for your cat.
Are There Other Benefits or Savings?
Some pet health insurance companies are very creative with additional benefits. One company offers coverage for 3rd party property damage liability, holiday cancellation, boarding fees, and advertising for missing pets. Two companies give a 5% to 15% discount for multiple pets enrolled. One company is actively soliciting corporations to offer pet insurance to their employees as part of their benefits package.
A Few Better-Known Pet Insurance Companies:
All of the pet insurers listed below offer a variety of different policies to fit different needs. Each takes a slightly different approach to insurance; some pay a percentage of your cost regardless of the medical issue, while others pay only for specific medical conditions.
VPI (recently changed to Nationwide) provides a 4-page "benefit schedule" listing hundreds of diseases, conditions, diagnostic procedures and treatments, each with a maximum coverage amount. With the mid-level Superior Plan, VPI pays 90% of the schedule amount after a $50 per incident deductible. Some employers actually offer VPI insurance as an employee benefit; if you're interested, check the website for details.
Pets Best Insurance takes a completely different approach to payouts. Rather than creating a set of varying payments for different medical interventions, they pay a flat 80% of the veterinary charges, after a $75 per incident deductible.
PetCare's QuickCare Optimum uses a short schedule and pays 90% of the schedule amount, after a $100 deductible.
The ASPCA Insurance plan offers four incremental levels, each offering 90% coverage after a $100 annual deductible. The third and fourth levels cover hereditary conditions, alternative therapies, and behavioral treatments. Those levels also offer "routine wellness" and "advanced wellness" for additional fees.
More Information on Pet Health Insurance Plans:
Janet Tobiassen Crosby D.V.M., About.com's former Veterinary Expert, wrote a series of articles on pet health insurance, for more in-depth information on individual policies.