by Brian Vines
August 25, 2023
You can buy car insurance and never get into an accident or home insurance and never have a fire. People who buy pet insurance, on the other hand, are perhaps more likely to use it because, depending on the plan, it can cover routine pet healthcare, not just injuries and illness. Even so, only a minority of pet owners choose to buy coverage. Roughly 65 million U.S. households have a dog and 46 million have a cat, but just 4.8 million cats and dogs are insured in this country.
For those interested in joining the ranks of people who insure their pets, Consumer Reports’ first-ever pet insurance ratings can help. We rated eight pet insurance providers—ASPCA, Banfield, Embrace, Fetch, Healthy Paws, Nationwide Pet Insurance, Pets Best, and Trupanion—based on a survey of 2,061 members who insured their pets. Our analysis draws from their experiences with premiums, coverage, customer service, and other factors.
Here are the main things to know when shopping for a policy.
Cost Considerations and Coverage Options
Pet health insurance resembles the human version in some ways. For instance, the majority of pet plans have premiums, annual deductibles, and copays. But pet insurance policies vary more in what they cover or don’t, with not all pet insurers including the same suite of possible veterinary needs or health problems as part of their basic packages. This can make comparison shopping a bit challenging.
These are the types of coverages you can usually elect to include in your pet health insurance or that may come bundled together:
● Accident coverage, the most popular type elected by CR survey respondents, typically includes injury care, covering surgery and hospitalization.
● Illness coverage includes treatment for routine, chronic, hereditary, or congenital illnesses that are not pre-existing.
● Wellness care covers routine vet visits.
● Preventative care plans include vaccinations, flea and tick, and heartworm medications.
● Dental care coverage for oral health.
● Alternative therapy coverage includes acupuncture, hydrotherapy, and physical rehabilitation.
● Prescription medication coverage.
● Prescription food coverage.
● Coverage for diagnostic tests and X-rays.
When Should You Get Pet Insurance?
Simply put, it’s cheaper to insure healthy pets, and premiums are routinely less expensive for younger animals. Younger animals are also advantaged because they tend not to have pre-existing conditions.
A pre-existing condition is any illness or injury that predates the start of an insurance policy. These can be incurable illnesses like cancer and diabetes (yes, cats and dogs can get diabetes) or curable problems like a broken bone. Insurers may ask to review your pet’s medical records before enrollment. Or they may impose waiting periods before activating coverage, from 2 days to 12 months, depending on the insurance carrier and whether you’re bringing your pet in for an illness, an accident, or other reason.
The Cost of Premiums, Deductibles, and Copays Can Add Up
The average premium paid by CR members was $47 per month per pet. Depending on the plan you choose, deductibles can range from $0 to $1,000 or more. Copays (the fixed percentage of a vet bill you are expected to pay out of pocket) are typically 20 percent.
Your pet’s breed may make them susceptible to known health complications that impact the price of their insurance coverage or even their ability to be covered at all. Where you live, your pet’s age, and the cost of veterinary care in your area also contribute to the premium you can expect to pay.
You’ll Likely Have to Pay Upfront for Treatment
Pet owners are usually responsible for paying providers directly at the time of service. This means you must then file a claim for reimbursement from the insurance company.
More than half (55 percent) of CR’s survey respondents received full reimbursement after the copay, at their policy level, for the claims they submitted over the past 12 months. An additional 21 percent received partial reimbursement. While the type and amount of claims filed by respondents in our survey varied, one of the eight ranked insurers delivered the highest level of complete reimbursements, paying out in full on 86 percent of claims. Conversely, two carriers appeared less likely to fully reimburse on the most recent claims filed, with 63 and 61 percent reimbursement rates, respectively.
So, Is Pet Insurance Worth It?
Only you can decide whether pet insurance is worth it for you and your pet.
CR’s analysis of respondents’ experiences suggests saving money on vet care is not guaranteed if your pet is insured. After paying monthly premiums (average $47 a month or $564 a year), the typical survey respondent who claimed $786 on vet services just about broke even.
But saving money may not be the only consideration. Having insurance can also buy peace of mind. “It is sad to see that some pet owners have to put their pets down because they don’t have the financial means to cover the medical bills,” said one survey respondent, who had been insuring their Chihuahua for a decade before a cancer scare required scans, X-rays, and oncologist consultations. The bills came to nearly $7,000, which insurance covered. “Having pet insurance gives you peace of mind that when your pet is sick, God forbid, you can take care of him or her without even having to think of the cost that it might incur,” said another survey respondent.
by Brian Vines