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Does it pay to purchase pet insurance?

This question is often debated, and many “experts” give an account on the topic of whether or not pet insurance is financially viable. Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer to this question. Some pet parents end up receiving the short end of the stick and get much less than they put in. Others, may receive substantial compensation from a claim within months of signing up for a policy. It all depends on two key factors: how lucky (or unlucky) your pet is in terms of contracting diseases or sustaining injuries, and what kind of an insurance plan the pet parent ultimately chooses.

The truth is, it’s not a financial question.  It is a question of utility.  Pet insurance is not a way to save money, and most certainly not a way to make money, although sometimes it does work out that way.

Ultimately, pet insurance enables pets to receive necessary medical care while allowing pet parents to remain within a set budget.

You pay a set monthly fee (usually in the range of a few dozen dollars), and you can be sure that if there is a need for treatment, the bulk of the cost will be covered by the insurance company. Given that the cost of treatment is often in the thousands of dollars, and sometimes reaches tens of thousands, many pet parents find pet insurance very useful.

Is pet insurance similar to human health insurance?

As a matter of fact, pet insurance performs the same basic functions as human health insurance, but there are several key differences between them:

  1. Pet insurance operates on the principle of expense reimbursement: first you pay the full amount of treatment to the vet out of pocket, and then the insurance company reimburses you for some of the costs in accordance with the policy terms and conditions.  There is one notable exception to this – Trupanion – which offers direct payments to the vet.
  2. Pet insurance never covers pre-existing conditions.
  3. Obamacare has forced insurance companies to categorize all insurance plans into four simple and understandable categories: bronze, silver, gold and platinum. All the plans within a category/level, even from different insurance carriers, are virtually the same and offer the same coverage. In the case of pet insurance, the situation is completely different.  Each company offers different plans with different costs and coverage. To add insult to injury, they often use different terms on their sites or policy documentation. This leads to mass confusion on behalf of the consumers, who struggle to understand the differences between different policies, making it that much more difficult to pick the right one. Such significant differences are primarily caused by two factors:

– Pets are considered “personal property,” and as such, pet insurance is categorized and regulated under casualty and property
– Pet insurance is a relatively young industry, and many open issues have not been addressed yet.

Luckily, epetsure is here to help.  We took a page out of Obamacare, and have simplified the way consumers can shop for pet insurance.  After copious research, we also categorized all plans available on the market into four buckets:  accident-only, bronze, silver and gold.  Check out how simple it is to select and compare the best pet insurance plan.

When to purchase pet insurance

Pet health problems usually arise in the middle age phase of their life. Having received the first significant bills from the vet, pet parents begin to think about pet insurance. Unfortunately, it is too late at that point. No insurance company will cover pre-existing conditions. Moreover, many companies have fairly long waiting periods (up to two years) after initial treatment before coverage can commence.

The best time to insure a pet is right after you adopt it or purchase it and wait until it reaches the minimum coverable age (six to eight weeks old, depending on the carrier).  If you really want to save money, you can wait three to four years if the pet is extremely healthy.  But going without insurance past the pet’s five year old birthday is simply too risky.

But, no matter our best intentions, sometimes a pet may end up without insurance.  What can be done if the pet gets ill at that point?  Obviously, first get the pet treated, but then:

– Read and understand the conditions covering a specific disease by different insurance companies, and choose those that are willing to cover the pet after treatment.  Pay particular attention to the start date of coverage.
– Pay attention to services like Pet Assure. This is not insurance, but rather a vet discount program.  You can find more details about it in our Pet Resources section.

How to choose a pet insurance carrier

It’s often said that in order to obtain the right answer, one must ask the right question.  It so happens that this is not the right question. Each insurance company offers several plans and variations on those plans, and terms may differ radically.  We believe it’s important to choose the right plan, and not necessarily the “right carrier.”  How would you do that?  Luckily, we have the answer.

How to choose the right pet insurance plan

This is a complicated question that we will try to simplify. There are basically two approaches.

Option 1: DIY

The first option is to study the proposals of all 10+ insurance companies operating under the 20+ brands and offering 100+ plans. The full list of companies is available at naphia.org. What factors should be taken into account when evaluating a plan?  Here is a list.

At the company level:

  • Unique Proposition
  • Reviews
  • Waiting Period
  • Requirement of Initial Exam

At the plan level:

It’s important to clarify that these are only the main aspects that should be taken into account when comparing plans. Once you dig deeper, you will see that most plans have particulars and nuances that should be taken into account as well.

Option 2: Seek opinion of a specialist

You can talk to your veterinarian.

Given the fact that pet insurance is not widespread, not all veterinarians are well versed in this matter. But it’s still a professional opinion that you may want to consult.

Insurance Agents.

Unfortunately, the number of professionals that deal with pet insurance is very small.

Information and recommendation resources.

– Universal (and location-based) information sites like Yelp list characteristics for very few, if any, companies.
– Googling “compare pet insurance plans” yields reasonable resources to help pet parents navigate the complex field of pet insurance plans.

Our epetsure plan selection system provides pet parents all the necessary details of every plan.  Bucketed in easy to understand categories and having assigned values and rankings for each plan, the result is a customized, easy to digest, but wholly objective recommendation system.

How to buy pet insurance

All insurance companies allow you to purchase a policy online or by phone.  Often times, the purchase can be made at comparison shopping sites, like ours.

Now that my pet is insured, what's next?

So, now that you have bought pet insurance, you can relax, right?  Wrong!  Please go through the following steps to minimize any potential problems.

– Check the purchased policy

– Does it contain the correct pet and owner information?
– Are the terms of the policy satisfactory?  If you find that you made a mistake and purchased the wrong plan, you usually have a grace period (2-4 weeks) to either change the policy or cancel it outright with a full refund.
– Is there an outstanding request to provide additional documentation?  For example, some companies require a recent vet exam to commence coverage.
– Are there any requirements to be met to keep the policy active?  For example, you may need to keep up with vaccinations, changes of your address, etc.
– Make sure you understand all terminology and terms.

– Learn the process and the necessary documents for filing claims.

– If you have questions at this stage, write to or call the insurance company. If they are hard to reach, slow to respond to your requests, or you are not satisfied with the answers – it’s usually a bad sign, and you should consider switching companies.

– Save the contact information of the insurance company and plan data in a convenient location (e.g., your phone).

What should I do if I have problems?

If you have an issue with a carrier, especially after going through a claims process, consider the following tips:

– Call the insurance company.

– Write the insurance company and save all correspondence.

– Leave a review of your experience on all available resources (review sites, social media, local newspaper, etc.).

– Companies do not like negative reviews, and will most likely try to contact you to resolve the issue.
– Even if it does not help you, it will prevent other people from falling prey to the same situation, and will cause financial damage to the company.

–  Contact a regulatory agency.

– If the disagreement amounts to a significant amount of money, consider seeking legal advice.

Switching Insurance Providers

Approximately once a year, epetsure recommends that you assess the necessity of switching insurance carriers and / or plans. The market is changing quickly, producing new companies, services and plans.  Keep in mind the following:

– Every pet insurance company has a grace period of 15-30 days when you can cancel your plan without any financial repercussions, if you change your mind about the company, the plan, or just need more time to think about it.

– If your pet has not gotten sick lately and is healthy, switching companies should not pose any problems.

– If your pet fell ill recently, but is now healthy, the transition must be coordinated with the new insurance company.  You may need to provide them with detailed information about the pet’s history, present state of health, results of a recent vet exam, and get their consent in writing about new coverage.

– Lastly, if your pet is sick now, the issue of changing insurance needs to be postponed until recovery.

Once you’ve figured out the best pet insurance company and plan for your pet, you can finally relax, knowing that you’ll be able to provide your furry friend with the necessary medical treatment without fear of extensive prohibitive costs.

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