February 7, 2014
One topic I've learned to avoid with new acquaintances until I know them better (along with politics and religion) is where they stand on the treatment of pets. Some people, when their dog gets sick or badly injured, say, "It's an animal – that's just part of the circle of life." Others consider Rover a close family member and would take out a second mortgage to save his life.
Pet owners from both camps probably see the barrage of ads for pet insurance and wonder whether it's worth the expense, which might be several thousand dollars over the life of your pet. I did some research and the best answer I can come up with is, it depends.
First, ask yourself: Do you regard pet insurance as a financial investment, where you expect to get back more in benefits than you paid out in premiums over the pet's life? Or, is it more like auto or homeowner's insurance, where you hope nothing ever goes seriously wrong, but you want coverage in case there's a catastrophe?
Either way, here are some basic facts about pet insurance that may help you decide whether it's right for you:
Pet insurance shares many features with human health insurance: Policies typically have annual deductibles, copayments and exclusions, and some limit which veterinarians, clinics and hospitals you can use.
But there are numerous differences as well. For example, pet insurers are allowed to refuse coverage for preexisting conditions and to set annual and lifetime payout limits. Among the many other restrictions you should watch for when comparing plans are:
Perhaps the biggest challenge when choosing pet insurance is trying to compare plans, apples to apples. There are about a dozen carriers in the U.S. Each offers a variety of plans with varying deductible, copayment and maximum coverage amounts, as well as different covered benefits and exclusions.
You can go directly to their websites for plan details and to request a quote, or use an independent comparison website to pull quotes from multiple carriers. I'd recommend creating a spreadsheet to compare benefits and costs side by side, just as you would when shopping for auto insurance.
Bottom line: If you decide pet insurance isn't right for you, at least be sure you're setting money aside to cover expected – and unexpected expenses.
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