If you own a dog, cat or parrot, you will inevitably have to take them to a veterinarian, and probably on a fairly regular basis. Pet health insurance policies are similar to human health insurance policies. They include annual premiums, deductibles, co-pays and caps. The cost of coverage is based on the animal’s age, health profile and the level of care the owner chooses to buy. Generally, the older the animal the higher the annual premium will be. There may also be exclusions for pre-existing conditions, and some will deny coverage to certain breeds such as German Shepherds and setters, which are prone to hereditary conditions such as hip dysplasia.
Policies are available for all types of animals including dogs, cats, rabbits, ferrets, exotic birds, reptiles such as iguanas, potbelly pigs and various rodents.
Most companies will begin insuring a pet at 6-8 weeks old. Some companies have age limits, others have none. Additional pets are usually covered at a reduced rate after the first pet is enrolled.
There are three types of pet health coverage available.
1. Traditional Health Insurance
These plans are similar to human health insurance policies. The companies that sell them are licensed in the states where they do business and are subject to the rules and regulations of each state. There are three levels of coverage:
a. Basic Coverage
This is the least expensive coverage and provides the lowest reimbursements for procedures. It will help pay for accidental injuries, poisonings and illnesses including cancer. A typical policy will include a cap on reimbursements per accident or illness, and will have a cap on total reimbursements per policy term. The annual premium for a healthy 3-year-old mixed breed dog would run about $140. Deductibles run from $75 to $100 per year.
b. Comprehensive Coverage
This coverage is more expensive but the reimbursements are more generous. The plan also provides reimbursements for accidental injuries, emergencies and illnesses as well as covering office visits, prescriptions, diagnostic tests, x-rays, and lab fees. The plan also includes caps on reimbursements per accident and illness, and a cap on total reimbursements for policy term. Annual premiums for this type of coverage for the same 3-year old mixed breed dog run approximately $250 per year. Deductibles run from $75 to $100 per year.
c. Pet Well Care Protection
This type of plan reimburses for preventive care, including physical exams, flea and heartworm prevention and vaccinations. Premiums for this type of coverage are approximately $144 per year. While there is no deductible for well care, there is a $50 deductible for other medical services.
2. HMO Coverage
Some vets offer wellness packages, which offer discounted prices on vaccinations, spay/neuters and dental cleanings. Some also offer geriatric health checkup packages. These are not insurance policies and are not subject to the same rules and regulations required of insurance companies.
3. Discount Plans
These plans offer a discount for veterinary services and some supplies. One national program offers 25 percent savings on all veterinary services including surgeries and hospitalizations, and up to 50% on pet supplies. You must go to participating veterinarians and pet vendors to take advantage of this program.
Beyond health insurance, there are also other types of insurance protection for pets.
Life and Theft Insurance
This coverage is designed to insure the lives of highly valuable animals; anything from an alligator to a zebra. This coverage is typically purchased by zoos, and the owners of championship cats, dogs, horses and police dogs. This coverage will reimburse owners of stolen animals, and pay a death benefit if an animal dies during transport or other covered event.
Homeowners and Renters Insurance
Standard homeowners and renters policies also provide important coverage for pet owners, including:
- Liability Protection
Homeowners and renters policies provide liability protection to defend you in court if your dog bites someone and they decide to sue. However, because dog bites cost the insurance industry $3.5 billion a year, most homeowners insurance policies exclude dogs that have a history of biting and aggressive behavior.
In addition, certain types of dogs have been classified as dangerous breeds. These dog breeds, usually larger dogs, are responsible for the most serious dog bite injuries. As a result, many homeowner associations have put restrictions on certain types of dog breeds. And a growing number of communities require owners of these breeds to carry additional liability coverage on these dogs.
If your dog falls into these categories, you can purchase a stand-alone liability insurance policy. These policies may require the dog owner to meet certain requirements such as the installation of fences and cages.
- Personal Property
Remember that items that you purchase for your pets are insured under the personal property section of standard homeowners and renters policies. This coverage will reimburse you for theft or damage caused by a fire or other disaster listed in your policy.