The Trupanion blog
Shopping for Pet Insurance: 10 Questions to Ask Before You Buy!
By: Brianna Gunter
Your pet is the best, and they deserve the best care! Of course, it’s easier to say that when you aren’t facing a massive veterinary bill. As too many pet owners discover year after year, just one surprise injury or illness can lead to heartbreaking decisions.
With the right pet insurance plan in place, however, you don’t have to choose between your budget and what’s best for your pal’s health. That said, the world of pet insurance is often confusing, and not all policies are equal.
Wondering where to start? Asking these 10 questions while exploring your options will help you narrow down what kind of coverage works best for your budget and your pet’s health needs.
1. Do I want wellness coverage or medical insurance?
When exploring potential pet insurance plans, one of the main things you’ll need to determine early on is whether you want wellness coverage or medical insurance. There are some pretty big differences between these two types of plans, and many pet insurance providers only supply one or the other.
Wellness coverage or “pet health discount plans” reimburses common covered procedures and basic veterinary care, either in full or at a reduced cost after an annual or monthly fee is paid. Wellness / discount plans typically do not cover more extensive veterinary care costs (like surgeries) or unexpected illnesses or injuries.
It’s worth noting that wellness coverage typically looks more affordable on the surface. However, it won’t help if your pet needs major treatment — meaning you may pay more out of pocket later on.
Medical insurance for pets is typically more comprehensive than wellness coverage and covers surprise illnesses and injuries. Because it is intended for larger, non-routine veterinary care costs, comprehensive medical insurance often comes with a larger price tag upfront. But by not covering routine costs that pet owners can budget for themselves, these plans make it easier to provide pets with major treatments as needed.
2. What conditions are covered?
You may think you know what will be covered just by selecting a wellness plan or medical coverage. However, insurance providers have their own rules on what conditions are and are not covered. For example, many insurers don’t cover hip dysplasia while others do.
It’s worth noting here that the majority of pet insurance providers do not cover pre-existing conditions (anything diagnosed prior to your enrollment).
3. Is picking my own veterinarian important to me?
Getting coverage at your preferred veterinarian depends on the pet insurance plan you choose. Many veterinary practices offer their own in-house wellness coverage plans, while some insurance providers may have partnerships with certain hospital chains.
If you don’t mind not being able to pick your own veterinarian, then these options may be just fine. However, many pet parents feels that having the freedom to take your pet anywhere is crucial to getting them the best veterinary care (not to mention, it’s often more convenient for you!)
Trupanion is an international pet insurance provider that allows pet owners to go to any licensed veterinarian. Coverage is not limited or reduced based on where pets receive care — be it through a local veterinarian, an emergency clinic, or a specialist.
4. What does my budget look like?
A big part of responsible pet ownership is incorporating your pal’s basic care costs into your routine expenses. But when unexpected illnesses or injuries strike, your pet budget can quickly become derailed. That’s why pet insurance coverage is a good idea in the first place, but it also means that you’ll need to decide upfront how much you’re willing to spend on it.
The truth is that these costs vary widely between insurers and depend on everything from your pet’s age and breed to their health history and location. It’s a good idea to compare quotes, but it’s also important to keep in mind that the plans with the lowest upfront costs can be deceptive. Some inexpensive pet insurance companies keep costs down (upfront at least) by doing the following:
- Birthday pricing—your monthly rates start low but rise every time your pet ages another year.
- Policies that reset annually (recently diagnosed conditions become pre-existing upon renewal and are no longer covered).
- Strict coverage limits. Necessary parts of your pet’s care — like diagnostic testing, medications, surgeries, etc.— may not actually be included in your policy.
In other words, always read the fine print of potential plans while determining your budget.
5. Is my pet’s breed covered?
Different breeds are predisposed to certain kinds of illnesses or injuries. For example, corgis, German shepherds have a stronger likelihood of developing hip dysplasia. These statistics have resulted in many pet insurance companies imposing strict limitations on certain dog breeds. Some insurers even have blacklisted breeds that they won’t cover at all.
With Trupanion, all dogs and cats up to age 14 can be enrolled, regardless of breed.
6. How do I file a claim?
The whole point of having pet insurance coverage is to have financial support for your pet’s veterinary care. That said, the process for filing an insurance claim and getting that support can add stress to the situation if it’s overly complicated. You may find yourself having to go through multiple steps, including phone calls and filling out forms. Some providers also require special forms filled out by your veterinarian. It’s common for claim processing to take days or even weeks.
What’s important is that you find a company with a method that works for you. Trupanion offers multiple options for convenience, including filing a claim online, via email, or by regular old snail mail. In most cases, claims are processed within 24 hours. And if your veterinarian accepts it, Trupanion can even pay your pet’s bill directly at checkout from your appointment.
Speaking of which…
7. Can the pet insurance provider pay my vet directly?
Most pet health insurance providers operate on a standard reimbursement model — you’ll pay your veterinarian while checking out from your pet’s appointment, file a claim with your insurer, then wait to get a check for covered costs sent your way.
Some insurance providers are changing this traditional practice, however. For example, Pets Best Pet Health Insurance offers the option of having your veterinarian fill out a reimbursement release form (if they agree to it), which you will then send in along with your claim. Once approved, Pets Best will pay the veterinarian.
Trupanion is meanwhile unique in being able to pay participating veterinary clinics and animal hospitals right as you’re checking out from your pet’s appointment. You can find out which hospitals accept payment from Trupanion directly here.
8. Are there payout limits?
Pet insurance companies often impose limits on the number of payouts or the total amount of reimbursement allowed on each policy. These limits are typically annual, though in some cases they may be for the lifetime of a pet.
Always look upfront at these details in order to avoid unwelcome surprises. If you don’t want any payout limits, Trupanion is a good option — members get unlimited payouts on all eligible veterinary costs.
9. What are the customer service hours?
Even when you’re the most cautious pet parent, there’s no telling when or where a serious health situation could strike. After all, accidents and illnesses don’t wait for when it’s necessarily “convenient” for you. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to choose a pet insurance provider that offers easy access to customer service.
For many companies, live customer service is only available during designated business hours (which are usually posted on their website). Some may only offer online chat with a bot or email outside of these hours, after which you’ll have to wait for a person to get back to you.
The Trupanion customer service team is meanwhile always available 24/7, every day of the year.
10. Can I keep my pet’s coverage if I move?
Most pet insurance companies only operate in specific states or regions, so it’s useful to know whether or not you’ll be able to continue coverage if you move. Just as you may have to switch over your other insurance policies (like auto, home, and health), you may also have to switch your pet insurance.
If you’re moving in the immediate future — as in, weeks or months — it’s probably best to sign up for coverage when you have your new address. If you’re not sure when you’ll be moving but think it’s a possibility, reach out to your prospective pet insurance providers and ask where they offer coverage as well as how they handle changes of address.
Buying pet insurance: knowledge is key
Shopping for the best pet insurance for your pet and budget can feel overwhelming, but getting as much information as possible about your options will help you feel confident in your decision. When you enroll your pet in coverage that fits their health needs and your budget, you can rest easy knowing that you just took a big step in protecting your pal’s future.
To learn more about pet health insurance and how it works, check out these pet insurance FAQs.
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We’re the official blog of Trupanion—chosen by veterinarians as the #1 pet insurance in America. Here you’ll find useful dog and cat care tips, interesting veterinary insights, and fun pet topics galore.
While you’re browsing our pet blog, please note that the views expressed here are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Trupanion. Our articles are reviewed by veterinarians for accuracy, but they are not a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment. Always consult with your own pet’s veterinarian for advice.