7 Best Pet Insurance Companies of 2018
14 May, 2018
By: Lisa Fimberg
When you bring a pet home, there are so many things to consider to keep your pet happy and healthy. One of the bigger (and more important) questions is whether you should get pet insurance for your pet. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this question and it really depends on your specific dog or cat. Sorry!
Pet insurance policies can be very difficult to navigate and our pet insurance guide will not only walk you through what to look for in choosing a pet insurance policy, but also the right questions to ask and the best providers for your pet(s) specific needs.
Let’s start with the basics:
I. WHAT IS PET INSURANCE?
Pet Insurance is simply a policy to cover the unexpected occurrence in your dog or cat. It is really the assurance (and insurance) that if your dog or cat has an accident or becomes ill, you have the peace of mind to know that your policy will pay for most of it. According to NAPHIA, more than 2,000,000 pets are insured in the United States and Canada and are increasing at a rate of 17% each year. And there’s a reason why! Dogs and cats do get into trouble or will get sick and the last thing you want is to be left with an unexpected $10,000 emergency room bill! Ouch.
Even AAHA (The American Animal Hospital Association) states that the reason pet health insurance has becoming increasingly popular in the United States is because many pet owners can’t afford the rising costs of veterinary bills. And pet insurance helps.
A good pet insurance policy will typically reimburse your veterinarian bills from 80 to 90% of the expenses incurred. This includes vet visits that have to do with illness, ongoing medical conditions and accidents.
Look for a policy that covers illness, hereditary and congenital conditions. Pre-existing conditions are not covered by any pet insurance company which is why you should get your pet started at a young age.
According to ConsumersAdvocate.org, the minimum that your pet insurance plan should include are the following:
Accidents & Illnesses
Hereditary, Congenital, & Chronic Conditions
All of the top pet insurance providers have 3 variations of coverage and are listed in the order of our preference:
1. Comprehensive Medical Coverage
One of the more important factors to look for in a pet insurance policy is that it includes comprehensive medical coverage. Comprehensive pet insurance includes accidents, broken bones, swallowed objects, cancer, diabetes, ear infections and numerous other conditions or occurrences.
Comprehensive medical coverage is our favorite because it allows you to be prepared for a range of expensive medical issues that could happen over the course of your pet’s life. For example, if your dog has a form of cancer and is being treated for the condition, you want to make sure that your dog will continue to be treated for the cancer when the policy rolls over into the next year. Without the continual care, your coverage could go away at the end of the policy year.
2. Wellness coverage
While in theory wellness coverage might sound ideal since it covers routine visit procedures like check-ups and vaccinations, but don’t let that fool you! Wellness coverage is usually not a good deal as it tends to drive up your monthly premiums for procedures that tend to be cheaper to pay out-of-pocket. The whole point of pet insurance is to be reimbursed for the big, unexpected medical expenses.
3. Accidents Only
Some pet insurance coverage is called accidents only. This type of policy includes broken bones, swallowed objects, cancer, diabetes, ear infections and numerous other conditions. However, a solid pet insurance should cover accidents and illness in their policy which is why this is our least favorite.
Other things to look out for under coverage:
Coverage should be based on actual vet bills, with no annual limits.
All pet insurance works on a reimbursement model as you pay for the vet bills up front and get reimbursed for the covered services at your visit. Look for a policy where you are reimbursed on your total vet bill, rather than on a benefit schedule or what some policies refer to as customary or routine charges. (See section IV below on the 3 types of reimbursement models).
All veterinarians should be covered under a good policy
With pet insurance, you should be able to find your current veterinarian or any other veterinarian of your choice. Some plans will only cover in-network providers and we recommend you do not choose these policies. A good policy will include specialists but the entire bill could be higher.
Look for a policy that doesn’t set a limit on specific conditions
Another important factor to consider is that the pet insurance policy you choose does not have a limit on how much it will reimburse you for specific conditions or incidents. Some plans have an annual maximum for covered expenses. Since you can’t predict what might happen to your pet, you want to have that full amount to be reimbursable for whatever comes up. That’s the point!
For example, if your dog swallows a tennis ball (it happens all the time!), you don’t want to later find out that your policy only covers 50 % of the surgery to remove it. You want your full maximum benefit to be used towards the surgery.
What about prescription medication?
The best policies will be those that offer reimbursement for prescription medications. Many pets need continued medication which can become very expensive if they aren’t covered. It’s always nice to know you can buy a prescribed medication from your vet and that you will be reimbursed for it.
Does pet insurance include X-rays?
X-rays are only covered on certain pet insurance plans. The best plans should have coverage that includes include prescriptions, surgeries, chronic and hereditary conditions and lab tests, as well as x-rays.
Is dental work included in a pet insurance policy?
Most pet insurance plans do not include routine dental work, cosmetic or cleaning. However, if your dog or cat had his teeth injured in an accident, a good policy should cover the expense. Embrace Pet Insurance is one of the few providers that offers dental cleaning up to $650 if you enroll in their wellness plan.
Does pet insurance include your annual vet visits?
Most pet insurance policies don’t pay for routine physical exams unless you have purchased a “wellness” plan. If your vet visit has to do with an accident or illness, the company will cover the vet bill for whatever amount or percentage specified in your policy.
Are their pet insurance policies that include alternative therapies?
Most standard policies don’t cover alternative therapy, so if you think you might need it or prefer it, then it can be added to a policy for an additional premium. Healthy Paws is one of the few providers that offer alternative therapy which typically includes hydrotherapy, acupuncture, massage and other different types of treatment.
Does this policy cover for your breeds’ specific condition?
By doing your homework with your vet, you can find out if your breed is pre-disposed to any medical condition. Labradors, for example, tend to have weaker hips and might need a hip replacement. Does your policy cover that possibility?
Some items or routines are NOT COVERED in most standard pet insurance policies. The most common ones are listed below:
Most policies don’t cover pre-existing conditions which is any injury, illness, or irregularity that exits before your pet insurance policy begins. This also applies to any illness or condition that pre-dates the policy or a pre-existing medical condition if you change providers. Figo offers treatment for pre-existing conditions if the condition or illness has been cured for at least 12 months.
Anything related to pregnancy and/or birth
Any routine, preventative or planned treatments, such as flea, worm and tick treatments vaccinations, grooming, or claw clipping.
Most pet insurance plans don’t offer spaying and neutering in their standard plans. If this is important to you, look for a plan that offers a wellness package which also covers checkups, flea/tick medications, vaccinations, and other treatments that aren’t part of a regular plan. In fact, Nationwide is one of the few providers that offers spaying and neutering as part of their standard plan.
Many pet insurance policies won’t pay out for dental treatment unless your pet’s teeth were damaged in an accident.
Shots and vaccinations are not typically covered by standard pet insurance policies. There are some providers that offer wellness policies that will cover vaccines, shots and other routine preventative care.
III. BENEFIT LIMITS
In choosing your pet insurance company, you should be aware of the different benefit limits. Some plans will offer unlimited lifetime benefits while other plans may be capped on an annual, lifetime, or per-condition basis.
The best plans have unlimited lifetime benefits meaning plans that have no payout cap. With veterinary costs increasing, it is very common for any procedure to cost in the $5,000 to $10,000 range and you want to be prepared. Even something as simple as an out-patient surgery can cost at least that amount which is why unlimited benefit payouts are recommended.
There are four different types of benefit levels (in order of our favorite to least favorite)
1. Unlimited Lifetime –
After you pay your deductible, there will be no upper limit the company will pay to cover your pet’s medical bills.
2, Annual Maximum
Some companies will cap payouts on an annual basis (e.g. $10,000/year). Once you reach that limit, you will no longer be reimbursed for treatments that year.
3. Annual Per Incident
This is the maximum dollar amount the company will pay for a particular illness, condition, or procedure in a given year.
4. Lifetime Maximum
This is the maximum amount the company will pay out either in total or per condition for the lifetime of the pet. If your pet has a chronic condition, you can quickly hit the benefit limit.
IV. DEDUCTIBLES AND REIMBURSEMENTS
Your plan deductible is how much money you will have to pay out of pocket before the pet insurance company starts paying. Typically, a higher deductible will translate into a lower monthly premiums.
There are 3 different types of deductibles.
1. Annual Deductible – The annual deductible is the amount you pay (standard is around $250) before your pet insurance policy starts to pay. Once you’ve met your deductible, your pet insurance plan kicks in to reimburse you for 90% of all medical bills (assuming you’ve chosen a reimbursement level of 90%). When the year is over, the deductible resets. The annual deductible is broader in scope which is why it is our preferred. A deductible is not a co-payment.
What is a co-payment?
A co-payment (or co-pay), is the percentage of the total medical expenses you must pay once your deductible limit has been reached. For example, if your veterinary bill is $2,000 and you have a deductible of $500 and a co-pay of 20%, you would pay your $500 deductible and a co-pay of $300 (20 % off the $1,500 balance). Your insurer will then reimburse you $1,200 to cover the rest of the cost of treatment.
2. Per Condition Lifetime- The per-condition lifetime separates varying deductibles by condition. Once that deductible is met the company pays out for that condition according to the given reimbursement model for the rest of the pets life.
3. Per Condition Annual – Per condition annual again separates coverage according to condition. The deductible resets each calendar year.
Reimbursement Model: Companies typically offer three different reimbursement options.
Reimbursement is the percent of the vet bill your insurance will pay. Most plans will allow you to customize the reimbursement options.
Actual cost means that, once you have satisfied your deductible, you will be paid a percentage (i.e. 80 – 90%) of your actual veterinarian bill. Most plans that use this model allow you to choose the percentage. This is our favorite as it gives you more flexibility in case of the ‘what if this happened to my dog or cat”
Similar to your deductible amount, you can usually choose your co-pay amount when you take out your policy.
Benefit schedules are usually not the preferred choice as they set a maximum limit that your pet can receive. So if your dog, for example, has two accidents in one year, you might end up paying the difference out of pocket.
“Usual and customary” reimbursement is only a little better but it also has a limit on payments. You are getting pet insurance for the ‘what if’s’ which is why the best providers will reimburse you on the total amount paid to the vet.
V. PRICE FOR PET INSURANCE
For all of us, price is a big determinant in choosing our pet insurance policy.
How much does pet insurance cost per month?
The monthly premium for pet insurance varies greatly depending on your pet’s breed, age and where you live: the monthly premium can range from as low as $10 to higher than $100 though most plans are between $30 and $50 per month for a plan with good coverage. The average monthly premium range for dogs is from $25 to $70 and from $10 to $40 for cats. Dogs tend to be more expensive than cats.
There are many factors that can affect your annual premiums for your pet including the age of your pet, breed, where you live, type of pet and whether your pet has a pre-existing condition (again, start your pet early!) With most policies, the premiums increase as your pet ages (not unlike our health insurance), while others increase the premiums at a slower rate.
Below are some other factors to consider that will affect the price of your premium.
Deductible: The higher the deductible, the lower the premium. Deductibles can range from $100 to as high as $1,500. The standard deductible for most policies is $250.
Coverage limits: Policies with higher coverage limits have higher premiums.
Reimbursement Percentage: The standard reimbursement percentage for pet insurance policies is 80%. Policies that reimburse at a higher rate tend to charge higher premiums.
Location If you live in a metropolitan area, veterinary rates and expenses tend to be higher and premiums for pet insurance are higher.
Age: An older pet costs more to insure than a younger pet.
Breed: The larger your dog is, the more expensive he or she is to insure.
Type of pet: Dogs are more expensive than cats to insure because they tend to get in more accidents.
To find the best value for your pet, you’ll need to look at the quoted premiums against the coverage each provider offers for your specific pet’s health risk and needs.
VI. Here is our list of the 7 BEST Pet Insurance Companies:
1. Healthy Paws
2. Petplan Pet Insurance
3. Embrace Pet Insurance
4. Nationwide Pet Insurance
5. Figo Pet Insurance
6. PetFirst Pet Insurance
7. Pets Best Pet Insurance
The 7 Best Pet Insurance Companies explained and why you should consider them:
1. Healthy Paws
Healthy Paws has an excellent customer satisfaction rate (an A+) and are the best rated in terms of reviews. They are underwritten by Chubb Group, a consistently highly-rated insurer.
We really like the fact that Healthy Paws has no limit to how much its plan will pay out each year, and it typically has a 15-day waiting period for injury and illness coverage. It has comprehensive illness and accident coverage which is our favorite and unlimited benefits with no caps on the claims. And all of this is included in their standard plan!
Healthy Paws also offers an annual deductible range of $100, $250, $500 or $750. You can choose the level of deductible, which can help you control your premium costs.
Healthy Paws is known for its fast claims service. Claims can be filed online or through its mobile app and are usually processed within three to five days.
It is one of the only insurers that includes coverage for alternative treatments such as acupuncture, hydrotherapy, physical therapy, and chiropractic services.
The starting monthly premiums for dogs is $32.83 and for cats is $17.19
Read the full review of Healthy Paws
2. Petplan Pet Insurance
Petplan Pet Insurance is underwritten by AGCS Marine Insurance Co. and is rated A+ by BBB. What’s great about their comprehensive coverage plan is that it includes the vet exam fee. The annual reimbursement is flexible and can go as high as unlimited.
We recommend the flexible deductible schedule, which allows you to choose between $100 and $1,000 and not per condition. PetPlan also has a very high customer service rating that is available 24/7.
Petplan’s reimbursement time frame is typically within 30 days. Processing can be faster by using its Petplan app to submit a claim. And you can get a 10 % discount when applying online.
The starting monthly premiums for dogs is $29.16 and for cats is $18.19
Read the full review of Petplan
3. Embrace Pet Insurance
Embrace policies are underwritten by American Modern Insurance Group and it is rated A+ by the BBB. They offer a standard plan that will cover most illness and accidents.
Embrace also covers alternative treatments, behavioral therapy, and prosthetic limbs. Coverage for wellness plans and prescription drugs are available at an additional cost. It also includes spaying and neutering in the costs. And dental cleanings up to $650.
There is a benefit limit of up to $15,000 and not unlimited like other plans.
However, a big plus is that Embrace offers a range of annual deductible options as specific as $100, $200, $300, up to $1,000 which gives you more flexibility in designing a policy that fits your specific budget. You can also save with Embrace’s Healthy Pet Deductible program, which decreases their deductible by $50 every year that you don’t make a claim!
The starting monthly premiums for dogs is $13.04 and for cats is $8.98
Read the full review of Embrace
4. Nationwide Pet Insurance
Nationwide has been around for years and is the largest pet insurer in the United States. Policies are underwritten by Nationwide Casualty Co. and the company is A+ rated by A.M. Best.
When you buy Nationwide’s Whole Pet with Wellness Plan, you are getting one of the most comprehensive policies available. Although it does cost more than most other standard pet insurance plans, it covers nearly everything, from accident and illness conditions to physical exams, to vaccinations, to flea and heartworm prevention and even spaying and neutering.
Nationwide is one of the only pet insurance provides that insures almost any kind of pet from birds to other small critters.
There is a 24/7 help line.
There is only one deductible option of $250 but you do have unlimited claims.
You can even bundle up your insurance with home and auto to get further discounts.
The starting monthly premiums for dogs is $34.25 and for cats is $18.84
Read the full review of Nationwide
5. Figo Pet Insurance
Figo Pet Insurance is underwritten by the Markel American Insurance Company and it has an A+ rating from the BBB.
Figo is a great choice for its extremely comprehensive coverage at a reasonable price. Even its lowest tier plan has standard coverage, but also includes coverage for exams fees, alternative treatments, behavioral problems, prescriptions, and even hip dysplasia. There are no exclusions for pre-existing conditions and hereditary or congenital conditions if they have been cured for at least 12 months.
You can choose any veterinarian, hospital or specialist and have it covered.
If your pet needs lifesaving care, Figo waives the co-pay and deductible!
Figo offers a 100% reimbursement at a higher premium. If you want to save on premium costs, you can choose between 70%, 80%, and 90% reimbursement. Figo reimburses based on the actual vet bill.
Figo is for the more tech-savvy consumer as it has an innovative cloud-based platform to manage your pet’s lifestyle, conditions, etc.
The starting monthly premiums for dogs is $52.85 and for cats is $28.99.
Read the full review of Figo.
6. PetFirst Pet Insurance
PetFirst, rated an A+, with the Better Business Bureaus, has been around since 2004. Their policies are underwritten by American Alternative Insurance Corp.
PetFirst offers accident and illness coverage for cats and dogs. The company offers discounts for those with multiple pets, and allows you to choose any vet you like without pre-approval.
PetFirst is a great choice for those with older pets because they have no upper age limits and will cover hereditary, congenital and chronic conditions. There is no exam required before signing up with them.
PetFirst is one of the only insurers that does not have a waiting period for hip dysplasia, orthopedic conditions, or several other conditions that many insurers won’t even cover even as soon as 24 hours after signing up.
The starting monthly premiums for dogs is $16.95 and for cats is $8.95.
Read the full review of PetFirst.
7. Pets Best Pet Insurance
Pets Best Pet Insurance has been offering pet insurance for cats and dogs since 2005. It is underwritten by American Pet Insurance Company and it has an A+ rating from the BBB.
Pets Best offers two tiers of wellness packages that cover routine care and treatments. Its two tier plans, Elite and Plus, include coverage for exam fees, chiropractic treatment, rehab therapies, and acupuncture. There is also no hereditary or congenital condition limitations.
It only offers unlimited benefits on its top tier Elite plan. The other two plans have an annual benefit limit of just $5,000.
They have no lifetime limits and won’t increase your premium based on the number or types of claims you make during the year. They usually reimburse you within a week and expenses are paid on the actual invoice amount.
The starting monthly premiums for dogs is $30.02 and for cats is $16.52.
Read the full review here of PetsBest
VII. How to Get the Most Value Out of Your Pet Insurance Policy:
Talk to at least 2-3 providers before making a decision
Once you have the knowledge and the right questions to ask, make sure to talk to at least 2-3 different pet insurance providers so you can confidently know that you made the right choice. Read the fine print in the policy and ask, ask, ask! If you can’t find the answer, call that providers customer service line.
Insure your pet at as early an age as possible
The best time to buy pet insurance is when your dog or cat is less than a year old before most hereditary conditions exist. If you adopted a middle-aged or older dog or cat, insure them as soon as possible.
Work with your vet before you compare quotes
Talk to your vet to help guide you through the various pet insurance policies. If you know the health risks associated with your dog or cat’s breed, it can help you choose the policy that will cover that potential condition. And, make sure your vet is covered by the insurance policy that you choose.
Write down a list of questions to ask when choosing a policy
When comparing the different insurers, have a list of questions prepared as you go through the different policies. Finding the best pet insurance varies on a case by case basis, so finding the one that can answer all your questions is important.
What if you have more than one pet?
Look for a policy where you can have all your pets under one policy. A multi-pet insurance policy will reduce the amount of paperwork for you. Some companies will offer a discount for multiple pets and should!
VIII. FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
How different is the cost of pet insurance for dogs and cats?
There isn’t a big difference in the coverage offered for dogs and cats, but policies for dogs tend to be more expensive. Since cats are less likely to get in an accident and most are indoors, they are less susceptible to illness. The premiums for dogs tend to be about $15 more per month for a dog than cat. But, of course, there are all the other factors to consider like breed, age and where you live.
What is the pet insurance waiting period?
Most pet insurance policies have a waiting period after enrollment. During this period, you will not be able to make any claims for accidents or illnesses, and if your pet does get sick, this could be classified as a pre-existing condition. The waiting periods for accidents and illnesses will vary depending on the policy. It is typically 48 hours for accidents and 14 days for illnesses, effective from the start date of your policy. Congenital or hereditary diseases usually have a waiting period between six months to a year depending on the plan.
Do most pet insurance policies require a medical exam before providing coverage?
Many pet insurance companies require a thorough physical exam of your pet, or require all of your pet’s veterinary medical records to be submitted for review before approving a medical insurance policy for your pet. There are some plans that only require a year of your dog or cat’s prior history.
How do you make a claim for a veterinary bill?
Most pet insurance companies have you pay the bill yourself then reimburse you after you file the claim. A few providers will negotiate directly with the veterinarian or veterinary hospital. Again, it depends on your plan.
Are my pets covered while traveling with me?
A good policy should allow you to travel and be covered with your pets or any emergency that might occur while away. If you travel a lot, be sure to check the fine-print as that will be important to you.
Should you purchase pet insurance for your cat?
Cats are a tough decision because they do tend to have fewer emergencies and less accidents. However, there are some cats that are pre-disposed to some genetic conditions. For example, Siamese cats tend to have asthma and hip displacement issues. So you might want to be prepared for that. Typically pet insurance for cats is less expensive than dogs so that makes it more appealing.
Can you change pet Insurance?
You can always change pet insurance plans. As your pet’s needs change, then it could be wise to make a corresponding change in your insurance policy. Start by speaking with your current provider. They might be able to change coverage without a significant price increase.
Does your pet insurance policy cover after hour emergency care?
A good policy should allow you to use any licensed vet or hospital and should include after- hour emergency visits also covered.
We hope this guide helps you navigate the confusing world of pet insurance! Pet insurance is really about having the assurance that if something does happen to your pet, you will have most of the bill(s) covered. With pet insurance, you might even opt for that extra vet visit to take care of your dog’s or cat’s needs and not have to worry about the added expense!