Is Pet Insurance Worth It? Here Are the Pros and Cons to Consider
You'd do anything for your pet, right? Unfortunately, that unconditional love will cost you, especially when it comes to keeping your pet healthy. In addition to everyday costs (food, toys, grooming, cleaning expenses), pet owners can spend more than $27.8 billion on veterinary bills every year, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
One way to help curb the cost of vet bills is pet insurance, which is similar to health insurance you'd purchase for yourself or your family. Pet insurance has grown in popularity in recent years. In fact, there was an average annual growth rate of almost 23 percent from 2015 to 2019. And by the end of 2019, the total number of pets insured reached 2.52 million. Still, you might be wondering whether or not it's really worth it to get a plan to help cover the cost of such things as routine checkups and unexpected emergencies. Here are a few pros and cons to help you decide.
Generally, most animals older than eight weeks are eligible for coverage, and you can choose any licensed veterinarian you wish. Plans that cover both accidents and illnesses have an average monthly cost of about $48.78 for dogs and $29.16 for cats. Coverage can significantly reduce the price of many treatments and surgeries, with some policies reimbursing up to 90 and even 100 percent of the cost.
Pet insurance, like any type of insurance, also offers peace of mind. "It's heartbreaking to watch families have to decide whether or not they can save their pet's life because of finances," says Donnell Hansen, DVM, an oral surgeon at BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Blaine, Minn. "Insurance gives you extra resources and helps get rid of the guilt."
Comparing policies side by side is difficult (blame confusing wording). If you enroll, you may have to front the money for veterinary bills and then request reimbursement from the insurer. Many pet insurance companies will offer low premiums when your pet is young, but as they age, pet insurance rates may climb too. And not unlike health insurance for humans, a large number of plans won't cover charges related to a preexisting condition, such as diabetes or hip dysplasia (that's why, ideally, you'll want to sign up when they're young for lower rates).
If your pet is older and has had multiple surgeries or a chronic issue, pet insurance won't actually do much. And if your pet develops a chronic condition while covered, the company could drop your coverage or raise your premium unless you have a plan that offers "continuing coverage."
An analysis comparing pet insurance companies' rates and overall value conducted by Consumers' Checkbook concluded that while many veterinarians continue not to see any value in pet insurance, there has been some improvement in the offerings. Consumers' Checkbook says pet insurance has definitely improved over the last 15 years, in large part thanks to growing competition, which has led to a greater range of policy choices. What's more, the publication notes that with so many companies entering the market, payment and benefits provided by policies are now closer to 70 to 90 percent of a vet bill, and the old approach of providing a set schedule of payments (made famous by Veterinary Pet Insurance, which is now Nationwide) is slowly losing ground.
"We don't like that type of [set] schedule because it can cap benefits below the actual charge for a given service. We compared two Nationwide plans—one that uses a schedule and the other that reimburses 90 percent of the vet bill. The schedule had significantly lower premiums but also paid $11,200 less in illness and injury benefits for our high-problem Woof," states Consumers' Checkbook.
So, it really comes down to what's right for you. There are those who argue that as long as you account for routine vet bills when figuring out your household budget, you can probably skip pet insurance. However, if you're worried about how you'll pay the bill if your cat or dog has an accident, "opt for a plan with a high deductible and a low monthly premium that will cover catastrophic events," says Kate Spencer, a spokesperson for the American Animal Hospital Association.