Pet Insurance Comparison

Although the cost for medical care for cats is much less than comparable human treatments, paying for chronic care can be a financial burden for dedicated owners. In most cases, veterinarians are sympathetic and open to arranging payment plans when the cost exceeds your ability to pay. The bills for chronic care can really mount up. Health care programs fro animals and insurance provides older pets a better opportunity to get the servvice they need, by offering a way to pay a portion of the cost.

Founded in 1980 with the support of 750 independent veterinarians, Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI) is the oldest and (currently) largest health insurance provider for dogs and cats. A number of regional pet insurance companies have since become available, but VPI is currently the only national provider of pet health insurance in the United States.

Pet insurance typically works by reimbursing the pet owner for a predetermined amount that has been alloted for the specific veterinary service after it's been performed. For example, you would pay your veterinarian in full, then submit the receipts to the insurance company in order to receive payment back according to the amount designated by your pet's particular coverage schedule. The insurance company doesn't tell the veterinarian what to charge, but it does have a fee schedule that controls their cost. VPI allows pet owners to choose their veterinarian.

VPI does not have a senior pet policy. It will insure any pet, regardless of age. but premiums go up as the animal ages. For example, for about the same kind of coverage, a cat that is 1 year old might cost $234 a year, while a cta that's 12 costs $492. That's very similar to life insurance for people, where you pay a whole lot more if you're 50 than if you're 20.

A new program from PetCare Insurance recently introduced through reader's Digest offers QuickCare Senior coverage. It's tailored for accidents and illnesses common in older cats, including coverage for cancer, stroke, seizures, and heart problems, with no upper age limit for enrollment. In addition to Reader's Digest, PetCare Insurance has strategic partnership with Petco and that allows them to offer special policies for specific situations. For example, QuickCare for Indoor Cats provides protection for illnesses or accidents specific to an indoor lifestyle. ShelterCare is designed to meet the needs of pets recently adopted from an animal shelter or rescue group, and the first two months are free when your cat is adopted through a - affiliated shelter. However, PetCare Insurance is not available in all states.

Companies also define the age breaks differently. For example, Pets Health Care Plan based in Ohio defines eligible cats being between the age og 8 weeks and prior to turning 11, with additional premiums that apply to cats over that age; once the cat is enrolled, coverage can continue for the lifetime of your pet. This coverage is available in most, but not all states. For PetPlan Insurance, you can start the insurance anytime from 8 weeks to the cat's 10th birthday, and the premiums stay the same as the cat ages, but the deductible increases for cats at 10 years of age for the basic plan. VPI defines age brackets for general premium increases as 8 weeks to 1year; 1 to 4 years; 5 to 7 years; 8 to 9 years; and 10 and over, with an increase each year thereafter.

It is important to purchase insurance as early as possible, before health problems develops. Not every preexisting condition disqualifies the pet from coverage - if he's fully recovered from being hit by a car, for example, that wouldn't preclude coverage. But some pets become uninsurable as they get older. Pets with cancers will not be insured. If your pet has had a condition that is potentially life threatening and a recurrent problem, then it would become uninsurable.

In fact, some companies offer special coverage for catastrophic illness at a very low rate, if you purchase it when the cat is young and still healthy. VPI's "cancer rider" doubles the benefits for any diagnosis and treatment of cancer, and costs about $34 per year for a one-year-old cat compared to $139 per year for twelve-year-old cat. The premium cost is locked in when it is purchased before the pet is 2 years old.

While VPI coverage is available nationwide, PetPlan Insurance is available only in Canada, and some carriers such as PetHealth Care Plan are available only in certain states. Certain plans participate only with listed network veterinarians (similar to some human HMOs); other allow a choice of any practitioner. Additional differencies may include variations in the cost of the deductible or higher premiums for certain metropolitan areas that have higher typical veterinary fees.

Most basic plans cover only accidents and illness, and routine care such as vaccinations, spay-neuter surgeries, teeth cleaning, and flea treatments generally require additional coverage. For example, VPI coverage addresses more than 6,400 health conditions, including diagnosis and treatment for liver, heart, and kidney disease, cataracts, diabetes, and cancer, which are most common in aging pets.

Alternative medical care - chiropractic and acupuncture, for example, also may be covered as long as it is prescribed and performed by a veterinarian. Even experimental therapies such as kidney transplants, innovative cancer therapies, hearing aids, and the like may be covered when recommended by the veterinarian.

VPI policies start the benefit schedules over again when your cat is referred to a specialist. For example, if your veterinarian has performed $700 worth of the $800 treatment allotment, when you go to the specialist, you have that $800 available again.

Shopping For Pet Insurance

A number of companies with different plans are available, and the ideal time to purchase coverage is when your older cat or dog is still healthy. Ask these questions to help make the best choice for your individual situations:

  1. Is your insurance offered in my state?
  2. Are multiple plans available? Most companies have more than one level of coverage.
  3. What are the eligibility requirements? Ask about pet age, preexisting conditions, and if veterinary records are needed in order to qualify (for pets considered geriatric, records may be necessary)
  4. When does coverage begin? There may be a thirty-day or longer "wait" period before illness coverage gose into effect. Also ask about trial period - some companies will refund your premium within a certain period if you're not satisfied.
  5. How much is the annual premium? Ask about fee schedule coverage allowances for some of the most common senior pet conditions.
  6. How much is the deductible. Is the deductible calculated on a per-year basis or a per-incident basis?
  7. Is there a price break to insure multiple pets?
  8. Do you have any special "riders" for veterinary specialists, cancer coverage, or other "senior pet" issues?
  9. Is there a "maximum" benefit dollar amount? Is it calculated per year? Per diagnosis? Per lifetime?
  10. Which breeds, if any, cost more to be covered? Are any breeds uninsurable?