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Before You Buy Pet Health Insurance for Cats


Pet health insurance, like other forms of insurance, is a gamble. You're betting your cat will need it, and the company is setting odds that it won't, in terms of limits and other fine print. There are a number of factors to consider before you buy pet health insurance for your cat. You may, in fact, decide against it, depending on your own situation, and your willingness to gamble. Here are some details to question about any pet health insurance plan before you buy it, and other considerations.

Does the company use a network or provider list?

If you are determined to stay with your own veterinarian, check with your veterinarian before buying. Their approved lists of veterinarians may require extra driving time. (Of course, if your veterinarian is listed, you're one step ahead.) Fortunately many pet health insurance plans allow you to use any veterinarian you choose. The four companies listed here all state on their web sites that you have a free choice of veterinarians. Ask all companies to see their policy, before signing.

What are the exclusions?

All pet health insurance policies have exclusions. One of the most common is the "pre-existing condition" exclusion, which can be defined loosely as "injuries, medical conditions and symptoms of concern that were evident prior to enrollment."

Other exclusions may include neutering/spaying, hip-dysplasia, vaccinations, flea control, heartworm medication, dental care, or limitations for certain illnesses of cats not neutered prior to first birthday.

What are the deductibles and the co-pay?

Some companies will charge a flat deductible of $50 to $100, depending on the age of the pet, for each procedure; in addition almost all policies will require a co-pay of 10% to 20% of the veterinarian's fee.

Deductibles and co-pays (also called "co-insurance"), are intended to lessen both the number of total claims paid, and the number of unnecessary procedures and diagnostic tests.

What are the "incident," annual, or lifetime caps?

Many companies provide a cap (maximum) amount for each covered illness or procedure (incident cap). Some companies also utilize an annual cap, over which no further coverage is provided for that calendar year. Still another cap used by pet health insurance companies is a lifetime cap.

One company has a $12,000 lifetime cap, citing that only one in 50,000 cats ever exceeds that amount in a lifetime. I wonder how many cats are euthanized because their owners can't afford surgery or diagnostic tests? And what about inflation? Dr. Jack Stephens, D.V.M, founded the first pet insurance company for that very reason.

Does the company apply a "schedule" after deductible or pay a flat percentage?

V.P.I Pet Insurance

V.P.I provides a 4-page "benefit schedule" listing hundreds of diseases, conditions, diagnostic procedures and treatments, each with a maximum coverage amount. With the mid-level Superior Plan, V.P.I pays 90% of the schedule amount after a $50 per incident deductible.

Pets Best Insurance

On the other side of the coin, with its mid-level Pets First Plan, Pets Best Insurance pays a flat 80% of the veterinary charges, after a $75 per incident deductible.

PetCare Pet Insurance

PetCare's QuickCare Optimum uses a short schedule and pays 90% of the schedule amount, after a $100 deductible.

ASPCA Pet Health Insurance

The ASPCA Insurance offer four incremental levels, each offering 90% coverage after a $100 annual deductible. The third and fourth levels cover hereditary conditions, alternative therapies, and behavioral treatments. Those levels also offer "routine wellness" and "advanced wellness" for additional fees.

All these companies offer a variety of plans.

Is it a "one size fits all" policy?

Fortunately some companies offer a variety of plans, depending on the needs of your cat. One company even provides a policy specifically for senior cats. Another has a plan for accident coverage only. Riders are also available, for dental, extended cancer coverage, or preventative care (well-care), among others. You might be able to save premium costs through picking and choosing the plan that is right for your cat.

What are any other benefits and savings?

Some pet health insurance companies are very creative with additional benefits. One company offers coverage for 3rd party property damage liability, holiday cancellation, boarding fees, and advertising for missing pets. Two companies give a 5% to 15% discount for multiple pets enrolled. One company is actively soliciting corporations to offer pet insurance to their employees as part of their benefit package.

What's the bottom line?

There is no way that anyone can advise you whether or not to buy pet health insurance for your cat(s). I originally chose not to, reasoning that the kind of coverage I'd want would probably cost more in annual premiums than my average veterinary costs.

In 2007, however, after spending over $2,000 for my senior cat's care in his final weeks, I signed up my three remaining male cats with V.P.I. (Superior Plan)

In February, 2008, I enrolled my latest rescued girl, Jennifur in Pets Best Pets First Plan and pay an extra $1/month to guarantee the premium rate.In 2011, with V.P.I., the coverage we received for his radioactive iodine therapy for hyperthyroidism actually paid his full premiums for the year.

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