Total Lifetime Premiums for Woof and Kitty

The lifetime total premiums we report are for plans with similar key options and terms—with a $250 annual deductible, reimbursement of 90 percent of covered vet bills, and unlimited annual payout. Where a plan didn’t offer those most-common options, we used the closest available; for example, a $200 annual deductible and a $15,000 annual limit. For Nationwide, we had to use its set schedule of benefits.

Our model pets were a medium-size male mixed-breed dog and a male mixed-breed cat uncreatively named Woof and Kitty. Since premiums vary based on the varying costs of vet care from place to place, we had to give Woof and Kitty a home in one local ZIP Code.

Our cost comparisons take into account the price increases one can expect as the pet ages. We obtained those numbers from online price quotes for our pets at each age from two months through 12 years. All of the insurers (except Healthy Paws and Trupanion, which don’t price this way) confirmed that that’s how consumers can forecast age-related price hikes.

Our calculations do not include premium increases caused by veterinary-care price inflation. So even though Healthy Paws and Trupanion premiums won’t go up because of the age age-rating factor, they can rise because vet fees in the area increase. Of course, inflation will likely get tacked onto all plans’ premiums, on top of any age-related price hikes.

Your specific pet may have a higher or lower premium than the ones we report. Premiums are based on your animal’s age, breed, species, home ZIP Code, and the plan benefit options (deductible, percent reimbursement, and benefit limits). However, we believe our findings provide a valid benchmark for assessing price, benefits, and value. Because these plans are all essentially the same, our analysis shows that you should shop on price and choose a plan with the lowest total lifetime premiums. Our calculations for our illustrative pets indicate Healthy Paws and Trupanion are good places to start.

Do You Save With Pet Insurance—or Without?

To establish a reasonable benchmark of service needs over the lives of Woof and Kitty, we created a basket of common veterinary treatments and services in consultation with Duncan Hockley, DVM, director of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine.

We then obtained actual vet fees from the American Animal Hospital Association’s biennial Veterinary Fee Reference (10th Edition), a survey of hundreds of veterinarians nationwide that details fees for more than 530 services and cases. We worked with Dr. Hockley to make any necessary adjustments and fill in any pricing blanks.

We obtained our pets' monthly premium costs from age two months to 12 years, and gave them an increasing number of injuries and illnesses, from low to moderate to high. We then applied each accident and illness plan’s fine-print rules, deductibles, exclusions, and limits to calculate the total benefits gained vs. total premium costs and copays and other out-of-pocket costs for the policyholder.

Because our analysis also included a lifetime’s worth of routine wellness, preventive, and elective care, we could realistically quantify those costs, even though they’re not covered by accident and illness plans, and we could also assess the value of adding wellness coverage.

Our calculations and results (which were shared with the insurers for their review and comment) include the rising cost of premiums resulting from the pet’s aging for all insurers except Healthy Paws and Trupanion, which don’t raise premiums due to age. For those two insurers, we used the premium charged at enrollment at age two months and held that stable over the life of the pet, which is what both companies claim to do. Our results also effectively serve as the projected real costs and benefits (not the inflated cost) over Woof’s and Kitty’s lives, and do not include unknowable future veterinary-care price inflation, which will likely increase the total costs and benefits shown.