10 Money Savers, Smart Tips, and Gotchas!

  • Money saver. Start your shopping at the two companies that scored best in our cost-benefit ratings: Healthy Paws and Trupanion.
  • Smart tip. Many insurers don’t adequately disclose that they increase premiums to unaffordable levels when pets get old and are most likely to need veterinary care. Before buying coverage, learn how your premium will increase as your pet ages by using the insurer’s online quote engine. First, get a monthly premium quote using your pet’s current age; then get quotes for the 10 or 12 ensuring years. Multiply each age’s monthly premium by 12; then add up all the resulting annual premiums to estimate what insurance will cost over that period.
  • Gotcha! Make sure you understand what’s not covered. A leading complaint to regulators is claims rejected for conditions or treatments the policy does not cover. No policy covers pre-existing conditions, and some conditions that are covered may be considered pre-existing if they develop up to a year after you enroll. And, surprisingly, if your pet is ill or injured, the diagnostic exam is often not covered by many plans, even though the treatment itself is covered. Follow-up exams for that covered condition are often not covered either. Those $50 to $100 exam fees amount to a hidden added deductible.
  • Smart tip. To avoid claim rejection for a pre-existing condition, insure your pet when it’s a puppy or kitten—before it has a chance to develop a pre-existing condition (but don’t forget the caveat above). You can typically enroll when your pet is six to eight weeks of age.
  • Gotcha! Don’t even consider add-ons for wellness, preventive, and elective care. We found that one major carrier’s plan with wellness cost significantly more when our model pet had only moderate levels of health trouble.
  • Money saver. Sniff around accident-only policies, which cover injuries but not illness and can be considerably less expensive. For example, in this area ASPCA would charge Woof $34 a month for its accident-only plan, a price that doesn’t increase with age. Compare that to ASPCA’s Complete Coverage accident and illness plan, in which monthly premiums rise from $63 at age two months to $183 at age 12.
  • Money saver. You must pay premiums every month, but you may or may not have to pay deductibles and copays, depending on your pet’s health. So it may pay to cut your premium costs by increasing your deductible, reducing the percent reimbursed, and choosing an annual limit of only $5,000 or $10,000 instead of unlimited. These are standard insurance-cost reduction tactics, but be aware that they shift more of the risk of loss to you by reducing or limiting your benefit payouts.
  • Strategy. Ignore marketing gimmicks like diminishing deductibles. Instead, focus on overall costs, benefits, and net value.
  • Gotcha! We found that Figo forced Woof and Kitty to accept a higher $500 deductible at age 10. That shifted more risk of loss to the pet owner and temporarily concealed rising costs due to age. At age nine, AKC and PetPartners bounced our pets from their Companion Plus accident and illness plan and into their Companion Select accident-only plan with more restrictive annual and per-incident limits. The per-incident limit can cut off coverage for chronic conditions. Worse, when Woof and Kitty developed cancer at age 11, the $10,000 treatment cost was not covered by Companion Select because cancer is an illness, not an accident.
  • Smart tip. Ignore the anecdotal hype insurers use in ads about five-figure medical bills and huge insurance payouts. Those examples don’t include the high cost of premiums in their calculations, which makes insurance look like all purr and no hairballs.