There are millions of pet owners in the U.S., which means pet supplies and veterinary care creating a multi-million dollar industry. Almost 70% of U.S. households have pets, up from 50% a generation ago. of us would do anything to keep our favorite furry friends safe and sound, but at what cost? Even with adequate preventative care, veterinary bills still cost a fortune for some injuries and ailments, which can be disastrous for individuals and families who are already struggling to pay for their own health care-related expenses.
While human health insurance is assumed to be the answer to our species’ high health care costs, comparatively few pet owners have taken out pet insurance policies for their animals’ veterinary bills. There could be a variety of reasons for this – ranging from a lack of knowledge surrounding the potential costs of veterinary care to people assuming that pet insurance just isn’t “worth it” because nobody else seems to have it. But, the fact remains that the cost versus risk calculation for pet insurance is still unclear for most pet owners.
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Is Pet Insurance Worth the Cost?
80% of pet owners care for their pets like children, 79% believe their pets should eat the same quality food they do and nearly half have purchased clothing or fashion accessories for their pets.
It is estimated that more than $18 billion was spent on veterinary care in 2018, giving rise to an increase in pet insurance policies. In North America, private health insurance was purchased for more than two million animals in 2017, generating over $1 billion in premiums. If you considered taking out a policy for your cat, dog, or exotic pet, here are a few considerations to make before signing any paperwork:
Average Costs of Pet Insurance
The average cost of pet insurance (typically charged on a monthly basis) varies widely, depending on the type of policy/coverage, type of animal, and insurer. You can expect to pay between $10-80 per month for pet insurance on average, with lower end policies coming with high deductibles, annual caps, and more restrictions on what types of veterinary expenses are covered.
However, it’s worth mentioning that even higher-end policies may not cover 100% of your vet bills, and some pet insurance plans require that you pay your vet bills in full first, then receive reimbursement later on after you’ve filled out the appropriate paperwork.
What Does Pet Insurance Cover?
First things first: very few pet insurance policies out there cover pre-existing conditions or hereditary diseases. All too often, unethical pet owners try taking out policies shortly after their pet is diagnosed with a costly injury or illness, which leads to greater risk for the insurer covering the animal.
So, if your pet already has a pre-existing condition, then you might want to look into alternative options because finding pet insurance that will cover you might be next to impossible unless the condition is relatively mild and does not require regular veterinary treatment.
Pet insurance may cover surgical treatments, hospitalization costs, and other emergency veterinary expenses. Routine veterinary care, such as immunizations and annual exams, may be covered. But, the insurance provider might require a separate rider policy to qualify for the essential veterinary services.
Procedures such as grooming – even if medically necessary – may be difficult to obtain reimbursement for, so don’t go into a pet insurance policy expecting routine services to be covered (it’s mostly for emergencies).
What Do Veterinarians Say?
Some veterinarians agree that pet insurance probably isn’t worth the expense – after all, it only really helps in emergency situations, which might not ever arise. While other veterinarians actively promote pet insurance policies.
While pet insurance is useful for pet owners who might struggle to pay off more than $1,000 in vet bills in case of an emergency – and the only option in that scenario would be to go into serious debt, give the animal away, or euthanize it – the monthly cost might not be worth the minimal coverage you receive in non-emergency situations.
Alternatives to Pet Insurance
If you run the numbers and decide pet insurance might not be a good fit for your four-legged members of the family, then there are alternative options available to help you save money on veterinary care. For example, you could open a new savings account that accrues interest through mutual funds and other investment dividends, instead of relying on the minimal interest you would gain from a traditional bank savings account.
If you’re dealing with veterinary bills right now and need help paying for your pet’s health care, then you could also ask your vet whether they might accept incremental payments through a payment plan. This would help you stretch your budget to cover your expenses without letting your beloved pets’ well-being suffer because of financial burdens.
Pet insurance isn’t a popular option for many pet owners. Oftentimes, the costs outweigh the risks of exorbitant vet bills over the comparatively shorter lifetime of the animal (compared to say, a human, who might live 10 times as long!). A more useful alternative would be to set up your own version of a “pet health savings account” through an investment company like Betterment because you’ll be able to readily access those funds when you need them and passively build your savings significantly more than a regular savings account would in the same amount of time.
Ultimately, you’ll want to do whatever is best for your pets, so if pet insurance seems like a good option after all, just be sure to read all of the details of your policy before signing up to ensure you know exactly what you’re getting into.
What about you? Do you have pet insurance? Is it worth the cost?