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Pet Health Care: Managing Unexpected Costs

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Many of us have been faced with the heartbreak of having to deny or delay health care for our pets due to the rising costs of veterinary services. Our hearts are full, but our pocketbooks? Sometimes, not so much.

A lifetime of pet care is estimated to cost between $9,000 and $13,000, with annual expenses for caring for a dog averaging $1843. Given that veterinary care is often indicated under emergency circumstances, many pet owners are opting to purchase pet health insurance to help them better budget for keeping their pets healthy. The global pet insurance market is expected to reach $14.9 billion by 2028. About 1% of US pets are covered; by contrast, some 30% of Swedish pets and 23% of pets in the UK carry health insurance.

The first animal insurance policy was issued more than a hundred years ago in Sweden. Early animal insurance focused on livestock, but Sweden also led the way in insuring domesticated animals. The first dog insurance policy was written there in 1924. Great Britain followed Sweden, issuing its first dog policy in 1947. In 1982, the canine television star Lassie became the first American dog to be covered by health insurance. Today, several pet insurance companies offer plans that cover your pet no matter where you live.

When selecting an insurance policy for your pet, your primary consideration should be the breadth of coverage offered. Some policies cover your pet for accidents only. Others offer coverage for both accidents and illnesses. Finally, some plans insure your pet against accidents and illness while also covering routine preventive care.

Top pet health insurance companies offer an impressive array of covered services. The most comprehensive (and therefore recommended) plans include coverage for emergency room visits, hospitalization, diagnostic tests, prescription medicine, and specialist care. They also insure the cost of treatment for congenital, hereditary, and chronic conditions.

It’s important to bear in mind that some pet insurance companies will only insure pets who are in compliance with pet laws. That number is expected to grow as the pet insurance industry becomes more highly regulated. For the widest range of pet insurance choices, be sure your pet is microchipped and registered with a veterinary facility.

Like health insurance for humans, many pet insurance policies place restrictions on the amount of money they will payout. The most comprehensive (and not unexpectedly the most expensive) plans offer unlimited lifetime coverage. Others place a cap on lifetime expenses, while others have per-incident limits. Pretty much all plans require you to pay some portion of your veterinary bills yourself; this is known as a deductible. Deductibles are sometimes determined as a percentage of a bill while others are set at a fixed dollar amount per claim. Some plans allow you to customize your deductible, with lower deductible plans costing more than higher deductible policies. Some plans place an upper limit on the deductible amount you have to pay per year, regardless of the total amount of your claims.

The cost of pet health insurance varies, with limited coverage plans starting at about $30 per month. These plans typically only cover your pet in the event of an accident. Others, which feature routine wellness care, can cost as much as $100 per month. The higher cost of wellness coverage may not be the most economical choice, since recurring services like vaccines are generally low-cost, to begin with.

Rates are determined by a number of factors. Insuring a cat costs less than insuring a dog. The age and breed of your pet also affect the size of the premium you pay. Many insurers exclude puppies younger than 8 weeks, for example. Some companies will not allow you to insure older pets at all, while others will actually discontinue your policy when your pet reaches a certain age. These are important considerations if you plan on adopting a senior pet, for example.

One feature you may wish to consider when choosing a pet health insurance plan is the method of reimbursement offered. Most insurers require you to submit each claim yourself; you will be reimbursed by check some weeks later. A few insurance companies offer the convenience of working directly with your veterinarian’s office, saving you both effort and the cash flow concerns associated with paying out of pocket for services.

Finally, if you’ve welcomed several pets into your heart and home, consider a plan that offers multi-pet discounts. You’ll enjoy the peace of mind of knowing all your furry friends are covered, as well as the opportunity to manage your overall pet care budget more easily.

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