CONSUMER ALERT: How to save on pet insurance

The I-Team has more on whether pet insurance is right for you and if it is, how to not break the bank.
Published: Nov. 3, 2022 at 11:12 PM EDT
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HARTFORD, Conn. (WFSB) - Our pets are like our family, so we’d do anything to protect them.

Is pet insurance the right answer?

The I-Team has more on whether pet insurance is right for you and if it is, how to not break the bank.

With 2 dogs and 4 cats, Erin Mueller has her hands full.

“It’s busy. It’s messy, it’s always messy,” says Mueller.

Having so many pets, you would think Mueller has pet insurance.

But it’s not something she says she ever really thought about, until two years ago when Mueller adopted Oreo the cat for her son.

Oreo turned out to have kidney disease.

“There’s almost no protocol for treatment with kittens and kidney disease,” says Mueller.

After a couple surgeries, the family lost him 4 months later.

“$6,000 later. He was gone. And my son was heartbroken,” says Mueller.

Just a few months after that their German Shepherd Boomer shattered a disc in his back.

“They had to remove basically the pieces of the disc and then fuse his back, back together. It was that or put him down,” says Mueller.

Mueller’s family spent almost $13,000 getting Boomer healthy again.

“We were fortunate that we could cover that. I can’t imagine .. I imagine that would have been a hardship for a lot of people and you have been forced into making a really terrible decision,” says Mueller.

Wanting to be able to provide the best health care for your pet is one thing, being able to afford it, is another.

Pet insurance should be seen as a safety net, not a savings plan. It helps you plan for the worst-case scenario and cover unexpected financial costs, experts say.

“People often assume that pet insurance is health insurance for pets. And it is not,” says Brendan Bridgeland, the director at the Center for Insurance Research.

The best time to purchase pet insurance is when your pet is young and healthy, says Bridgeland.

That’s because pre-existing conditions are not covered under pet insurance policies.

“If you have an older pet, who’s been at the vet for 10-12 conditions over its life, all of those can be excluded under pre-existing conditions, which means you’re not getting nearly as much coverage as another pet owner who took it out when their pet was 1 years old and maintained it,” says Bridgeland.

Bridgeland says it’s important to note, that the pre-condition process starts over as well, when you switch providers.

If you’re trying to pay less each month, you can do that by raising your deductible, lowering your reimbursement rate or reducing your annual limit.

If it still seems too expensive, you might want to consider accident - only coverage.

Most pet insurance companies will also give you a discount if you pay your entire year’s premiums up front, and some companies offer a healthy pet deductible.

One of the biggest mistakes consumers make is not reading the fine print. Pet insurance does not have standard requirements across the board, so there are a lot of loopholes to look out for.

We mentioned pre-existing conditions aren’t covered.

Neither is dental, says Carmen Balber with Consumer Watchdog.

“It doesn’t cover dental, which is often something the vets always push on you, super expensive - never covered by insurance, unless you buy a special dental policy,” says Balber.

Many conditions that certain breeds end up experiencing, might not be covered.

“You have to be very careful if you’re with a large breed dog, look for all of the exclusions and limits on leg conditions,” says Bridgeland.

It’s important to note as well, pet insurance plans are reimbursement plans, you pay for the treatment and then get reimbursed.

“It is not a good option to cover your regular vet bills,” says Balber.

Experts say the best plans has a reimbursement of 70% or more. But again, make sure you know what is and isn’t covered before you buy.

“Even say there’s an emergency where say there’s 3,000 dollars in bills, some of that cost is going to be excluded so it’s really read the fine print,” says Balber.

Mueller says she’s not sure pet insurance would have helped in her case because Oreo’s surgeries were experimental, and many of Boomer’s medical bills weren’t covered.

She says she’ll be considering it for the future, “The disaster of two pets in a row, probably the next time we get a dog anyway, we will get insurance.”