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Should you buy pet insurance?

Friday, February 14th, 2014
Issue 07, Volume 18.
Jason Alderman
Special to the Valley News

One topic Iíve learned to avoid with new acquaintances until I know them better (along with politics and religion) is where they stand on the treatment of pets. Some people, when their dog gets sick or badly injured, say, "Itís an animal ‚Äď thatís just part of the circle of life." Others consider Rover a close family member and would take out a second mortgage to save his life.

Pet owners from both camps probably see the barrage of ads for pet insurance and wonder whether itís worth the expense, which might be several thousand dollars over the life of your pet. I did some research and the best answer I can come up with is it depends.

First, ask yourself: Do you regard pet insurance as a financial investment, where you expect to get back more in benefits than you paid out in premiums over the petís life? Or, is it more like auto or homeownerís insurance, where you hope nothing ever goes seriously wrong, but you want coverage in case thereís a catastrophe?

Either way, here are some basic facts about pet insurance that may help you decide whether itís right for you.

Pet insurance shares many features with human health insurance. Policies typically have annual deductibles, co-payments and exclusions, and some limit which veterinarians, clinics and hospitals you can use.

But there are numerous differences as well. For example, pet insurers are allowed to refuse coverage for preexisting conditions and to set annual and lifetime payout limits. Among the many other restrictions you should watch for when comparing plans are:

* Premiums vary greatly depending on where you live and may increase based on your petís age, breed, veterinary cost inflation and other factors.

* Typically you must pay the vet or hospital bill out of Advertisement
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pocket and get reimbursed later.

* Many plans deny or restrict coverage for congenital or hereditary conditions (like hip dysplasia in dogs or kidney failure in cats) and preventable conditions like periodontal disease.

* Along with annual and lifetime maximums on benefits paid out, there may be a limit on how much it will pay for treatment of an individual illness or accident.

* If your pet suffers a particular disorder one year, donít be surprised if that condition is excluded at renewal ‚Äď or if youíre required to pay an additional fee for future coverage.

* Pets over certain age limits frequently are denied coverage.

* Certain breeds are often excluded or only eligible for restricted coverage.

* Some carriers let you augment your accident and illness policy with optional "wellness care" coverage for things like spaying and neutering, annual physicals, vaccines and routine tests. Make sure the additional premium is worth the extra cost.

Perhaps the biggest challenge when choosing pet insurance is trying to compare plans, apples to apples. There are about a dozen carriers in the U.S. Each offers a variety of plans with varying deductible, co-payment and maximum coverage amounts, as well as different covered benefits and exclusions.

You can go directly to their websites for plan details and to request a quote, or use an independent comparison website to pull quotes from multiple carriers.

Iíd recommend creating a spreadsheet to compare benefits and costs side by side, just as you would when shopping for auto


Bottom line, if you decide pet insurance isnít right for you, at least be sure youíre setting money aside to cover expected ‚Äď and unexpected expenses.

Jason Alderman directs Visaís financial education programs. To participate in a free, online Financial Literacy and Education Summit on April 2, go to



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