Americans spent $58.5 billion on their pets last year, according to American Pet Products Association estimates.
Following food, the next largest expense for pet owners was veterinary care, with an estimated $15 billion being spent. With the modern, and expensive, treatments available today, it’s easy to see why vet bills are swelling. For example, pets are now routinely treated for cancer. (See Your Pet Has Cancer. What Should You Do?)
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the pet health insurance industry is growing along with the vet bills. According to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association, pet policies have grown an average of 13 percent each year since 2009.
If you’re considering a pet policy, there are things you need to know about costs, and tips you can employ to keep the price lower. Some key things to consider:
Pet insurance isn’t cheap
This is especially true if you insure against illness as well as accidents. According to 2013 stats from the North American Pet Health Insurance Association:
Dogs – average annual premiums
Accident only – $166.25
Accident and illness – $456.98
Cats – average annual premiums
Accident only – $136.26
Accident and illness – $289.99
Some dog breeds cost more to insure
Among the most expensive breeds to insure are Rottweilers, Great Danes and Bernese mountain dogs — larger breeds are genetically predisposed to costly conditions like cancer and hip dysplasia. Among the cheapest breeds to insure are Shih Tzus and poodles.
For example, for a $250-deductible policy for a Boston-based owner, pet insurer Trupanion told Bloomberg it would charge a monthly premium of about $66 for a male Great Dane puppy and about $39 per month for a Puggle, a cross between a beagle and a pug.
According to Trupanion, factors other than breed that go into the cost of insuring your dog:
- Your dog’s age at enrollment
- Where your dog lives
- Whether your dog has been spayed/neutered
You may pay a deductible every time you see the vet
Deductibles for human policies are typically annual. Whether it requires one trip to the ER or 10 trips to the doctor, once your annual deductible is met, you’re no longer responsible for the cost of subsequent visits.
With some pet policies, however, the deductible applies to each condition being treated. For example, if your policy has a $250 deductible, you’ll pay the first $250 of the bill when your dog eats a sock, then another $250 weeks later when your cat scratches the dog in the eye. Before buying a policy, ask.
Of course, as with other types of insurance, premiums are lower when deductibles are higher. Some insurers also reimburse flat amounts rather than a percentage.
ASPCA Pet Health Insurance suggests choosing not only your own deductible but your own reimbursement percentage, as the insurer offers 70-percent, 80-percent and 90-percent reimbursement options.
As with human insurance, premiums can rise annually
The practice is legal for pet insurers and might be tied to the increasing likelihood of a pet developing an illness as the pet ages.
Consumer Reports adds that, like premiums themselves, premium hikes vary from state to state. The independent nonprofit reported in 2011 that Trupanion, which performed best overall in multiple pet insurance company comparisons, had raised its premiums an average of 52 percent in parts of California, and cited veterinary inflation and the scope of available treatments for the cost spike.
Don’t expect pre-existing conditions to be covered
Human health insurance companies can no longer refuse to cover or charge more to cover pre-existing conditions, but pet insurers can, and most do.
According to Consumer Reports, all pet insurers exclude pre-existing conditions. They might also impose a maximum limit on treatment for individual conditions or on the yearly or lifetime reimbursement for those conditions. That’s something else human health insurance companies can no longer do.
Preventative care will cost a lot more
The premiums on policies that cover “wellness” care like annual vaccines, check-ups and heartworm tests are typically more than twice the cost of premiums on policies limited to accidents and illness. For example, while the average policy covering accident and illness was $456.98 in 2013, the average cost of a policy that included wellness was $1,178.13.
Do you insure your pet? Do you think pet insurance is worth it? Sound off in a comment below or on our Facebook page.