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For many consumers, a pet is a beloved member of the family so many consumers opt to purchase pet insurance in case a pet is sick or gets hurt.

Many carriers offer plans with varying levels of coverage. To help consumers determine the right plan for them, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners put together the following tips:

Consider whether you need pet health insurance.

  • A pet health insurance policy reimburses the pet owner for specified veterinary care. As with your health insurance policy, these policies typically itemize covered treatments, deductibles (the amount you’re responsible to pay) and lifetime or per illness maximums. The cost of the policy may vary based on the amount and type of coverage as well as the breed or species. Estimate the health costs for your animal’s expected life and take into consideration how much you could afford for emergency treatment or a long illness.
  • A pet life insurance policy covers end-of-life costs for your animal. This can include burial or cremation expenses and even bereavement counseling for you and your family.
  • Pet injury coverage may be part of your auto insurance policy. It covers the treatment of a pet injured in a car accident up to a set limit. Check with your insurance agent or company to determine if your auto policy includes coverage for a pet traveling in your car.

Shop around! Compare policy benefits, deductibles, limits and exclusions and be sure to read the terms and conditions.

  • Covered conditions: Some pet health insurance policies may reimburse covered medical expenses for accidents, illnesses, surgeries, X-rays, prescriptions, hospitalizations, emergencies or cancer treatments. Other plans may only cover accident and illness. Decide how much coverage you want your pet to have and know whether there is a waiting period before coverage becomes effective and whether your pet needs a health exam to qualify for the policy.
  • Pre-existing Conditions: Hereditary or congenital conditions and certain medical conditions may be considered pre-existing. Look to see if the conditions are considered curable (stable or controlled pre-existing conditions) or incurable (terminal pre-existing conditions). For pre-existing conditions considered curable, the company may choose to enforce a waiting period before coverage can begin. Conditions considered incurable such as diabetes or cancer may be excluded or may be covered on a limited basis.
  • Renewable Benefits: If your pet is treated for a covered condition during the policy term, some companies may consider the condition to be pre-existing and will exclude coverage for the condition when the policy is renewed.
  • Exclusions: Treatments not covered by pet insurance can vary by type of pet or breed. Not all pet insurance plans cover preventative care, dental care not associated with an accident or injury, treatment of behavioral problems, breed-specific hereditary conditions or elective procedures.
  • Reimbursement: What the insurance company will pay per treatment is explained in a benefits schedule. This list outlines how much — by percentage of cost or dollar amount — the company will pay for treatments. You may be responsible for copays or deductibles. Some companies will pay the vet for services, but often you’ll be responsible for the full amount at the time of treatment, and then be reimbursed by the insurer for covered expenses.
  • Veterinarian Networks: Some pet health insurance policies will require you to use a specific network of veterinarians which means you may have to switch veterinarians.

Other Pet Risk-Management Tools.

  • Wellness Programs: In addition to pet insurance, some veterinary offices offer their own wellness plans for items traditionally not covered by pet insurance, such as vaccinations and examinations.
  • Discount Plans: There are some national discount programs that offer veterinary service discounts for a monthly fee. Typically, veterinarians who are part of a network must be used to receive the discount.
  • Pet Pharmacies: Many pharmacies carry pet prescriptions. Check if your plan covers prescription drugs.

When selecting the plan that is best for your best friend, be sure to read each policy to understand what is covered as well as reviews for the company’s customer service. See what other customers have to say about the company because you will have to rely on them in stressful situations.

Be sure the carrier you choose is licensed. The Mass Division of Insurance has information about individual pet health insurance plans on their website.

If you have additional questions, contact the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation by calling our Consumer Hotline at (617) 973-8787, or toll-free in MA at (888) 283-3757, Monday through Friday, from 9 am-4:30 pm.  Follow the Office on Facebook and Twitter, @Mass_Consumer. The Baker-Polito Administration’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation along with its five agencies work together to achieve two goals: to protect and empower consumers through advocacy and education, and to ensure a fair playing field for Massachusetts businesses. The Office also oversees the state’s Lemon Laws and Arbitration Program, Data Breach reporting, Home Improvement Contractor Programs and the MA Do Not Call Registry.

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