Table of contents
Table of contents
Your pet is more than an animal — it’s a member of your family. More than 90 million families in the United States have beloved, non-human family members. Not surprisingly, then, pet expenditures were up to $136.8 billion in 2022, with almost $67 billion going toward vet care, medical supplies, and other products.
General and emergency vet care bills can be expensive, especially if they’re due to unexpected illnesses or injuries. Fortunately, pet owners have ways to cut down on out-of-pocket costs when caring for sick or injured pets.
What is pet insurance, and is it free?
Sadly, free pet insurance isn’t available.
The Insurance Information Institute website acknowledges pet health insurance as an insurance policy that pays for your pet’s medical expenses. Plans are usually reimbursement-based, which means you pay up front and the company sends you a check for the covered amount. Some companies pay the vet directly, which keeps your out-of-pocket expenses to a minimum.
While some companies have pet insurance plans available as a low-cost add-on, pet owners have to pay to access coverage.
Why doesn’t free pet insurance exist?
While the United States government subsidizes or pays a portion of human healthcare, each state runs pet insurance individually. This means pricing can vary by state and even by ZIP code. People can change pet insurance companies at will, while human health insurance policies generally lock you in for a year.
Alternatives to pet insurance
While pet insurance isn’t free, budget-conscious families can still find ways to afford services for their pets. You can follow these tips to reduce your costs:
Check with your vet about a payment plan or deferred payments. Vet offices are usually willing to work with pet parents to ensure their pets get the services they need.
Contact your local humane society or animal advocacy group. These organizations will be able to tell you about any charitable grants available or about any other organizations in your area that can help with vet bills.
Take your pet to a vet school for procedures. Because future veterinarians are still learning, they don’t charge full price for their services. They’re also under the supervision of licensed veterinarians, so your pet will be in good hands.
What types of pet insurance coverage are available?
Although free pet insurance doesn’t exist, several types of insurance are available to support the needs of your pets.
This type of coverage pays if your pet is injured in an accident. Either the payout will go directly to the vet office, or the company will reimburse you for the medical expenses afterward.
Wellness and preventive care coverage
These pet insurance plans are usually available through your vet’s office. Companies design these plans to cover routine vet visits and wellness checks. These plans typically require you to pay a small monthly fee that goes toward paying for the vet visit itself. Pet plans often also discount any medications or procedures your pet needs to stay healthy.
A comprehensive plan, also known as nose-to-tail coverage and accident and illness coverage, repays the pet owner for any bills, including illnesses — chronic, genetic, or otherwise — and accidental injury. These plans also cover exam fees, diagnostic tests, treatments, and general wellness checks.
Things to consider before choosing your pet insurance
You should always shop around for coverage and compare options before deciding on a policy. As you begin your search, follow these steps.
Evaluate the coverage
When reviewing a policy, be sure you understand the coverage limits, annual deductibles, reimbursement options, and monthly payments. Compare these points between several companies to ensure you make the best choice for you and your pet.
Understand the terms and conditions
Pet insurance rarely covers a pet’s entire vet bill. You can usually expect to get a reimbursement of 50% to 80%, depending on your plan. Some plans might also require waiting periods before certain coverages take effect. Read the fine print carefully to ensure you’re comfortable with the level of coverage and your financial responsibility.
Know the long-term implications
Insurance companies can consider certain illnesses or injuries to be pre-existing conditions. This is common for complications like corrective surgery for hip dysplasia or other congenital conditions.
If you switch insurers, your new company may exclude such pre-existing conditions from your pet’s coverage. This means you would pay out of pocket for anything pertaining to that condition. This is why it’s important to make sure you select the right company to be your pet’s long-term care partner.
Pet insurance pros and cons
There’s no such thing as free pet insurance, and paid pet insurance may not be right for everyone. To see if it’s right for you, consider these pros and cons.
Your pet care costs are more predictable.
You gain peace of mind knowing you have a partner in your pet’s care.
Many policies allow you to choose your vet.
You can expand your care options through procedures you may not otherwise be able to afford.
Monthly payments can be expensive especially because premiums increase as pets age.
Pets with pre-existing conditions can be excluded.
Not everything will be covered, so you must review your policy thoroughly.
You could end up spending more overall if your pet’s care is simply routine because you’re paying insurance premiums for modest care needs.
How to choose the best pet insurance
Follow these steps to find the best pet insurance for your needs:
Get quotes from several pet insurance companies, highlighting the products, deductibles, annual limits, reimbursement options, and monthly payments available. Then, make a note of the effective date of each policy and the specific terms, especially if there are risk-free cancellation terms.
Take note of any additional discounts that you can add — for example, a second pet discount — to bring the monthly premium down.
Consider the insurer’s customer service rating.
Double-check the product information to ensure the company has everything you’re looking for at a price you can afford.
After gathering all this information, compare quotes from the insurers that still make the cut and select the one that works best for you.