Read the fine print on pet health insurance policies | Entertainment/Life

I have two senior dogs, and people often ask me if I have pet insurance. I do not. With two specialists and a primary veterinarian, I’m sure my dogs have too many preexisting medical conditions to qualify for any type of insurance at this point.

However, for someone with a new puppy or a young pet, pet insurance might be something to consider.

How does pet insurance work?

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Review pet insurance policy options closely to find the right one for you and your fur baby.

Pet insurance works a lot like health insurance for people. In most cases, there’s a monthly premium. Some policies cover wellness and office visits, and most policies come with deductibles and specific criteria that may need to be met before the benefits will cover an emergency or unplanned incident.

There are several plans available, and coverage varies depending on the policy selected.

At a basic level, pet insurance pays a percentage of the bill if a dog or cat needs unexpected veterinary care. Some policies cover up to a certain percent.

Most will cover surgeries, diagnostic tests, medicines, prescription foods, supplements, dental care and hospitalization. Hereditary and congenital conditions are also usually covered.

Some clinics offer their own wellness plans that have monthly payments and include general services throughout the year.

Do some research. Not all insurance plans are equal.

Different companies, different policies

There are several pet insurance companies on the market, and each offers policies with a variety of payment plans, deductibles, cover limits and exclusions. Reading the fine print can often help in making the best decision.

Some policies pay only for medical problems or accidents while others will also pay for preventive care such as spay/neuters, vaccinations and heartworm prevention.

Some have a yearly coverage limit, and some may have a lifetime limit, meaning they will only pay out to a certain amount for the lifetime of a pet.

Most policies will cover a pet for its lifetime, but you may want to consider getting coverage while a pet is young, before they develop any conditions that may be considered pre-existing and therefore excluded from coverage.

Ask around for reviews and recommendations and consult with your veterinarian to see what the experience has been with the companies being considered.

Learn what isn’t covered

Review the policy’s terms and exclusions before making a decision.

Be sure to fully understand copays, deductibles and exclusions. Keep in mind that the amount and type of benefits chosen will affect the premium.

Companies usually offer a variety of policies and they can be tailored to fit specific needs and budgets.

Also, it is common for companies to require that the bill be paid upfront, and then they reimburse the insured amount.

Conditions and treatments are not covered by individual policies, so it is important to get all the facts before committing.

Preexisting conditions are almost never covered, and certain conditions have a time limit between when the policy is purchased and when the coverage actually starts.

Is pet insurance worth it?

The decision to get pet insurance is an individual one. This type of insurance can offer peace of mind and alleviate an unexpected financial burden in the event of an emergency. If a pet is hit by a car or has an injury or condition requiring surgery, it can cost thousands of dollars.

Another option is to self-insure. When a new pet joins the family, set aside money each month for unexpected pet expenses. If the family pet lives a quiet life without any major emergencies, then you may end up with a nice little savings to spend on something more enjoyable than vet bills.

Traci D. Howerton is the volunteer coordinator for Animal Rescue New Orleans (ARNO), a non-profit, volunteer-based, no-kill shelter. For more information on ARNO, visit

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