Is pet insurance worth it?
More employers are signing onto the idea, offering pet health insurance to their workers as a benefit option. VPI said that 1 in 3 Fortune 500 companies now offer its coverage.
Every company in the U.S. selling pet health insurance must be licensed in all 50 states, so it's a well-regulated industry. But policies vary considerably in terms of costs and benefits; you need to scrutinize them carefully before choosing one. Some policies will cover things like routine exams and vaccinations (often termed "wellness policies"), but others may not. Some are for emergencies only, while others cover a full range of services, including wellness care and coverage for conditions other policies may exclude. Examples of the plans and prices offered by VPI range from injury-only for dogs ($10 monthly), wellness packages for cats and dogs ($12 to $22), basic medical coverage for cats ($12 to $17) to comprehensive coverage, including hereditary conditions, for dogs ($25 to $35).
But that's just a starting point. As with most insurance, you'll pay lower premiums by choosing a higher deductible, and vice versa. You should check whether the deductible is yearly or per incident. What's covered and what's excluded? Cats often have thyroid problems, for example. If your cat develops thyroid issues, will treatment be covered? How much will the policy pay—a percentage of actual costs or a percentage of amounts deemed reasonable and customary? Are there annual or per-condition or life caps on coverage?
"The first thing you should do is talk to your vet about your specific pet and what his risks are likely to be," said Kristen Lynch, executive director of the North American Pet Health Insurance Association, which advances education and communication about the industry. You'll want to find a policy that covers the most common scenarios you might encounter. Then shop around, immerseing yourself in the specifics of the policies. Gauge each company's personality by talking to someone there.
"It's important, because when you're dealing with pet insurance, it's an emotional process," Lynch said.
—By Robin Micheli, Special to CNBC.com