Nearly a dozen firms offer health insurance for pets; this is a fast-growing industry. Unfortunately, the search for a decent policy exposes consumers to the same basic problems that spurred health care reform: high costs, shifting rules, and fine print that makes it hard to know what you're buying. For example, policies vary widely. The nonprofit American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, partnering with Hartville Group, offers four levels of coverage—from accidents only ($9.50 a month for dogs; $7.50 for cats) to comprehensive protection ($59 a month for dogs; $51 for cats). Some insurers' plans hit $75 or more a month.
Do such fees make sense for you? With $4,000 hip replacements or $10,000 cancer treatments commonplace, “insurance is for those who would do anything to save their pet,” says petinsurancereview.com's Mike Hemstreet. But many policies won't pay for hereditary conditions, and none grant coverage of preexisting conditions.
Worse, firms that cover an illness one year may demand another $5 to $10 a month to continue coverage the next. Maximum payouts are another factor to weigh. “Pet owners are most concerned about premiums,” says Memphis vet Doug Kenney, author of Your Guide to Understanding Pet Health Insurance, “but they should be asking, 'If I have to file a $10,000 claim, what is my total expense?' With a $3,500 per-incident maximum, you'll pay $6,500 out of pocket—plus the premium.”