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Pet Medical Insurance

Questions to Ask Before You Buy a Pet Health Insurance Plan

When should I buy pet medical insurance?

''Better late than never is one approach," Klingborg says. "However, it would make sense to look into it if you are bringing a new animal home."

"A lot of these companies focus on wellness care,” Klingborg says. ”So they will often provide very good reimbursement for the vaccination series and for spaying and neutering. All of those [services] are associated with fewer animal [health] problems in the future."

If you wait, a health condition in an older dog or cat might rule out coverage.

Sullivan, for instance, can't get coverage for her 16-year-old Lab, who has heart disease and a history of ear and knee problems.

You might ask your vet if your particular breed has a tendency for certain health problems, especially expensive or complicated problems, Tait says. "Saint Bernards and German Shepherds are prone to orthopedic problems," he says. "Boxers are prone to heart problems. Little dogs, like pugs, often have breathing problems."

What are the pluses of covering my pet?

With a good coverage plan, you will be less likely to face substantial veterinary bills, of course. Also, your pet may be healthier if you are more likely to take advantage of wellness checkups.

"It brings someone else's wallet to the table,” says Klingborg, “particularly when you are facing an emergency situation.” Many animals are euthanized, he says, because owners simply can't pay a large or unexpected vet bill.

Is pet insurance really worth it?

The answer hinges on a lot of factors, including personal finances and your own comfort with financial risks, say Tait and Klingborg. “I think it is a matter of personal risk tolerance, as the decision is with most other forms of insurance,” Tait says. Those with high risk tolerance may look at the premiums and decide not to spend the money. They could put the amount of the premium into savings and prepare that way for future health care expenses.

But animal owners with low risk tolerance may see the insurance as a way to reduce that risk, especially if they have pets that may be prone to expensive health problems. For some, Klingborg say, having the insurance takes some of the uncertainty out of the future. “We can’t predict the future,’’ he says, "and insurance is there to help individuals when the unexpected happens to them.” Having the insurance, he says, might make the difference between saving an animal and having to make the painful decision to euthanize it.

But from a purely financial point of view, some experts contend that pet insurance premiums may not be wise for all animal owners. In a review published in Consumer Reports, experts advised readers not to buy the insurance for managing checkup costs alone and advised owners with older animals to consider affordable accident-and-illness policies (rather than more comprehensive plans) or to deposit the cost of premiums into an interest-bearing account instead.

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