Cat Insurance: Information, Coverages, and Policies

By | 2018-12-11T16:31:33+00:00 December 11th, 2018|Pet Insurance|0 Comments

If you have a cat or kitten, you probably understand the origin of the phrase “curiosity killed the cat.” Cats are notorious for getting into trouble. While the trouble caused by their curiosity isn’t usually fatal, it can come with potentially-costly injuries. Add illness and age-related conditions, and suddenly caring for your fluffy feline friend may become more expensive than you anticipated.

Is pet insurance the answer?

This article will provide a basic overview of pet insurance, equipping you to evaluate policies and make the best possible decision for you and your cat.

When should pet insurance be purchased?

You can buy pet insurance at almost any time during your cat’s lifetime. Most insurance providers cover kittens starting at six to eight weeks of age, and enroll healthy senior cats up to age fourteen.

Ideally, you should purchase insurance shortly after bringing your new cat home. If your cat has an upper respiratory infection or other illness when first adopted, you might benefit from waiting for these infections to clear before seeking insurance… but don’t wait too long!

As your pet ages, the likelihood of developing a “pre-existing condition” increases, which means that insurance cover will become more expensive and may exclude certain conditions. Securing coverage while your cat is young will guarantee that you are eligible for the most affordable rates and that you will have the widest variety of options from which to choose.

What is the monthly cost of pet insurance?

Pet insurance costs depend on many variables. Most providers offer a variety of plans, with different coverages, co-pays, deductibles, maximum coverages, and a number of other factors that might influence cost.

A typical pet insurance policy for a cat, covering accidents and illnesses, costs between $10-40/month. The average feline policy in 2017was $26.77/month.1 You can often save money by considering a plan that covers accidents only, while add-ons like preventive care and cancer care will typically increase cost. 

The cost of pet insurance is also influenced by your cat’s breed and age. Purebred cats cost more to insure than mixed-breed cats, because they are at a higher risk of inherited medical conditions. The pet insurance provider Trupanion states that Siamese, Bengal, Himalayan, Maine Coon, and Ragdoll cats have the highest insurance costs. 2 All of these breeds have hereditary issues that can increase their lifetime medical expenses; these expenses are passed on to the pet owner in the form of higher monthly premiums.

What are the benefits of pet insurance?

Pet insurance will defray many of your cat’s medical costs, with the primary emphasis of most insurance policies being accident and injury coverage. Illnesses, like urinary disorders, diabetes, and hyperthyroidism, are most common in older cats. Illnesses can be expensive, both in the early stages(when diagnostic testing is often needed) and possibly on an ongoing basis. Pet insurance will help reduce the cost both immediate treatment and long-termcare. Some policies will even help defray the expense of cancer treatment.

Accidents, like bite wounds, abscesses, and toxin ingestion, are more common in outdoor cats, though they can also be seen in young cats (who tend to be more active and curious). These accidents can come with significant medical expenses and pet insurance will help significantly with these expenses.

Are there any expenses that pet insurance doesn’t cover? 

A number of pet insurance plans exclude coverage for certain issues. Each insurance provider differs in their exclusions, but here are some commonly-excluded expenses that you may want to consider.

Congenital disorders: This term applies to disorders that were present when a cat was born. In some cases, these conditions do not affect a cat until middle-age or even old age, but the fact that the condition was present at birth qualifies the condition as a congenital disorder. Some policies exclude these conditions from coverage completely, while other policies will cover congenital disorders (ex. congenital eye diseases) if there was no sign of their existence, or reason to suspect the condition, at the time that insurance coverage was started. Examples of congenital disorders that may be excluded from coverage include heart abnormalities and liver shunts.

Inherited conditions: Hereditary conditions are often excluded from coverage. Check with insurance providers to see if they have a list of excluded conditions, both for in cats in general as well as your particular breed of cat (if you own a purebred). For example, care related to cardiomyopathy (a heart disease) in Maine Coons or megacolon (constipation) in Manx cats may be excluded in some policies, because these are known to be common inherited conditions in these breeds.

Pre-existing conditions: Many pet insurance policies do not cover conditions that were diagnosed before you obtained coverage. For example, a cat diagnosed with heart disease prior to purchasing insurance may not be eligible for future coverage related to heart disease.

Preventive care: Wellness care, such as vaccines, flea prevention, and spay/neuter, are typically ineligible for coverage unless additional/optional coverage is purchased.

How is pet insurance utilized?

Many people expect pet insurance to be similar to human insurance, but there are a number of important differences. It is important to understand these differences, so that you can avoid surprises and be prepared for handling insurance claims.

You will select your own veterinary hospital; there is no ‘network’ that you are required to use. You decide which tests and procedures to allow your veterinarian to perform, and (in most cases) you will pay your bill at the end of your visit just as you would do without insurance. After the bill is paid, you submit a receipt (plus your insurance company’s required paperwork) to your insurance provider. The insurance provider reimburses some or all of your bill, though the exact reimbursement varies depending on your insurance company’s policies.

For example, imagine that your pet insurance has a $0 deductible and a 20% co-pay. If your cat visits the veterinarian for an upper respiratory infection and your total cost for that visit was $165, you will be reimbursed $132.

[$165 (expenses paid) – $0 (deductible)] x 0.80 (reimbursement rate) = $132

Other items that may affect your reimbursement, depending on your insurance company, include:

Maximum payouts: Policies may have limits on exactly how much they will pay out. Maximum payouts may apply to each incident, each organ system, each year of coverage, or a pet’s entire lifetime.

Schedule of benefits: Policies may pay based on prices that are listed in schedule of benefits, instead of reimbursing your actual veterinary bills. For example, your veterinarian may charge $80 for a test but the insurance provider may determine that only $75 of that expense is reimbursable.

Which pet insurance providers should cat owners consider?

All providers have their own pros and cons. The optimal provider for each pet and owner will depend on the pet’s medical history and owner finances/preferences. A policy that is a great fit for your neighbor might be a bad option for you, and vice versa. Therefore, you should conduct appropriate research and not rely on others’ opinions when selecting pet insurance.

Consider starting your search with these pet insurance providers, each of which has a reputation for high consumer satisfaction and has been in business for over ten years (indicating financial stability/solvency).

Embrace

Embrace has provided pet insurance since 2006.4 The website PetInsuranceReview.com, which collects ratings of pet insurance companies, shows that the company has an average rating of 9.6 out of 10, based on over 100 reviews.5

Embrace is unique in that their policies do not exclude or limit coverage for breed-specific or genetic disorders.9 Pre-existing, incurable conditions, however, are ineligible for coverage.10 This underscores the need to get coverage early in life; once a problem is symptomatic or detected, it is too late to have it covered by insurance.

Embrace policies also cover alternative therapies, such as chiropractic care and acupuncture, which is appealing to many pet owners.11

Kittens over six weeks and senior cats up to 14 years old can receive full accident and illness coverage. Cats 15 years old and up are eligible for accident-only coverage.12

Embrace also offers preventive care options to decrease the cost of wellness care.

Trupanion

Established in Canada in 1998, Trupanion has been offering pet insurance in the U.S. since 2007.4 Pet owners on PetInsuranceReview.com give Trupanion an average score of 9.8 out of 10, with over 700 reviews posted.5

Trupanion is unique in that the company pays veterinarians directly. While you are preparing to check out at your veterinary clinic, your veterinary staff logs into a website, submits your pet’s expenses, and then collects Trupanion’s share of the bill directly from the company. This means that you do not need to pay the entire total bill, submit paperwork, then wait for reimbursement; you only have to pay the required co-pay.6

Trupanion also offers a feature known as lifetime “per condition” deductibles. This can be a significant benefit in the case of cats with chronic medical conditions. You may be able to pay a single deductible for a given condition, instead of meeting a deductible every year. If your pet has a condition requiring lifelong care, this approach can significantly decrease costs.7

Trupanion covers kittens as young as 8 weeks old, and senior pets up to 14 years old.8

There is no option for wellness/preventive care coverage through Trupanion.

Nationwide (Veterinary Pet Insurance, VPI)

Veterinary Pet Insurance was founded in 19824 and was later purchased by Nationwide. PetInsuranceReview.com reviewers give Nationwide a rating of 9.6 out of 10, with over 250 responses. 5

Nationwide’s primary offering is Whole Pet with Wellness coverage. This program covers the accident/illness expenses typically included in pet insurance, as well as preventive care. This program is available to cats of any age, although other Nationwide programs are limited to specific age groups.5

Nationwide plans often utilize a benefit schedule13 for reimbursement. Nationwide policies also may come with more exclusions for congenital and breed-related diseases than other providers.14, 15 Read any policy that you are considering carefully, so that you can make an informed decision. In exchange for the trade-offs mentioned above, however, customers often find Nationwide to be a valuable, less-expensive option for pet insurance.16

1 “State of the Industry Report 2017.” North American Pet Health Insurance Association. Accessed June 14, 2018. Available at: https://naphia.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/SOI-report-highlights-2017.pdf

2 “Breeds with the Best Pet Insurance Rates.” North American Pet Health Insurance Association. Accessed June 14, 2018. Available at: https://naphia.org/news/breeds-with-the-best-pet-insurance-rates/

3 “Excluded Hereditary Conditions by Breed.” Nationwide Pet Insurance. Accessed June 14, 2018. Available at: https://www.petinsurance.com/hereditary-conditions.aspx

4 “Pet Insurance at a Glance.” DVM360. Accessed June 14, 2018. Available at: http://files.dvm360.com/alfresco_images/DVM360//2013/10/27/51ecfb27-256b-49ff-98ab-8b7a8810ea4e/article-808464.pdf

5 “Compare Cat Insurance.” Pet Insurance Review. Accessed June 14, 2018. Available at: https://www.petinsurancereview.com/cat-insurance

6 “Why Trupanion?” Trupanion Pet Insurance. Accessed June 14, 2018. Available at: https://trupanion.com/why-trupanion

7 “Understanding Deductibles.” Trupanion Pet Insurance. Accessed June 14, 2018. Available at: https://trupanion.com/pet-insurance/deductibles

8 “Is your pet eligible for pet insurance?” Trupanion Pet Insurance. Accessed June 14, 2018. Available at: https://trupanion.com/pet-insurance/is-your-pet-eligible

9 “Genetic and Breed-Specific Conditions.” Embrace Pet Insurance. Accessed June 14, 2018. Available at: https://www.embracepetinsurance.com/coverage/pet-insurance-plan/genetic-breed-specific-conditions

10 “Pet Insurance and Pre-Existing Conditions.” Embrace Pet Insurance. Accessed June 14, 2018. Available at: https://www.embracepetinsurance.com/coverage/pet-insurance-plan/pre-ex-conditions

11 “Holistic therapies for our pets.” Embrace Pet Insurance. Accessed June 14, 2018. Available at: https://www.embracepetinsurance.com/waterbowl/article/holistic-therapies-for-our-pets

12 “Embrace vs. Trupanion.” Embrace Pet Insurance. Accessed June 14, 2018. Available at: https://www.embracepetinsurance.com/compare/embrace-vs-trupanion

13 “Frequently asked questions about pet insurance.” Nationwide Pet Insurance. Accessed June 14, 2018.

14 “Trupanion vs. VPI/Nationwide.” Trupanion Pet Insurance. Accessed June 14, 2018. Available at: https://trupanion.com/pet-insurance-comparison/trupanion-vs-nationwide#breed_exclusions

15 “Embrace vs. Nationwide.” Embrace Pet Insurance. Accessed June 14, 2018. Available at: https://www.embracepetinsurance.com/compare/embrace-vs-nationwide-pet-insurance

16 “Compare Pet Insurance.” Nationwide Pet Insurance. Accessed June 14, 2018.

About the Author:

Dr. Catherine Barnette is a veterinarian and freelance writer, with twelve years of clinical experience caring for canine, feline, and exotic patients. She currently resides in North Carolina with her husband, daughter, three cats, one dog, one dove, and three horses.

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