Should You Bite on Pet Health Insurance?

Is insuring your pet’s health worth it? Owners face hefty bills, and it pays to get help.

When pundits on TV talk about health care reform, they don’t jawbone about pet health care insurance. But maybe they should. Pet owners face huge bills when dealing with their pets’ health issues, and pet health insurance can help — that is, if you know how to get the best deal.

While the actual number of U.S. pet owners who spring for pet health insurance is small, its popularity is growing. According to the American Pet Products Association, about 3% of all dogs and 1% of all cats in the U.S. now have health insurance. Another review of the data from a research group called Packaged Facts says the rate of pet health insurance in the U.S. increased by 56% from 2003 to 2007.

Pet health insurance comprises a small percentage of the $47.7 billion Americans spend on their pets, but the cost of the pets themselves remain high. The APPA estimates the average annual costs of surgical veterinary visits to be $532 for dogs and $278 for cats. Overall, Americans spend $23.8 billion on veterinary care, in addition to purchasing over-the-counter pet medicine and supplies. The APPA also estimates that the cost of veterinary services has risen 80% since 2000.

Health care can cut into the high costs of caring for pets, especially as new technologies and new drugs raise the costs in the U.S. and abroad. Premiums on pet health care are all over the board, but pet owners can expect to pay monthly premiums between $10 and $100, with deductibles costing anywhere from $50 to $500. This is why it’s important to understand what insurance programs are available.

Structurally, pet health care plans mirror the health care plans of their human-related counterparts. They have annual premiums, deductibles and myriad health care plans to choose from. Most plans pay out for accidents and illness, but the more comprehensive (and pricier ones) also offer coverage for annual check-ups, prescription drugs and even surgeries for things like spaying or neutering.

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