The positive aspects of the pet insurance market aren’t trivial. For starters, it offers far more choices. Only 3 companies market individual health insurance in New Jersey, while at least 10 write policies for dogs and cats. And the pet insurance carriers offer plans with benefits to fit any budget. Almost all pet insurance policies provide the same coverage at any hospital or vet, whereas almost all human health policies have no or limited benefits for “out of network” care.
While people over 50 can have a very difficult time finding individual health insurance at any price, coverage for older dogs and exotic breeds isn’t a problem since several companies will write a policy for any dog or cat of any age.
There are also some significant drawbacks:
Most pet insurance policies top out below $20,000, and that certainly contributes to making them easier to buy. More relevant to the current political debate over human health insurance, no pet insurer offers coverage for preexisting conditions, while American human health insurers are required to do so for most people in group plans now and will have to for everyone else starting in 2014.
Benefits are also scantier in some cases. While typical human group health insurance plans cover all or almost all charges for “in network” care after policyholders meet a deductible and make co-pays, typical pet insurance policies cover 80 percent of charges associated with a disease or injury. Most pet insurance policies also exclude a variety of expensive-to-treat conditions, including cancer.
The one biggest difference, however, between pet health care and its human counterpart is likely end-of-life care. That tends to be one of the most expensive part of health insurance for humans, with 27 percent of Medicare dollars spent on the last year of life. Suffice it to say, end-of-life care for dogs comes with quite different options, including euthanasia.
While we’re on the topic of pet insurance, it’s also worth revisiting “This American Life’s” segment on the topic, which includes a hedgehog named Harriet getting treated with anti-psychotic medications.