This is the second of a five-post client information series Brownsburg Animal Clinic is offering on pet insurance—part of our Pet Care Costs collection of posts and pages to help you manage the costs of pet ownership more effectively. As they describe step-by-step processes, we suggest you read the Pet Insurance posts in order from first to fifth.
The North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA) reports there are now about 25 pet insurers doing business in North America, including several companies that “also market and/or underwrite multiple white label or co-branded products representing at least 20 additional pet insurance product brands.”
That’s nearly 50 companies and brands—far too many for most pet owners to research individually—so we recommend you start your search for your pet’s ideal policy by narrowing your choice of companies to a more manageable number—say, no more than five or six.
With further, more focused research into those five or six companies and their product offerings, you’ll narrow your list to your personal top two or three and, finally, identify the company offering the policy you’ve identified as best for you and your pet.
Beware the ‘Best’ Lists
The internet is teeming with articles, blog posts and “complete guides” naming the “best” pet insurance companies. Many websites featuring these lists offer truly useful, unbiased information to help you understand and navigate the complexities of buying a pet insurance policy. We encourage you to learn from them as your time permits.
Many also have thoughtful evaluations of the companies on their lists—why they’re “the best,” the types of pets they’re best-suited to cover and the pros and cons of their product offerings. This commentary is well worth reading, too, while writing down the most relevant points for you and your pet.
Most “best” company lists include established industry leaders as well as relative newcomers to the marketplace. What you’re looking for at this stage is the names of companies that appear on multiple lists and, most important, the ones offering policies that appear to be the best-matched to you and your pet’s needs. Those will be the companies you research further, using ratings and reviews from policyholders and unbiased, knowledgeable sources not trying to sell you a policy.
Most “best pet insurance” websites encourage you to use their easy online tools to collect quotes from multiple companies. Those tools are there because the website will be paid a sales commission if their recommendations convince you to buy a policy using an affiliate link on their site.
We advise you to proceed with caution at this stage of the buying process. If you’re following our recommended purchasing process, you’re not yet ready to make a purchase.
Your ‘Personal Best Companies’ Short List
With your guard suitably up and a determination not to buy a policy until you’ve had a chance to do further research, we recommend you visit several of these “best company” sites, linked to below, and start your own “personal best companies” list.
While we can’t vouch for the accuracy or objectivity of any of these sites—and we’re not endorsing any of them—we’re providing links to get you started on narrowing your choice of companies.
For your personal best companies list, look for insurers that get mentioned again and again and see if any rationale behind the ranking aligns with your pet’s needs and your preferences so far. (Presumably, the following links are “evergreen” and will take you to the most recently updated content.)
Money.com’s “Best Pet Insurance Companies of [the current month and year].”
Be forewarned, most of these sites are filled with entreaties for you to request instant quotes. Play around with the quote tools if you like, but don’t buy anything just yet.
If you do request a quote from an aggregator site (a commission-earning website that connects to online quote tools from multiple companies and collects the results for your review), be prepared for your email inbox to fill immediately with marketing messages from the companies providing the quotes—and sometimes multiple messages from the same insurer to promote several different policies or “plans,” as they’re often called. You can unsubscribe to the messages later if you decide you no longer want to hear from a particular company.
Pawlicy Advisor. Another website worth visiting as you finalize your short list of companies is Pawlicy Advisor —the site that claims you can get a quote, choose a policy and buy it in five minutes.
If you read our previous post, “Understanding Pet Insurance,” you know while we don’t encourage dawdling on your way to getting your pet insured, we do advise against rushing to make such a complex and important purchasing decision.
Still, we appreciate Pawlicy Advisor’s relatively powerful quote tool, designed to provide what they claim is a more personalized recommendation of the best of their partner insurers’ policies for your pet based on breed, age and other factors specific to your pet. You can find a list of their eight partner companies in the footer of the website.
We suggest you use the Pawlicy tool and consider including the companies their database matches with your pet on your list of companies to explore further.
Canine Journal. Canine Journal has a comprehensive pet insurance review page that starts by designating the companies they consider best overall, best for young pets, best no-cap payouts, best coverage, best value and best newcomer. Many details follow about pet insurance in general and individual insurers.
About two-thirds of the way down the page is an alphabetical list of links to insurers with the year the companies were founded.
The page concludes with charts showing customer service options, support hours, deductible options, payout options and reimbursement options for each of the selected companies. This section also lists each company’s year founded, headquarters location and underwriter(s).
Canine Journal discloses at the top of the page that they do receive commissions if you buy a policy through one of their affiliate links.
Pet Insurance Review. A website pet insurance expert and veterinarian Dr. Fran Wilkerson recommends, and one we also suggest you visit, is Pet Insurance Review. Use this site to see reviews presumably written by policyholders for each of the companies on your short list. Keep in mind, review sites can be be vulnerable to manipulation by companies and individuals posting fake reviews.
In the reviews that appear authentic, look for the most common compliments and pay particular attention to the most common complaints, additional customer comments and the company’s responses, if any. If you’re pressed for time, skip the glowing reviews and filter to see only the most negative feedback. Look for repeated warning signs of bad coverage, harsh definitions of pre-existing conditions and poor customer service.
As you learn more about pet insurance policies, you’ll realize many of the most negative reviews are from policyholders who didn’t do any tutorials or read their policies before buying them. They didn’t take the time to understand that pre-existing conditions are not covered, or that there would be a waiting period between the time they bought the policy and the coverage went into effect, or that the company they bought their policy from applies the deductible per condition—not per year.
Because they didn’t take the time to understand pet insurance in general and the terms of the policies they bought in particular, they experienced unpleasant surprises that wouldn’t have been surprises at all if they’d made better-informed purchase decisions.
However, a pattern of complaints about sharp premium increases from year to year, bad customer service, a complicated claims process, lost claims or delays in receiving reimbursements are more noteworthy because they will impact you as a policyholder no matter how carefully you read your policy.
Credible accusations of a company’s changing policy terms or terminating coverage because of claims history for an individual pet should be taken seriously. If you see multiple reviews for a company from policyholders who had this experience, we advise you to eliminate this company from consideration.
Note the dates the reviews and comments were posted. Sometimes companies improve their policies and resolve administrative problems talked about in older reviews. More recent ratings are likely more relevant to current conditions.
Check with HR. Many employers offer pet insurance as an employee benefit, so it may be worthwhile to ask about pet insurance benefits where you work. Keep in mind, the company your employer has contracted with may or may not offer the best coverage for you and your pet. Put the company on your short list, but be willing to buy from another insurer if the coverage provides better value and is a closer match to your particular needs.
Planning Travel? If you plan to travel out of state with your pet, make sure the insurer you’re considering covers eligible expenses for visits to a veterinarian outside your home state.
If you plan international travel with your pet, check to see if veterinary treatment in the country you plan to visit will be covered.
Also look for coverage limits—like the number of days your pet can be away from home—specific to interstate and international travel.
Planning an Interstate Move? If you anticipate moving to another state, check to see if the companies you’re considering are licensed in the state where you’re planning to move as well as the one you live in now.
Once you relocate, the terms of your policy and the premium amount may change. If the company makes it to your personal short list, it will be well worth a call to customer service to find out how your move will impact your pet’s coverage.
Now, Read Fran Wilkerson’s Company Fact Sheets and Reviews
After you’ve narrowed your list of companies to consider to no more than a half-dozen or so, we strongly recommend a return visit to Dr. Wilkerson’s Pet Insurance University website.
There you can read her unbiased reviews of your choice of 26 companies and see her detailed Comparison Fact Sheets on those same companies by clicking on the company name under the “Compare Pet Insurance” heading in the left sidebar of every page on the site.
An important aspect of Dr. Wilkerson’s company reviews is her interest in the financial stability of policy underwriters. She includes A.M. Best ratings in her company evaluations.
She also notes the year each company started doing business in the USA, observing, “it can take time for a company to settle in on consistent premium pricing and policy terms.”
Keep in mind, Dr. Wilkerson has been a practicing veterinarian for many years in a number of different clinical settings. Unlike the people running all those aggregator sites, she does not receive any compensation from any insurance company for a listing or review on her site, and she earns no commission on the sale of any policy.