Pet Insurance Reviews: Healthy Paws, Petplan, Pets Best
All types of companies offer pet insurance. There are mega-insurers like Nationwide and interest groups like the ASPCA, each of which offer a wide range of policies. And naturally there are stand-alone insurers which specialize in the business of pet insurance.
However, three companies – Healthy Paws, Petplan and Pets Best – stand out for their combination of affordable premiums, customizable plans and robust benefits. How do they compare against each other? We decided to find out by taking a deeper look at the providers and their programs, to see if there’s a “best” choice. Here’s what we found.
Who Are They?
The background of a pet insurer really does make a difference. One big reason: there are no “pre-existing conditions” guarantees for pet insurance, so once a pet develops a disease or illness it’s no longer realistic to switch policies. If you did, you’d no longer be able to insure your pet for a pre-existing problem. In order to keep complete coverage in effect you’ll have to maintain the same policy, with the same provider, for the life of your dog or cat.
That’s why the first thing we looked at was the background and stability of each of the three pet insurance providers on our list; before entering into a long-term relationship with an insurer, it’s crucial to know exactly who your “partner” will be.
Healthy Paws has been around since 2009. It was created by two men who met at their city’s no-kill animal shelter, an insurance executive and the shelter’s director. Their shared passion for shelter animals and pet health led them to start Healthy Paws Pet Insurance and Foundation. The company has broken ground in the areas of ease-of-claims and customer service and is constantly rated #1 by customers surveyed by independent reviewers; the foundation has issued grants to hundreds of shelters and rescue organizations.
While Healthy Paws may be less than ten years old, it is on firm financial footing. It has partnered with the $30 billion global insurance broker Aon Corporation, and its policies are underwritten by the enormous insurance company The Chubb Group.
Petplan is only a few years older than Healthy Paws, with a compelling back story. The company was founded by a couple (both Philadelphia-area MBAs) who had to go into debt to pay enormous vet bills for their sick cat. Petplan is the sister company of the world’s largest pet insurer, Petplan UK, and provides insurance coverage for organizations like the U.S. Humane Society.
All of the company’s policies are underwritten by A+ rated insurance companies, AGCS Marine Insurance (a member of the Allianz Group, the world’s third-largest financial services company) and the multi-billion dollar XL Specialty Insurance.
The co-founder of Pets Best is a veterinarian who actually created the first pet insurance company in North America in the 1980s, after experiencing the trauma of a family that had its dog euthanized because it couldn’t afford medical bills. His company was the one which wrote the first-ever U.S. pet insurance policy, for TV star Lassie. The eventual outgrowth of his work was the creation of Pets Best in 2005. The company has also become known as the first to offer a full electronic claims filing system, complete with direct deposit of reimbursements.
Policies are underwritten by American Pet Insurance Companies, a large specialty company specializing in pet health insurance coverage for a number of large providers, or by the Independence American Insurance Company, a member of the NYSE-traded IHC Group.
In short, all three pet insurance providers are reputable, well-backed and well-funded, and run by professionals deeply and personally invested in pet wellness and care.
Accident-and-illness pet insurance is, by far, the most common type of coverage chosen by pet owners, because it covers nearly all of the enormous veterinary expenses the owners may face over the lives of their pets. Some providers also offer accident-only policies, or separate coverage that pays only for wellness visits, shots and treatments, and we’ll look briefly at the less-popular options in a bit.
However, we’ll primarily be focusing on the accident-and-illness policy offerings from each of the three companies we’re considering. Here’s an overview of their so-called “major medical” plans.
In this section we’ll be looking at several key variables:
- Deductibles – the amount you have to pay out-of-pocket before insurance kicks in.
- Copayments – the percentage of the bill you have to pay once the deductible has been met.
- Basis for payment – whether the reimbursement is based on your actual bill or a pre-determined cost for the treatment.
- Claim limits
- Processing procedures
One of the best ways to get the pet insurance plan that meets your needs is to choose a provider which offers many policy options. Healthy Paws has lots of them.
- Deductibles: You can opt for an annual deductible of $500, $250 or $100 on any policy. Naturally, the higher the deductible, the lower your premiums will be. All deductibles are based on yearly spending, not on the “per-incident” or “per-condition” basis that many companies use (those latter deductibles usually end costing the pet owner more over the long term).
- Copayments: You can choose between policies with 10%, 20% or 30% copayments, meaning your reimbursements will be 90%, 80% or 70% of the bill once your deductible has been met.
- Basis for payment: Your reimbursement is based on the amount that you’ve been billed, rather than the “usual and customary” charges the insurer feels you should have been charged for any specific procedure.
- Claim limits: There are no limits or annual maximums of any kind. Healthy Paws guarantees unlimited lifetime benefits for covered services.
- Processing procedures: No physical paperwork is needed. Claims can be submitted by sending a copy of the bill via a smartphone app or online portal, and are usually paid within a week.
Petplan provides even more options for pet owners than Healthy Paws. However, some of the company’s basic plans come with less-desirable features, requiring you to pay extra for some benefits that are standard with all Healthy Paws coverage.
- Deductibles: The amount of flexibility that Petplan offers for deductibles is extremely impressive, from a low of $100 to a high of $2500; premiums are dramatically lower if you choose a very high deductible amount. Additionally, you can choose between an overall annual deductible, or ones that are set per-condition and reset every year.
- Copayments: The standard 10%, 20% or 30% copayment options are available, making your reimbursements 90%, 80% or 70% of the bill once your deductible has been met.
- Basis for payment: Reimbursements are based on the total veterinary bill, and not often-lower “usual and customary” charges.
- Claim limits: Just as with deductibles and copayments, Petplan offers a wide range of choices on payment limits from $2500 per year to unlimited reimbursements. Premiums vary depending on your selection; naturally, you’ll pay more for a policy without limits on claims.
- Processing procedures: The insurer has recently added an app for claim submission via smartphone, which can also be done via online portal, fax or mail. They often take significantly longer to pay claims, however.
Our third option also provides a large number of customizable choices to create a policy that meets the needs of almost dog or pet owner, with more flexibility than the competitors in some areas and less flexibility in others.
- Deductibles: The choices you’re offered range from a higher-priced zero-deductible policy to a much less expensive $1000 deductible, with a number of options in between.
- Copayments: Pets Best offers the highest number of options of the three insurers, including a 0% copayment alternative (meaning they pay 100%) as well as the more usual 10%, 20% or 30% choices.
- Basis for payment: Reimbursements are figured on actual vet bills, not on a predetermined schedule of usual and customary fees.
- Claim limits: You can choose the limits that work best for you when you customize your plan: maximum annual payout limits of $1000, $5000, $10,000, $20,000 or unlimited, and maximum lifetime benefits range from $5,000 to $200,000. However, there are strict and low lifetime limits imposed on hereditary conditions, between $250 and $1000.
- Processing procedures: Electronic submissions and direct deposit reimbursements are both available, with payments often made in just a few days.
All three insurers will cover both dogs and cats, and all provide coverage for purebred pets. However, you’ll have to pay more for dogs than cats, more for larger dogs, and often much more for purebreds.
Insurer by Insurer: Coverages They Provide, Breeds They Cover
All three companies provide accident-and-illness coverage for the major expenses that owners of sick or injured pets can expect to face over time: emergency treatment, diagnostics and advanced tests, hospitalization, surgery and aftercare. They will all also cover chronic, hereditary and congenital conditions – one of the big reasons they’ve made the cut for our top three pet insurance reviews.
As always, though, the devil is in the details; each plan has its peculiarities or exclusions, and it’s important to distinguish between them before making a choice. We’ll be running those down now, along with information on the companies that also offer accident-only or wellness policies, or other types of unusual insurance options.
One explanation first. We’ll be making general observations about each company’s pricing policies based on a wide survey of policies. For the sake of examples, though, we’ll also show pricing for three theoretical pets: a three-year old medium-sized mixed-breed male dog, a similar English bulldog (the most expensive breed to insure), and a three-year old domestic short hair male cat. All prices are for policies with $250 deductibles, 20% copayments and no maximum annual reimbursement limit ($15,000 for Petplan, which is the highest option they offered us for our sample pets).
- Pros: Prescription drugs are included with all Healthy Paws plans, as is alternative care such as acupuncture, physical therapy and chiropractic. As long as a pet is enrolled by age 13, coverage continues for life as long as premiums are paid.
- Cons: Healthy Paws does not cover behavioral therapy, pregnancy expenses, or hip dysplasia for dogs enrolled in a plan after age six. There’s also a 12-month waiting period after the purchase of a policy for hip dysplasia coverage to take effect, and a dog that has a pre-existing ACL problem in one leg cannot be covered for the other. Perhaps most importantly, once a pet reaches the age of eight the policy reverts to a standard $500 deductible and 30% copayment.
- Other notes: There is no wellness or accident-only policy available from Healthy Paws.
- Prices: Healthy Paws falls squarely into the middle of the pricing spectrum, but with more benefits generally available for their premiums. Our mixed breed pup’s policy would cost $40 per month, the English bulldog would cost $117 per month, and the cat’s insurance would cost $26 per month.
- Pros: Prescriptions are covered by Petplan, as are alternative therapies if performed by a veterinarian, and a limited amount of behavioral therapy if there is an underlying medical cause. There is no age limit for enrollment and Petplan does cover some complications of pregnancy. You also receive a 5% premium discount if you order online.
- Cons: Reimbursement will be denied if a pet hasn’t been seen within 48 hours of an accident or the onset of an illness, and will also be denied if the pet hasn’t had an annual wellness visit. Once a pet has had an ACL injury, there are limitations on payment for a similar injury to the other leg. Petplan is also known to be much stricter when deciding whether an issue is a pre-existing condition. Premiums increase as a pet ages, but the price hikes vary with different coverage options and breeds.
- Other notes: Petplan does not offer wellness or accident-only policies.
- Prices: Petplan is the most expensive option of our three insurers for most pets; checking our three example pets the pricing is $55 per month for the mixed-breed dog, $117 for the English bulldog and $30 for the cat.
- Pros: There is limited behavioral coverage available, and alternative therapy treatments will be covered if an add-on rider is purchased. Pets Best does not have an upper age limit for enrollment. A 5% multi-pet discount is available.
- Cons: Prescription drugs are not covered unless an add-on rider is purchased. Pregnancy and (surprisingly) parasites are not covered. There is a six-month waiting period for ACL coverage after a policy is purchased, and premiums do increase as your pet ages.
- Other notes: Pets Best offers two wellness plans and one accident-only plan. Both wellness programs cover up to $50 for a routine vet visit, but the higher-level plan pays a little more for each visit or procedure; for example, $60 vs. $50 for flea and tick prevention, and $25 vs. $15 for a urinalysis. Total benefit ceilings are $535 vs. $305, and the monthly premiums are $25 for the better plan, $15 for the lower-level one. The accident-only program has a flat $250 deductible and 10% copayment with a $10,000 annual limit, and doesn’t cover hip dysplasia or ACL injuries. It costs $9 monthly for dogs, $6 monthly for cats.
- Prices: Pets Best is a lower-priced option for most pets, but with more exclusions placed on their policies. Our example pets’ policies would cost $30 per month for the mixed-breed dog, $67 for the English bulldog and $18 for the cat.
Each of our three insurers will insure all breeds of dogs and cats, but all will charge more for purebreds, sometimes substantially more than one another because of their susceptibility to genetic illnesses and conditions. The least-expensive option for insuring a purebred is Pets Best. But considering the usually-higher medical costs these breeds incur later in life, a pricier option could easily be the best choice for your pet. Be sure to carefully compare coverage and exclusions before buying only on price.
Uniqueness of Insurers and Plans
The details we’ve provided should give you a good feel for each of the three companies we’ve compared, but here’s a brief summary of what we’ve found and what makes each insurer and their policies unique.
- Healthy Paws: The most comprehensive coverage at reasonable prices with absolutely no maximum limits whatsoever, plus full coverage for prescriptions and alternative therapies.
- Petplan: Robust coverage but at higher premiums, particularly when you choose lower deductibles and higher maximum payouts. Petplan is also known for being more difficult with claims approval and slower to pay.
- Pets Best: A very good selection of plans for lower prices although the benefits provided are noticeably lower as well, with extra payments required for coverage of prescription medications and alternative therapies. However, they’re the only one of our three insurers to offer wellness and accident-only coverage.
The Best Option for Most Pet Owners
Whichever provider you choose, you now understand why it’s essential to purchase a pet insurance policy as soon as possible. Once your uninsured pet develops any type of health issue, you’ll not only be faced with potentially-huge veterinary bills – but he will immediately become “uninsurable” for that condition for the rest of his life. For the majority of dogs, and even cats, that’s likely to mean thousands – or tens of thousands – of dollars in medical expenses that could easily be avoided, just by making a relatively-small monthly payment.
So which option should you choose? We believe that Healthy Paws is the top choice for pet insurance. The premiums are attractive for the full coverage that’s provided, with few limitations, quick payouts and easy-to-navigate customer service. Petplan and Pets Best tie for second place behind Healthy Paws in our opinion. Petplan’s coverage is better than Pets Best in most cases but you have to pay a lot for it, while Pets Best is a very good budget choice with policies that are still far superior to most insurers, but don’t match the overall quality of Petplan or Healthy Paws.
Healthy Paws constantly receives the highest customer reviews of all major pet insurance companies, and our in-depth comparison makes the reasons clear. They offer highly-customizable policies at affordable prices, plus the best coverage. That’s a winning combination every time.