Because wellness care is essential to keeping a pet happy and healthy and it is an expected expense every year, I’ve found that more and more pet owners are expressing an interest in purchasing wellness coverage along with their pet insurance.
Laura Bennett, former CEO of Embrace, explains why they decided to start offering wellness coverage as an option several years ago:
Currently, wellness care benefits offered by pet insurance company come in 3 different designs:
1) Benefit schedule
Companies have a list of items that they consider wellness care and a specific dollar amount that will be reimbursed when your pet receives these services. Here are the companies that offer this type of coverage:
***Cost (varies by state) of Routine Plan ($10-12/mo.); Advanced Plan ($25-27/mo.)
***Nationwide offers this wellness care coverage as an add-on to your accident and illness coverage (Major Medical plan) or as stand-alone coverage without an accident/illness coverage.
2) Cafeteria style plan
Only one company offers this type of plan which allows policyholders to choose how they'd like to spend their wellness care reimbursement dollars. If you want to spend it all on vaccines and a spay with gastropexy to prevent gastric torsion - you can.
*** Cost (annually) of 250 Plan ($227.37); 450 Plan ($410.53); 650 Plan ($593.05)
When you look at the first two designs, you’ll notice that you can potentially get back much more than you pay in for the coverage. Sounds great, right?
However, I can assure you that insurance companies don’t offer wellness coverage to lose money on it. For example, your pet will only be spayed or neutered once. He will usually only get microchipped once. She won’t necessarily get every vaccine every year. And pet owners usually leave potential reimbursements on the table (unused) some years.
The procedures or vaccines your pet needs in any given year will depend on your pet’s age, lifestyle, previous vaccination history, and results of the wellness exam.
Canine core vaccines (rabies, distemper, and parvo) may only be given every 3 years instead of annually. The Bordetella (kennel cough) and influenza vaccine may only be needed if your dog is likely to be in a kennel environment for boarding or grooming. The Lyme vaccine may only be given in areas of the country where Lyme disease is most prevalent.
Feline core vaccines (FVRCP and rabies) may only be given every 3 years. The feline leukemia vaccine is commonly given to kittens, but generally only recommended for adult cats if they are at risk for exposure. The FIP and FIV vaccine's efficacy has been questioned and they are rarely given.
However, a wellness exam once or twice a year, wellness lab testing, certain vaccines, tests for heartworms and intestinal parasites (fecal), heartworm and flea/tick prevention products, and teeth cleaning may be recommended annually.
You should contact your veterinarian to find out what he or she recommends at certain ages (life stage) of your pet and the cost of those services. Then, it comes down to simply doing the math. Add up the reimbursement amounts for all the procedures your pet is likely to get in any given year and subtract the amount you pay for wellness coverage to determine whether you’ll come out ahead or not.
3) Built into Accident & Illness Coverage
Wellness care claims are subject to the deductible and copay just like accident/illness claims. Only one company offers this type of coverage:
With this type of plan, you aren't limited to a dollar amount for each wellness procedure. Once the deductible (currently $100) is applied to either an accident/illness or wellness claim, all you'll pay the rest of the year is the copay (10%) with either type of claim. Most pet owners easily spend more than $100 annually on wellness care. Premiums are generally competitive with other companies in younger pets considering it also covers wellness care. Making the deductible customizable would make this policy more competitive with other companies - especially for older pets.
It can be hard to discern exactly how much you are paying for wellness care with this type of policy.
Custom Designed Veterinary Hospital Plans
Some veterinary hospitals are now offering their own wellness packages. A list of potential services are included - even free office visits and discounts on procedures and products. Oftentimes they allow you to pay for it on a monthly payment plan. Banfield has been doing this for years and other hospitals have patterned their plans accordingly. This is not insurance, but simply a prepaid wellness plan. Even with these plans, always ask if your pet really needs everything in the plan according to his or her life stage. Then determine if you are likely to come out ahead purchasing it vs. paying out-of-pocket.
You can view Banfield plans for dogs and cats.
One of the primary reasons veterinarians offer these plans is to bond you to their practice. In other words, the only place you can get these free or discounted services is at their hospital. However, realize if your pet needs to go to an emergency or specialty hospital, those freebies and discounts won’t apply. This is where a pet insurance policy that covers accidents and illnesses that can be used anywhere comes in handy. Wellness plans offered by insurance companies can also be used anywhere. I don't mean to imply that your vet's wellness plan is a bad deal for you and your pet - just be aware of the limitations as it relates to the big picture.
If you do get a wellness plan from your veterinarian or from an insurance company, pay attention to what’s included and how many of the potential benefits are actually necessary for your pet's lifestyle and life stage. Then, take advantage of it - don't leave any potential benefits unused. Otherwise, you are likely to pay more for the plan than you get out of it and you'll be better off just paying out-of-pocket.