Many pet owners rely on pet insurance to cover them monetarily in the case of any unanticipated illnesses and injuries, but others also decide to enroll their pets in wellness plans.
It's crucial to understand that a wellness plan and a pet insurance plan are two entirely different things. Unlike pet health insurance, which is intended to help cover the costs associated with unanticipated veterinary visits, including diagnosis, treatment, and medications, wellness plans are intended for routine veterinary care that you know your pet will require.
Navigating different insurance products might be confusing and difficult for some pet owners. That’s why in this post, we’re outlining the differences between pet wellness plans and pet insurance and explaining how to find the best wellness option for your furry family member. Here’s what we’ll cover:
Also called a routine care or preventive care plan, a pet wellness plan is an add-on to the insurance policy that helps pet owners pay for routine checkups and other preventative treatments that might reduce future health concerns in their pets.
Wellness plans come in different shapes and sizes. Some can be purchased on their own, while others can only be added to a standard pet insurance coverage. They may be structured as a defined benefit schedule or work based on a reimbursement rate. Depending on the provider, there also may be different tiers of coverage available for purchase.
Since all pet wellness programs increase the cost of your monthly premium, it's important to research exactly what they cover and if you and your pet will benefit from them.
Most pet wellness programs use a reimbursement model, which means that pet owners pay for services as they are rendered and then send an invoice to the provider for reimbursement.
Instead of paying a single sum at your yearly or semi-annual wellness appointment, wellness plans are designed to spread out the expenses of preventive care over the course of the year. Wellness plans are often offered in tiers, allowing pet parents to choose the one that most closely matches the level of care they expect their pet will need. The range of services covered and the maximum amount of reimbursement will often increase along with the monthly payments.
Most wellness plans are added as riders to the pet insurance policy and are different from those that pet parents can purchase from a specific vet office. Many veterinarian clinics offer wellness programs to make their services more accessible to clients, which in turn allows you to care for multiple pets at the same clinic. With a pet wellness rider added to your pet health insurance policy, you have the ability to take your four-legged friend to any licensed vet across the US.
Each plan’s coverage is unique but in general, you can expect your wellness plan to cover traditional routine pet healthcare costs. Covered treatments/procedures may include:
What your wellness plan will cover depends on the provider. For instance, Pets Best wellness plans have two tiers. The EssentialWellness plan offers up to $305 in total annual benefits while the BestWellness™ plan offers up to $535. Both offer a fixed benefit schedule with no deductible, meaning your capped at how much you can get repaid for the cost of spay/neuter surgery, flea/tick preventives, or teeth cleaning.
Embrace Pet Insurance, on the other hand, has a flexible wellness program for pets called Wellness Rewards with no pre-determined benefit schedule. There are three different options for annual reimbursement amounts ($250, $450, and $650) and can get you a $25 annual reward, but the policy can’t be purchased on its own.
Most standard pet insurance policies in the US (82%) do not cover routine care.1 Some, but not all, pet insurance providers offer complementary wellness plans. Others, like Healthy Paws and Trupanion, only offer medical insurance for pets. Insurance is meant to provide financial security while wellness plans are intended to work as a budgeting tool for pet care costs you know you will incur.
of pet insurance policies in the U.S. do not cover routine care
There are a few key differences between pet insurance and pet wellness plans to consider:
Wellness plans allow you to adopt a more proactive approach to your pet’s care by paying a small monthly amount for planned veterinary services. The main difference with pet insurance is that it’s designed to help cover unplanned veterinary services from visits related to:
Pet insurance can also help pay for diagnostic tests, surgeries and hospitalizations, imaging, prescription medications, alternative therapies, and behavioral modification — all of which can be extremely expensive out-of-pocket.
However, while insurance coverage is crucial for minimizing exposure to unforeseen veterinary expenses, your policy will not cover anticipated costs related to annual wellness exams, vaccinations, and preventative care. Pet wellness plans can help fill this gap in coverage by offsetting the costs of routine care.
The amount a pet insurance plan will cover for vet bills depends on the policy’s predetermined reimbursement rate (typically between 60 to 100%). Reimbursements are also capped by the policy’s maximum payout limit, which usually resets each year but can also be capped by condition or by lifetime. You also must pay for vet costs out-of-pocket until you’ve reached your deductible amount, then you can file a claim to get reimbursed.
Wellness plans, by comparison, do not require a deductible. Payout limits are generally much smaller since preventive care typically costs much less than pet medical treatments, especially in the case of emergencies.
The cost of an annual pet insurance policy is known as the “premium rate,” which is typically billed on a monthly basis throughout the course of the year (although some providers offer pet insurance discounts for paying the annual amount in full). This cost is separate from the money you spend on veterinary services and, therefore, does not count toward your deductible.
Alternatively, pet wellness plans, alternatively, you pay a monthly premium and get reimbursement for your pet’s covered treatments. With a wellness plan, on the other hand, you can pay for your pet's package of services in monthly or annual installments.
Finally, policy coverage is not effective until the mandatory waiting period has passed. The time period you must wait until your coverage is effective depends on the provider and the plan you choose. Pet insurance kicks in for accidents and illnesses within the first 30 days (and in some cases sooner),
Wellness plans, by comparison, have much shorter waiting periods — coverage is often effective immediately.
Ultimately, wellness plans for pets are designed to make owners more proactive about their pet’s health and fill a gap in coverage for costs not covered by insurance policies.
Pet insurance won’t cover the cost of spaying or neutering a dog or cat (unless a veterinarian considers it an urgent medical need). It also doesn’t cover the management of general periodontal disease in dogs and cats, since teeth cleanings are considered to be a part of routine care.
There are a few other categories that neither pet insurance nor wellness plans will pay for, including:
Neither an insurance policy nor a wellness plan will cover the following:
Read the policy carefully and if you have any questions, get in touch with the provider, because coverage details can be confusing. For instance, while some policies will cover the exam fees for sick pets, most will not pay for annual wellness exams for pets with no illness.
Remember that every provider is different; while some may include complementary therapies such as acupuncture and chiropractic under the umbrella of insurance coverage, others may require a separate wellness plan to pay for these services.
Before making a purchase, be certain that you are well aware of what is and is not covered to avoid being surprised by unexpected medical expenses.
Pet insurance, on the other hand, covers a wide array of non-routine treatments, including the following:
Yes, you can get a standalone wellness plan for your pet from companies like Wagmo, Banfield Pet Hospital, Petco, and at private vet practices. These organizations offer wellness plans as affordable year-long packages for pet preventive veterinary care.
However, purchasing only a wellness plan might not be the best solution; a wellness plan is a compliment, not an alternative to pet health insurance. While a pet wellness plan is a great option for pet parents who are devoted to their pet's healthcare routine and would prefer to divide the cost of this usual care out into easy-to-manage monthly payments, pet insurance offers financial safety in the case of unforeseen illnesses, injuries, or accidents which can easily cost anywhere from $800 to $1,500 or more.2
A pet insurance policy is especially recommended if you have a breed that is predisposed to genetic diseases, or if you anticipate that your pet may need more frequent medical attention in the future. If you have a senior pet, a breed with a history of health problems, or you can afford both options, think about getting a pet insurance policy with a wellness add-on.
Wellness plans can be worth the cost, as they offer an excellent way to save money on vet bills. However, keep in mind that not all plans are the same, so it is best to discuss the best option for your four-legged friend with your vet before enrolling. As mentioned before, most pet insurance companies offer some sort of wellness plan, although the coverage provided by some is more extensive than others.
Get a quote for pet health insurance with a preventive care option included and add it to your policy at checkout with Pawlicy Advisor. If you already have a pet insurance policy, find out how much it would cost to add preventive care. This is the best way to ensure that both expected and unforeseen veterinary costs will be covered for your pet.
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Kari Steere is a licensed P&C insurance agent in all 50 states and has focused entirely on pet insurance since 2019. As an animal lover with a rescued Terrier named Barry, when she's not helping pet owners find the perfect plan on Pawlicy Advisor, she runs a ranch in Oregon and rehabilitates any animals that come across her path.