Your Pet Insurance Probably Won’t Cover Required Vaccines. Here’s Why

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What’s the deal with pet insurance not covering required vaccines?


Key points

  • Many people are used to health insurance covering preventive care, but pet insurance works differently.
  • Your pet insurance policy most likely won’t cover vaccines even though they are required.
  • Some pet insurance policies offer wellness add-ons that may cover preventive care.

Pet owners are likely well aware that their companion animals need many different annual vaccines. Some of these, like the rabies shot, are required by law. And others are recommended in order to help keep animals safe from common diseases that could be fatal.

Owners may be surprised, however, to find that most pet insurance policies do not cover these vaccines. That means they’ll have to pay for them with a credit card or out of a bank account with no reimbursement.

Here’s why that’s the case.

Pet insurance plans work differently than human insurance

Sometimes, people expect pet insurance to cover vaccines because they compare it to human health insurance.

Typically, human health insurance is really good at covering preventive care — including vaccines like the COVID-19 shot or flu shot. In fact, under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (better known as Obamacare), most health insurance plans are actually required to cover a wide range of immunizations.

Pet health insurance is not subject to these regulations, though. And typically, pet health insurance does not cover preventive care or vaccines, and instead expressly exclude these types of expenses.

Vaccines and routine exams are considered “wellness care,” while the standard pet insurance policy generally limits coverage to accidents and injuries. The policies are there if pets fall ill and need treatment, but they are not there to pay for everything a companion animal needs — including vaccines designed to keep pets healthy.

Getting used to this big shift from human health insurance may be hard for some pet owners, but it’s important to know the rules upfront before getting covered so there are no unpleasant surprises later. Even after buying a policy and paying premiums, owners will need to budget for routine annual exams, vaccines, and other health services not related to treating problems.

Is it possible to get vaccines covered?

While a typical pet insurance policy is not going to pay for vaccines that animals require, owners may have the option to buy coverage that will offer this type of protection.

A number of pet health insurance providers offer a wellness rider, or wellness add-on, to accident and injury plans. If owners choose to add wellness coverage, they will pay extra premiums in exchange for supplementary coverage in addition to their accident and illness plans.

Add-on wellness plans should cover vaccines, exams, and more. They can provide the predictability of knowing that insurance is going to pay for vet bills even when an animal is not facing serious health issues.

It’s important, though, for owners to read the fine print of these policies, fully understand exactly what they cover, and make sure they provide enough value to be worthwhile. In many situations, the added premiums are substantial and the coverage is limited, so health plans are often not worth the money being charged for them.

Instead of springing for wellness coverage, owners may instead want to just save the added money they would have paid for premiums and add it to a special savings account where they put money earmarked for covering predictable veterinary costs throughout the year. This can be a better value and it’s easy to do, since the costs of vaccines won’t usually come as a surprise.

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