Wednesday Wellness: The 411 on Pet Insurance

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It's hard to believe that as a pet owner for many years that I am just now thinking about getting pet health insurance. Before I get all embarrassed about that confession (or drag you down with shared guilt) apparently, we are not alone. Even though 65% of American households own a dog or a cat, only 1% have insurance. In the UK, however, 25% of pets are insured. In fact, Brits are more likely to have pet insurance than for their human children!

"Unsure at the Vet" by drcw.

Now that I am a single parent, the thought of an unexpected expense is pretty scary. I don't want to have to be put in the position of choosing to go into deep debt or putting a very ill pet down. And I have been faced with such a choice. In the past, when I'd had a large vet bill, I was encouraged by my now ex that putting the puppy down for a broken leg was preferable. Instead, I was offered a vet payment loan through an independent company, and took that route to save Anna. I found the interest rate to be very difficult to deal with. So I don't want to do that again!

A Growing Industry

Courtesy of ManhattenCatSpecialist.

Americans increasingly view their pets as family members and pet health insurance is a reflection of that attitude. Baby boomers, in particular, are boosting the pet insurance industry. Their children have left the home and often their offspring are delaying in supplying them with grandchildren, which leaves their pets as the recipients of their doting attentions.

Veterinary offices are responding by becoming more specialized in designer treatments that would rival a human hospital to meet the demand of pet parents wanting similar treatments that would be available to people.  Pet oncology, hip replacements, extensive lab work, and other previously unheard of procedures are becoming commonplace, and veterinary practices are being stretched thin to try to stay current with available pet care technologies. Often these advanced procedures come with a hefty price tag, with inflation for general pet care increasing to keep the practice afloat.

So it's easy to see why pet insurance is particularly valuable in modern times, especially if basic procedures are going to go up to accommodate designer care. With policies ranging from $10 to $100 a month, depending on the breadth of coverage, there is a policy for everyone.

Pet Insurance Versus Human Insurance

Pet insurance is different from human insurance in several ways. First, only health insurance is available for pets, not life. There are no networks in which you must have your pet treated. Choose your vet and your pet insurance will reimburse covered expenses. Humans don't generally use a reimbursement program as they do with pet care. Pet insurance is simply a way to soften the expenses incurred for pet care, not necessarily as a way of saving money.

So Why Not Just Have a Savings Account?

Savings accounts are a great idea, but often we are not disciplined enough to put money in them or to leave it alone if other needs come up. They are also not terribly helpful if a cat or dog is young as the $200 you have had time to save may not add up to much towards an expensive procedure.

Not All Plans are Alike

Do your research carefully! It is important to know what is covered and which treatments are excluded. Cheaper policies might not cover cancer care. It's also important to know your dog. Is your dog accident prone? Is their breed noted for particular medical conditions? Is your pet elderly? These things affect your decision. Often pets over 9 are less likely to be covered, and pets with preexisting conditions are not covered either. So with those facts, I now know my dogs would be ineligible since they are older, but my cats Cali and Ms. Boo would be great candidates, though being indoor cats, they have fewer risks for medical problems.

Some employers are beginning to offer pet insurance as part of their employee packages. I believe Ms. Boo may launch another campaign towards our HR department to make this happen! In the meantime, here is a thorough resource we will be exploring that has helpful insights into the various companies: Pet Insurance University.

Readers, Ring In!

Photo by Mr Thinktank

Have you had any experiences with pet insurance that our readers and I might like to hear about? What are the things that are important to you when considering your pet's health?

Featured "Cone of Shame" photo by Aidras.

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Christy on May 16 at 1:58 PM said:

Thank-you for your blog post. I have been considering insurance for my 1 year old shar-pei Daisy. She is (along with my 14 year old son Josh) the love of my life and would do anything to keep her healthy and safe!! I need to find a reputable company and get going on her pet insurance!! Thanks so much...Christy
Phyllis on May 16 at 3:12 PM said:

I have looked into insurance also, however, very confusing. My Jaxson broke his leg when he was 7 months old (he is now 2yrs) and they will not cover anything on that particular leg...not even the patella and he is a yorkie. They also will not cover any other legs as well!!!! Too many exclusions, and that goes for ALL insurance companies I've investigated. It's a shame they advertise to have the insurance and then they don't to pay for anything.....If anyone knows of a GOOD company...let me in on it...LOL!
Melissa on May 16 at 6:55 PM said:

I appreciate the post and discussion! Searching for insurance is confusing and very limiting. I ALWAYS take a look at the options but have never pulled the trigger and actually purchased for my two 5 year-old fur-babies. They, too, are Yorkies and have found coverage to be limited. I've paid for surgeries, dental cleaning, and regular visits. Thankfully no major accidents or health surprises...yet. I try my best to be preventative in their care and I'm still looking, still interested, still lost in the process. Perhaps companies will take notice of the interest and frustration of potential customers and make changes in how they operate?
Monica R Nadela on May 17 at 10:05 AM said:

I got pet insurance for my yorkie after my oldest one was in and out of a hospital for a year... You can imagine the amount of the bill. But we love our dogs and we will do whatever is in my hands to keep them healthy and happy. So we got the insurance for Max 2 years ago and so far it's gas been good. I made my balance at the end if the year and I end up saving about 300 dollars. Since a I got routine care too now I feel more urged to take my dog twice a year for a check-up since I'm already paying for it. Having per insurance gives me the peace of mind that I will be reimbursed for part of their treatment in case of an emergency o disease. I wish it will work more like human insurance so we can save a bit more money.
Suzi on May 18 at 12:30 PM said:

I've been really happy with PetPlan (and they rate at the top on the great website petinsurancereview.com) As for pre-existing conditions, I think they might not cover injuries related to Jaxson's pre-existing broken leg, however, I doubt they would exclude all other injuries (although I'm not 100% positive, you'd have to ask them) but I'm pretty positive they would not exclude other legs from problems. Anyway, I think they are worth checking into -- they've treated me very fairly and equitably in the past and I've always gotten straight answers from them when I had questions. Might be worth spending a 15 minute phone call to find out if they would be right for you. (http://www.gopetplan.com/contact-us) Best of luck!!
Suzi on May 18 at 1:14 PM said:

Petplan has no upper age limit for coverage. Also, they cover congenital conditions as long as they aren't presenting when you get the insurance.. If you get the 100% coverage, they pretty much cover everything but routine care (vaccinations, dental cleaning, spay/neuter). The first year we had the insurance we paid about $450 for the insurance and received over $2000 in reimbursements. I referred my in-laws to PetPlan and they got coverage for their 8 year old dog, who ended up with a terminal cancer about a year later. The insurance covered all that they had promised and even sent them a very nice condolence note when their dog passed away from the illness. I've been very impressed with the company and all the representatives I've ever dealt with. Each time my dog has been ill and I've called with a question about the claim (which has only been a handful of times) I've been struck how the phone rep will inquire about my dog's health and tell me they hope she's feeling better now. How many times has my own health insurance person said that? Anyway, can't recommend them enough!
Kath on May 23 at 2:45 PM said:

I spent a long time calling every one of the pet plans listed on the internet : Result: EMBRACE PET INSURANCE PETPLAN HEALTHY PAWS Banfield Hospital Wellness Coverage is Great if you have a facility around your area along with major coverage insurance tied to another group, but unfortunately wellness is out for us unless we pay a lot for coverage! All depends on your deductible, and if you want wellness....but when you recognize that some only cover at a certain limit and drop you and others cover you for the lifetime of your dog it is easy to make a choice! It took me days to wade through all the plans, and the above is the best results for us when we get our pup! YOU MUST READ CAREFULLY particularly for a aged pet where most of the problems are seen!
Mary on May 27 at 2:24 PM said:

Thanks for your input. It sounds like you've done a lot of research. Great advice. :)
Joanne Curtis on May 28 at 2:04 PM said:

I realize it is very sad that so many owners of pets do not have insurance for them. But, so many humans do not have insurance either. Some families can hardly put food on the table, barely have enough money if they are lucky to buy food for their cat or dog. Our children have adopted dogs and I think it is wonderful, they have pet insurance as well.
Dog and Bird Houses » Blog Archive &raq on June 9 at 2:03 AM said:

[...] VeterinarianPet Insurance policy Evaluations – Escalating Purchaser Self confidenceWednesday Wellness: The 411 on Pet Insurance // 0) { //0==expires on browser close var cdate = new Date(); [...]
Wellness Wednesday: How Often Should My Pet G on September 26 at 5:01 AM said:

[...] clinics for routine care such as spaying/neutering and vaccinations. Also consider investing in pet insurance to help defray unexpected costs. Many programs cover yearly exams, which could help ensure catching [...]
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