Not a day goes by when a pet owner doesn’t ask me, “Should I get pet health insurance for Rover?” or “Do you think veterinary pet insurance is worth it?” or “Will dog health insurance help now that he was diagnosed with…” The veterinary profession is torn about pet insurance. I hope I can answer some of your questions and provide resources to help you decide if pet health insurance is for you. Please feel free to comment on your experiences that you feel would be helpful to others looking to protect their loved companion and make decisions along these lines. I welcome any questions also.
When a veterinarian or physician recommends a treatment or diagnostic plan, it should be because he/she feels there is benefit from the such and cares enough about you and your pet to offer it. Your veterinarian/physician should not offer treatment or with hold treatment recommendations based only on what an insurance company or you will pay. Unfortunately, this is what often happens in the medical profession at no fault of the MD’s.
Insurance companies are big business. They do not know or care about you or your pet. They work on the basis of maximizing profits. At this time, pet health insurance does not involve third party payments which means you pay your vet bill in full and then submit the invoice with the diagnosis to the insurance company for reimbursement. The profession is worried that as insurance becomes more popular, the same that has happened in the medical profession will happen in the veterinary field and it isn’t all good.
What is pet health insurance?
None the less, there are definite benefits to pet health insurance. Let us start by defining what it really is.
Pet health insurance is a type of indemnity insurance, that is a risk sharing of sorts. If your pet is super healthy, you pay the premiums and you never see the money again. However, if your pet has an accident and requires $5000 of surgery, the pet insurance company could pay up to 90% of that after whatever your deductible is.
Pet health insurance is more like dental insurance in that you will end up paying more than just a copay, as with most medical insurance, but a great deal less than if you didn’t have it at all. Or like car insurance. If you are a safe driver, how much do you pay your insurance company each year that you are unlikely to redeem? Beside the fact that you can’t register an uninsured car, would you really risk being without car insurance?
Could pet health insurance save you money? Yes, it could but you should not think of it that way but rather as a way to ease the blow of a big, sudden and unexpected financial obligation.
WHO SHOULD GET PET HEALTH INSURANCE?
If your pet ran out in the middle of the street and got hit by a car right now, would you be able to take out your credit card at the emergency room and put down a 50% deposit of $2000-3000 and pay the rest of the invoice 2-3 days later? If not, would you be ok with having your pet euthanized right there and then even though your pet could be saved and live out its full life if treated? These are hard questions, huh? Moreover, you are making these types of decision in a highly charged, emotional situation when you are not at your logical best.
If you answered ‘no problem’ to the first question, you do not need (but you may still want) veterinary pet insurance. If you answered, no to the first and yes to the second, you also do not need pet health insurance but just note that even if you did decide to humanely euthanize your pet, your bill is still likely to be in the $500-600 range after the initial critical care and evaluation.
If however, the thought of having to euthanize your family pet due to your inability to handle the financial obligation is a major concern, then you should definitely consider pet insurance. What about regular maintenance care – can pet health insurance help with those costs? Yes, but it may not be worth it. What is definitely worth it, in my opinion, is illness and chronic conditions coverage and companies differ on how they handle these.
In case of wellness, most companies have a schedule for what they will pay for say a physical exam, a rabies shot, a fecal, a heart worm test, etc and offer such care as an add on. Because most insurance companies do not pay for the actual cost, when you do the math, you may end up paying the same or more if you add up your monthly premiums plus what you paid the vet minus what they reimbursed you. Get your last annual check up invoice from yourvet and actually do the math.
My most important piece of advice is DO YOUR RESEARCH. Know exactly what you are buying before you purchase and make sure you ask these very important questions to every insurance company you review.
Some companies do not offer wellness care coverage.
OTHER OPTIONS OR COMBINATIONS
So if not insurance, what? How can you assure that you are ready for what ever happens? Let me put it this way. Are you one of those lucky people who diligently saved for college from the moment your children were born? Good, for the two of you that answered yes, this one is for you. It is called ‘saving’ money. For the rest of you, hang in there, I assure you, it actually can be done!!!!!
This is what I would suggest. You buy a puppy(or kitten, bunny, bird, hamster) and you immediately get a few insurance quotes from two or three of the companies on the chart. They tell you, for example, that it will cost you $18/month for wellness and $35/month for illness and catastrophic insurance. You then immediately open a savings or money market account with $100, link it to your checking account and every month you put $53 into it. When you have enough, may be you can play with cds or other investment vehicles to increase the interest earned, remembering that it needs to stay pretty accessible at all times.
When you incur a vet expense, you pay it with your checking account and then do an on line transfer from your pets account to reimburse yourself. That way you wouldn’t loose $3180 worth of premiums in 5 years if your pet doesn’t need it. And in there lies the catch, the big IF!!!
If at the age of two your puppy swallows a bread knife…it is going to cost a lot more than you have saved. If you have the extra cash or can throw it on a credit card, no problem. Otherwise you need to ask yourself if you are feeling lucky…”Well, are you punk?”
So how about a mixture of the two. Hey, that may not be a bad idea. You start an account with $100 when you buy the pet and put $18/month in it to cover your annual veterinary bills for maintenance and health. You will save $216/year which is not bad and will help. Since the unforeseen does occasionally occur,having illness/accident insurance to supplement this will help give you peace of mind. We at The Family Pet Hospital will soon (by the end of the month if all goes well) be launching our Basic and Comprehensive Wellness Plans which will allow you to pay for wellness services for your pets in easy monthly installments.
And how about adding Care Credit to the mix? If you do, you could pay your bill with Care Credit and you have 6-12months of interest free financing which gives you plenty of time to get your reimbursement check from the insurance and pay it off. AAAHH, all is well that ends well:)
It is absolutely gut wrenching to have to make a difficult euthanasia decision due to finances. Euthanasia is a hard decision in and of itself without adding the extra weight and guilt to it.
Is pet health insurance for you? It takes some soul searching and researching. Like with anything else, you need to do what makes sense for you and your situation but, if you love your pet and want peace of mind, it makes a lot of sense to look at the following pages, contact some insurance companies and ask them some tough questions.
In my professional experience, insured pets are healthier pets and their owners are also more relaxed about their pet’s care and more willing to do the preventative medicine, dentistry and/or surgery that will keep their pets healthier for longer. We are currently recommending Trupanion Insurance to our clients as they seem to pay out the most for each claim and over the lifetime of the pet. However, no insurance company will pay for preexisting conditions. So the time to sign up is NOW. I have been signing 30 day trials for all my patients who get a clean bill of health. If they activate within 24 hours of my signing, they avoidany waiting periods and they are covered for 30 days without obligation. That means if they leave my practice, sign up and the next day swallow a golf ball, the surgery will get 90% covered minus the deductible. If at the end of 30 days they decide not to continue they simply fall off their system, no questions asked. Pretty good way to get people to at least look and learn.