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The Truth About Pet Health Insurance

sick dog

When 6-year-old Labrador Retriever, Misty, went in for a routine spay, she didn’t recover as expected. Transferred to a University Veterinary Teaching Hospital, it was discovered Misty had a very rare complication of her spleen, requiring its removal. During the 10-day period to save Msity's life, she receive 26 units of plasma and 9 units of blood from 30 donor dogs. Her bill totaled more than $18,000 of which her pet health insurance  paid $14,500.

When my previous Cocker Spaniel, Brandy Noel, was diagnosed with a stage II mast cell tumor (cancer), surgery, treatment, and followup care totaled over $3,000. Our pet insurance covered 80 percent of that and we had our reimbursement check within 30 days.

Like their human counterparts, we never know when the need for health insurance will arise. Dogs suffer accidents, injuries, mishaps and unexpected diagnoses as we all do. Dog parents know all too well the sacrifices made in the name of dog. They rely on us, but will the funds be there when the time comes? I am of the “if my dog needs it, I will do it no matter what” mantra. However, having pet health insurance in place can be a lifesaver, literally.

For many, pet health insurance is becoming a viable option. Knowing the insurance is there for routine usage as well as emergency situations or disease diagnosis and treatment means most of all, peace of mind. With so many different insurances available, just where does one start? Is it worth it? How much will it cost? Fidose of Reality has the pet insurance scoop, as we are nearly 20-years pet insurance policy holders.

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Considerations and Tips on Pet Insurance

According to Ting Pen of Value Penguin, pet insurance is largely similar to health insurance for people. The primary benefits pet insurance will give you are: a financial investment towards your pet's health, and a priceless peace of mind that their medical needs will be seen to.Pet insurance plans come in multiple and creative shapes, sizes, and sums. This is why it is extremely important to compare pet insurance plans to make sure you’re getting the coverage for your investment. You can start with a pet insurance comparison tool like ValuePenguin’s to look at different quotes within your budget, then dive into their benefit coverage and exclusions to see what makes sense for your pet. To guide you through the complexity of pet health insurance policies, Ting Pen shared below five tips:

Five Tips on Pet Insurance

·         Accident and Illness coverage makes the most sense: Consider getting coverage for accidents and illnesses as a safe baseline. While coverage for accidents can be the cheapest option for your budget, keep in mind the below points in beginning to assess what is sensible for your family. It’s reasonable to expect that at some point, your pet is going to have at least one of each. Generally speaking, the peace of mind with this base coverage on average can range from $20 – $40 a month, but this varies with features and where you live. As for wellness, you know the routine care your pet undergoes better than anyone. Does the additional premium each month adequately cover your pets routine care?

·         Understand your plan deductibles and limits: There are creative ways to structure benefit payments, and I’ll talk about them in terms of floors and ceilings. Most plans require you to spend a minimum amount before they start reimbursing your veterinary expenses, and this is the deductible. The tricky part is whether there is a true plan-wide deductible, or whether the plan has individual deductibles for different categories. On to ceilings: this is known as the policy limit. Is there an annual, incident, or lifetime limit? If a pet has cancer, which can require multiple rounds of treatment and therapy, is the insurance only covering up to $1,000 per year or $2,500 for the lifetime limit?

·         Research your pet’s breed history: See if there are any genetic conditions or illnesses he or she is predisposed to, and check that the insurer covers that medical event for your dog. Some plans will only cover hereditary or congenital diseases if your pet is enrolled prior to his or her second birthday.

·         Read the fine print, especially on what gets covered. I found insurers who excluded different items from their claims reimbursements. Do companies cover the vet office visit fee, the diagnosis and treatment fees, and prescription medications? It is important to compare policies from different pet insurers you're considering.

·         Insure your pet sooner rather than later: Insurance providers start phasing older dogs out of general medical coverage, and this can begin as early as six years of age. They also universally don’t cover pre-existing conditions, so by the time Fido or Kitty develops something, it will likely be too late to get a plan that will pay for their diagnosis and treatment.

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 Here are some additional questions Fidose of Reality recommends you review before making a decision on pet insurance:

  • Find out what's covered and what isn't. In addition, ask how much of an illness will be covered and are there any financial or pre-existing considerations? How quickly are claims paid and is my breed covered? What are my deductibles and how quickly can I expect the claims to be paid?
  • Is routine wellness care covered?  Will rates increase? Are medicines and prescriptions covered? What about holistic veterinary care?
  • Is there a discount for multiple pet households? Why might I be denied coverage? Is my pet covered if they travel with me? Any exclusions? What are the annual limits for vet fees?
  • Are there any illness or accident caps? Can I ever be dropped from the plan? Do my out-of-pocket expenses increase every year? Does the policy increase as my dog ages?
  • Can I make payments each month? Are there layers of plans/choices? Is there a waiting period?

As pet parents, knowing pet health insurance is available is all the reassurance some people need. For more information check out our sidebar of some of the main pet health insurances available as of this printing. Each individual can decide what plan is best for their unique situation.

badge-fidose-of-realityDo you have pet health insurance? What has been your experience? Bark at us below in the comments.

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9 Comments

  1. Great post! We think pet insurance is so very important as before you know it an accident or illness can be thousands of dollars. We went with VPI but have heard lots of great things about Trupanion. Since we have been on the same plan for several years and my sister is older we will stick with what we have. The point about what it covers is a good one too as we don’t have basic care, but it covers ear infections, cancer, accidents, etc. For what mom pays a year in deductibles we almost always get back with the little issues my sister and I end up having each year!

  2. Thank you for this information. I really need to consider getting pet insurance. Maya is about to be six years old. She is still young, but she is getting older and I want to make sure I can do all I can for her if something comes up.

  3. My experience with pet insurance has been abysmal. They’re ok with the little stuff, but when the big bill came in (around $1,800), they paid about 20%. I won’t go into detail, but I found that they will fight you on everything. After all, they are in business to make a profit. And it’s off your animal.

    1. That is too bad, Ted. For over 20 years my experiences with VPI have been amazing. 80% of the cancer treatment and everything else. I love them.

  4. I think another factor to consider is also how many dogs you have. When I lived in NYC, where vet bills are very high, the relatively low cost of pet insurance for one dog was well worth it. However, now I live in a rural area where veterinary care is much more reasonably priced and the premiums for three dogs, two of which are older, seem exorbitant. A little over a year ago I realized that the odds worked in my favor if I canceled the coverage and left the premium money in the bank instead. Of course, I’m gambling that something catastrophic won’t happen, but after years of paying premiums for insurance I never needed, it feels like a safe bet.

    1. I know when my Brandy had mast cell cancer, the pet health insurance covered 80 percent of her expenses and the premium only went up slightly. It decreased when she had a less “illness filled” year. I have thought about the premium money going into a bank account before, too, Jenna, but reality always seems to take hold of me. My dog’s recent ACL treatment (conventional), laser therapy and stifle brace were covered at nearly 80 percent with no premium increase. Of course, we’ve maxed out that incident but I feel really good about the decision to stay with the pet health insurance. Having had it about 20 years, I really wouldn’t go without it. Of course, I’d sell my lungs for my dog, but it helps to have the insurance for us.

      1. I completely understand. I should probably knock on wood before typing this, but it sounds like you’re at the unluckiest end of the spectrum and I’m at the luckiest. If I’d had all those expensive things happen, I’d be kicking myself for giving up my pet insurance!

        1. In retrospect, I totally agree, Jenna. I consider pet health insurance “catastrophe insurance” just in case a big thing goes wrong. Here’s to good health for all!

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