All too often we see pets that need expensive tests or treatments, and the owners want to do all they can but are limited by their finances. I have been in that position myself, having to decide if I wanted to do radiation for a malignant mass on my dog, which would have cost over $6,000 if I did it. I elected not to do radiation for many reasons, but if I had pet insurance, that would have eliminated one inhibiting factor. So what about pet insurance? Can it help? Is is worth it?
Everyone needs to make their own decision, about if pet insurance is something they want to spend their money on. But I have seen lots of patients where the owners havingpet insurance has probably saved the pet’s life or at least allowed the pet to receive treatment it otherwise wouldn’t have.
So what are some things you need to think about before purchasing pet insurance?
**It is better to purchase the insurance when your pet is young. Most companies have exclusions or waiting periods on pre-existing conditions. So enrolling your pet before they have any illnesses is better.
**The costs involved typically include: monthly premium-this varies based on age and breed to pet as well as your location, deductible-this is something you can decide on, typically your monthly premium will be higher, if your deductible is lower, and co-pay-again you can typically choose the level you want the company to cover, but your monthly premium will increase with lower co-pays. Also keep in mind several of the companies do not cover the office exam fees.
**The pet’s owner is responsible for paying the costs up front (paying the veterinary office) and getting reimbursed for the costs. This is an important difference from your own health insurance! Also keep in mind, it is the pet owner’s responsibility to submit paperwork to the insurance company. The vet’s office will help as much as they can, but ultimately it is the pet owner who has to follow through to get reimbursed. Some companies are starting to offer direct reimbursement to the animal hospitals but this is still new.
**What is covered and how they reimburse varies with each insurance company. Some companies pay a flat percentage, others pay a fee per diagnosis, and some pay a pre determined amount for a treatment, typically the fee being based on the average for the area. And keep in mind they may not cover non traditional therapies and supplements. Some companies cap how much coverage they provide and others don’t.
** Pre-existing conditions are typically excluded. Congenital or common hereditary problems may be excluded (for example hip dysplasia in a lab). And some companies cover only accidents, some cover any accident or illness. Most plans do not cover wellness costs, but there are plans that will help supplement costs for wellness visits.
**Some people recommend taking the money you would pay to pet insurance and put this into a pet savings account. This is an excellent option, but keep in mind when your 6 month lab puppy swallows a toy, you may not have that much money saved yet! A foreign body surgery typically costs over $1500 and can go upwards very quickly.
So how much does pet insurance cost?
I asked for quotes for a dog and cat, and here are the results. For both pets and all insurance companies, I asked for $250 deductible, 90% coverage, and $10,000 (or unlimited if the company offered this) cap.
For a 4yr female shepherd, the monthly premium ranged from $42 per month to $85.59 per year with an average of $65 per month. The most expensive company has no caps on how much they will cover in a pet’s lifetime. If I paid for 12 years of premiums, this would cost me $9456 for the pet’s lifetime.
For an 9 month female Domestic Shorthair cat, the monthly premium ranged from $18.23 per month to $26.46 per month with an average of $21.51. If I paid for 15 years of premiums, this would cost me $3871 for the pet’s lifetime.
If you are thinking about pet insurance, do your research on the companies, talk to friends about who they use, and do the math. It can be really valuable. It is nice to have that comfort of pet insurance when your best friend is not feeling well!
Boo Donoho, DVM
Southern Animal Hospital