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Pet Insurance – Pros and Cons
by Jim and Laura Hofman
The deep emotional bond we share with our dogs and cats is one of life’s most simple pleasures. In return for unconditional love, many pet owners do everything they can to ensure our pets have long, productive, and healthy lives.
Veterinary science has kept up with our willingness to provide life long quality healthcare for our special friends. Treatments and diagnostic procedures once unheard of in the veterinary world are now commonplace: MRIs, radiation therapy, and specialized screenings, to name but a few.
Veterinary Care Inflation and the Effect on Your Wallet
Much like the human health care sector, medical care breakthroughs result in higher costs for vets and pet owners alike. Conservatively, veterinary costs have risen over 60% in the past five years, per the American Kennel Club. Conditions that normally went undiagnosed and untreated are now becoming routine.
While veterinary medical advances extend our pet’s quality of life, the financial impact for pet owners cannot be overlooked.
Recently, our neighbor’s German Shephard “Duke” suffered from hip dysplacia. Duke is now happily on the mend, but not until his owners paid over $2000 in vet bills. Another friend’s cat “Missy” developed a stubborn kidney infection at 18 months which required extensive diagnostic and follow up treatment. Our friend was amazed at Missy’s vets proficiency, but the $1400+ in costs left our friend juggling her finances to pay the vet bills.
What is Pet Insurance, and Does it Make Sense For You?
Pet insurance has been around for decades in Europe, but is relatively uncommon in the United States and Canada. Much like health insurance for us, pet insurance drastically reduces the risk of caring for your pet. Perhaps most importantly, it can eliminate the heart wrenching decision of euthanizing your pet vs. incurring a large financial hardship.
There are several different pet insurance companies. Some policies pay for all types of veterinary care. Others pay only for accidents and illnesses. Some will cover your pet regardless of age, while certain plans have numerous deductibles and restrictions.
Anyone considering pet insurance should ask themselves this question: “Will I devote a reasonable amount of time and money to treat and heal my pet?”. If your answer is “yes”, you’re a good candidate for pet insurance. Sadly, many pet owners are forced to choose between finances and their pet’s health. Worse, other pet owners view their pets as disposable, and simply won’t treat the animal if it becomes too ill.
Typical Plans and Costs
Most pet insurance plans offer coverage for as low as $10 per month. Typically, there is a $50 deductible, and an annual cap of about $10,000. Pet insurance plans for senior pets (normally 8 years and older) will run a bit more, normally $29.95 per month. Costs for cats and dogs generally run the same.
Remember, pet insurance is designed to help you and your pet through significant illnesses and injuries. It’s easy to budget for routine expenses like annual check-ups, shots, flea preventative, etc. Some pet insurance plans offer discounts on routine care, but be prepared to use a contracted (network) veterinarian, similar to a PPO/HMO set up for humans.
Two Real Life Financial Examples
A business associate told us of his two beloved pets, 6 year old cat “Whiskers” and his 12 year old border collie mix “Diamond”. Whiskers was diagnosed with an ongoing respiratory ailment, and just a few months later, Diamond was found to have a malignant tumor and needed immediate treatment. Luckily, he had taken out pet insurance on both pets just weeks before Whiskers’ visit to the vet. With coverage through Instant Pet Insurance, he was paying $9.95/mo. for Whiskers and $29.95/mo. for Diamond, less a small multi-pet discount. All told, Whiskers veterinary bills totaled $1330, and Diamond racked up an $1100 tab.
Fortunately, he was reimbursed $1280 for Whiskers, and $900 for Diamond, accounting for a normal $50 deductible for an adult cat and a $200 senior dog deductible. Therefore, instead of an unplanned $2430 veterinary expense, his total cost was only $250.
Do Your Homework
There are several pet insurers in the marketplace, so do your homework and make sure your policy is right for your pet. If you feel comfortable budgeting for routine annual costs like check-ups, immunizations, flea preventative, etc. there’s no need to pay for routine coverage.
Our experience as pet owners and animal lovers has shown us that most pets will require some form of unexpected medical treatment in their lifetimes. If it’s important to you as a pet owner to be prepared, consider taking out a pet insurance policy. Here are some special factors to look for when taking out a pet insurance policy:
- Guaranteed Acceptance, no matter the age of your pet.
- The ability to use the veterinarian of your choosing.
- Fixed Premiums and Deductibles. Make sure your premium doesn’t increase along with the age of your pet.
- Unlimited Accident Coverage
- Comprehensive Coverage of Veterinary Services – some pet insurers exclude common hereditary conditions for certain breeds.
- State Licensing – Make sure your pet insurer is licensed.
About The Author
Laura and Jim Hofman are animal advocates, volunteers for animal organizations and fund raisers for local animal welfare groups, with a special affinity for the well being of senior pets.
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