24 Apr Is Pet Insurance Worth IT?
As a loving dog owner, I have often wondered if pet insurance is worth the monthly fee to have peace of mind when the unexpected happens. There are many companies to choose from, but which is most reliable? What does pet insurance cover? Better yet, what does it not cover? The alternative to pet insurance is proactively budgeting for veterinary expenses down the line. The catch is, we can’t gaze into a crystal ball and predict our pet’s future health needs. An emergency visit could range anywhere from $200-5,000+, depending on the incident. Without insurance, that money is all out-of-pocket. If budgeting veterinary funds is a realistic plan without sacrificing quality of care, pet insurance may not be necessary. However, a veterinary budget is often an afterthought once that 1AM emergency visit is on the horizon. In these situations, owners need honest, vetted advice. Ultimately owners must make choices that fit their lifestyle, but here are some general tips to navigate the pet insurance conundrum.
First, consider the reimbursement scheme that works for you. All pet insurance plans use either a percentage of invoice or a benefit schedule to calculate reimbursement. With percentage of invoice, reimbursement is based on the treatment cost, and you are reimbursed a percentage of what you paid your veterinarian. With a benefit schedule, reimbursement is capped at a set amount for each condition, regardless of the actual treatment cost. Some policies have a yearly limit while others have a lifetime limit, so inquire about reimbursements before signing the dotted line.
There are a couple types of plans, with the most common being major medical & illness, and wellness only plans. There may be variable coverage within each to reach a customized monthly payment. Plans that offer “whole-pet” plans that cover both major medical and wellness seem to be the best bang for your buck. Keep in mind, emergency-only plans may limit reimbursements by excluding common costs, such as exam fees. The best plans may be more money per month, but they will cover all wellness costs, including exam fees, parasite control, and annual bloodwork, in addition to the unexpected veterinary visits and procedures
An all-inclusive whole-pet plan costs in the ballpark of $65/month, around $780 annually. With typical preventatives, vaccinations, wellness bloodwork, and annual physical exams, $780 is slightly more than an owner would spend at a veterinary office for a healthy animal every year, which is where the age-old insurance gamble comes in—do you pay more for the “just in case” to be covered? To break it down, the costs of simple urinary tract infection or intestinal upset would easily equate to a whole-pet insurance plan paying for itself, plus some change. The idea is to weigh what you’re paying against what you’re getting. There’s no point in buying a plan just because it’s cheap if it doesn’t cover what you need.
Common things that are not covered under pet insurance plans are routine veterinary care (unless covered by a whole-pet wellness plan), pre-existing medical conditions, breeding and pregnancy related visits, injury resulting from cruelty or neglect, and cosmetic procedures like tail docking, ear cropping, and declawing. Like car insurance, be sure to ask whether there will be increases in your payments should you file a claim—don’t sign up with a company that punishes you for having a sick animal. Be sure you understand if coverage will change as your pet ages, and what those changes will be both monetarily, and benefits-wise. Additionally, all pet insurance plans have waiting periods to prevent fraud. Most waiting periods are around 2 weeks for illness, 2-14 days for accidents, and 6 months for orthopedic conditions. Accidents and illnesses that occur or are diagnosed during the waiting period will not be covered.
Last, but not least, look at the companies track record and outside reviews from many websites prior to committing to a company. Keep in mind some websites accept advertising compensation from companies that appear on the site, and such compensation could impact the location and order in which the companies are scored. Always pick a plan that works for your pet’s needs, despite all the white-noise you may read on the Internet.
Of course, having a pet is a serious financial commitment. Fortune magazine tallied up costs for veterinary care, food, treats, boarding, grooming, vitamins, and toys and reached a total of $1,641 per dog and $1,125 per cat each year. Pet insurance could help alleviate some of those costs and encourages gold standard care without the anxiety that comes with the estimate presented in the exam room. It allows owners to feel confident they have done everything they could, improves pet quality of life, and allows the veterinarian to practice without boundaries to help your four-legged family member, potentially buying more time together with you and your pet. This is what we call a win-win-win!