Whole Dog Journal's Blog February 22, 2013

Pet health insurance

Posted at 02:09PM - Comments: (22)

I took Otto and Tito to the veterinarian yesterday for wellness exams (and heartworm tests and blood tests) and spent $500. I had priced things beforehand, and knew what I was in for, but it’s still quite a bite.

I strongly believe in the value of annual wellness checks. It’s a perfect opportunity for the vet to find things that we owners wouldn’t necessarily notice, such as the beginning of a mass growing on the roof of our dog’s mouth, say, or a swollen abdomen. Routine blood chemistry, blood cell counts, and heartworm tests (where heartworm is a threat) are also valuable early-detection tools for any number of budding health problems; even if they don’t reveal problems, the “normal” values result may serve as a useful baseline down the road if problems do develop. It’s also a good time to ask the vet about low-priority things that you have been wondering about. Be sure to let the receptionist know when you book the appointment that you need a little extra time to have a number of questions answered or things looked at, so the vet has time to talk – and then prepare to pay for that time.

Health insurance plans vary, but many pay for – or at least discount the price of – regular wellness visits. I’ve priced these plans, but have blanched at the monthly cost of covering two dogs and two cats. By the time I pay, completely out of pocket, for the wellness visits and the various things that come up in a multi-pet family, that I would pay less annually for insurance and co-pays, but I just haven’t been able to make myself sign up yet. I’ll kick myself, I know, if Otto needs costly care – if he tore an ACL or got cancer, for example -- but right now I just keep crossing my fingers and paying for things out of pocket. 

How about you? Are your dogs insured? Have you found insurance to help keep costs down? If you haven’t gotten health insurance for your dogs yet, why not?

Comments (19)

To Anna H -- I wonder if your vet would repost their comparison piece on three of the top et insurance companies? I went to the link you kindly provided in your post from March 1 2013, but that piece had been taken down from their blog site. Thank you, if you're able to check into that.

Posted by: Amaroq W | December 30, 2013 2:16 AM    Report this comment

I just switched to Healthy Paws Pet Insurance. I like them because they have an annual deduction rather than a per incident deductible. You can still choose the different deductible amounts too. I switched from PetPlan when they upped my premiums for my 2 vizslas by $12 a month each without notice. Healthy Paws gives me better coverage for less money.

Posted by: Kathryn I | March 1, 2013 3:35 PM    Report this comment

To Sherry C. We have Pet First Health Care. Like I said...I follow their instructions in submitting a claim TO THE LETTER.

Just because it's pet insurance doesn't mean that they don't have to live by the rules of the insurance commission! I would suggest that anyone who believes their pet insurance company isn't following the rules, contact their state insurance commission.

Posted by: SUE D | February 27, 2013 9:22 PM    Report this comment

Last year my company offered pet insurance for the first time through VPI (a percent discount on policies). It's not a huge discount but it is something. Only one dog and one cat was eligible to be covered but we ended up using it when the dog started to pee blood. Yes there is a deductible but after x-rays, ultrasounds, office visits and medications... it was met easily. There is also the discount for wellness exams and heartworm & flea medications.

Posted by: Karen L | February 27, 2013 4:20 PM    Report this comment

Pet insurance is much better today than it was 5+ years ago, it used to be a rip off IMO. I work at a specialty vet clinic and felt bad for the people trying to use their pet insurance back then, as the main company at the time only covered a measly $165 for the LIFE of the dog for our specialty. What a joke! Thankfully things have drastically changed & coverage now is fantastic. As a veterinary professional, it is hard to see people forced to make decisions on their pets' care due to financial reasons, and pet insurance had helped many people not have to do that. And with the number of companies offering it now, there is a plan to suit everyone. Since I work at a vet clinic I do not need coverage for routine & preventative stuff, so I chose a company that doesn't cover those things (Trupanion. And a co-worker has Pet Plan which is similarly run). The main things I notice people don't always understand though is that you need to know what your deductible is, and also be aware that some companies have a max that they will cover per condition or per year. (Trupanion is one that does NOT do this.) And the big thing is you still have to pay for the vet fees out of pocket, and then wait to be reimbursed (thankfully IME most companies are very speedy at getting your money to you!) Though Trupanion is currently working on a system that is built into vet clinics so people get instant reimbursement. I am eager to see how that plays out. I am a HUGE advocate of pet insurance, I strongly believe everyone should have it, and get it a.s.a.p. Usually the earlier you sign up, the lower your fee. If you think the coverage is bad or fees too high, look into a different company. You will eventually find a plan you are happy with. I also have it for my rabbit (VPI). I paid $110 for an entire year of coverage for her, and she is not even a year old and has already had over $1500 in vet bills, with more to come, and we get back 90% of everything, minus exam fees and a measly $50 deductible. SO WORTH IT!

Posted by: Margaret D | February 27, 2013 10:47 AM    Report this comment

To Sherry C. We have Pet First Health Care. Like I said...I follow their instructions in submitting a claim TO THE LETTER.

Just because it's pet insurance doesn't mean that they don't have to live by the rules of the insurance commission! I would suggest that anyone who believes their pet insurance company isn't following the rules, contact their state insurance commission.

Posted by: SUE D | February 26, 2013 11:24 PM    Report this comment

Highly recommend it!!But like "Sue D" said...you have to find the right insurance company. I have 5 dogs covered and it cost me $125 a month I have a $200 deductible and 20% co-insurance plan. A couple of my dogs tend to be accident prone and I have been extremely glad we had insurance to help cover the bills. One of our dogs at 4 months old had an extreme vaccine reaction which nearly killed her. the vet specialist,diagnostics and emergency care bill was over $5000 the insurance covered $3840 of it... then again this last fall while vacationing in Colorado, she had another incident playing along a lake shoreline, jumped over a log and wacked her underside and ended up in emergency over night stay with mastitis...$1000 vet bill. But when we arrived home, there was a $650 reimbursement check waiting for us. Just make sure you find the right company...I recommend Petplan Ins. Company to all my friends and our puppy buyers. I have had no prolems...you do have to have your vet fax all veterinary reports when submitting a claim, but I always receive a check within 7-10 days.

Posted by: Dennise D | February 26, 2013 11:21 PM    Report this comment

Had it for a handful of years and found most claims denied and what was reimbursed was but a fraction of the actual cost. Finally decided it would be much better to save that money as a pet fund, now I'm ahead of the game.

Posted by: DEREK J | February 26, 2013 9:38 PM    Report this comment

A review of my yellow Lab's veterinary care since January 1, 2007 through when she crossed the Rainbow Bridge on March 29, 2012 (at the ripe old age of seventeen years and eleven days) disclosed a total outlay of $15,514.25. Of that amount, $5103.82 was reimbursed by my pet insurance's "Superior Plan." The premiums paid over that same period amounted to $3885.84, so the net benefit during that period from the insurance was $1217.98, or 8% of the total bill. Over the sixteen and a half years I had the policy, it was a net loss.

However, with the initial submission of my claim with the five page itemized invoice from the critical care vet practice, they promptly denied it. I appealed it and they agreed to reconsider their decision, but only if I re-submitted my claim with, quoting verbatim, "A copy of all medical records/charts, including all laboratory reports, from EVERY (their emphasis) veterinarian who has seen Buttercup from 02/01/2012 through 03/09/2012 is needed to properly review the claim. The doctor's exam notes must include dates, diagnosis for each visit, physical findings, laboratory reports and treatments." Fortunately though, the vet practice was kind enough to fax the complete file to them, so they finally honored the claim.

Difficulties with claims were not uncommon. It seemed as if their first priority was to look for a reason to deny a claim, like for example doing so because the vet practice didn't use the precise terminology used in the policy. I can't say how often that happened, but I did have to resubmit claims on several occasions.

If I were asked for my advice on whether or not to buy insurance, I'd say to not do so, but rather set aside what the premium would be monthly. I have a new Lab in my life now and that's what I plan to do.

That said though, there may be good policies out there, so I would recommend looking at the various plans first. Do so with a microscope though and make certain that you have a full understanding of the minutia of what's allowed, what's not, how the deductible works, and how to submit a claim.

Posted by: rastalls@verizon.net | February 26, 2013 8:55 PM    Report this comment

When I adopted my rescue puppy, he was into everything and absolutely tireless. I hadn't had a dog for many years and I thought it was only a matter of time before he ate some toxic plant or tried to play with a dangerous critter. I got insurance right away. Now he's 4 and good as gold. He's had a few medical issues,and there was the time he ate the rat poison, but each incident fell just short of the amount needed to file a claim. I'm grateful for that! I'm glad I have it and I hope that many years from now, I'll be able to say, "Well, THAT was a waste of money!"

Posted by: Deborah B | February 26, 2013 6:09 PM    Report this comment

After our bill of $5,000 for exploratory surgery and foreign object removal about 4 years ago, we took out insurance for major medical only. (80% after a $500 deductible). The smaller vet bills we can handle but we don't want to be faced with another one for thousands. The premium has been between $3-400/ year. We submitted our first claim recently for an $800 bill and were reimbursed about $250. Our dog is now 6 and it's well worth the peace of mind.

Posted by: Ellen S | February 26, 2013 5:34 PM    Report this comment

In general, it only makes economic sense to purchase insurance if: (1) The potential loss is too astronomic (like liability, where you could be liable for millions, or life insurance if you have minor children), or (2) The insurance company has worked out substantial discounts with the service providers (like human medical insurance). In all other cases, you are paying the insurance company to cover expected benefits pay-outs, but you are also paying them for: profit margins, marketing/advertising, selling expenses, salaries, claims processing, income taxes, overhead, and large CEO bonuses. I will continue to put aside money in savings, as I believe that is the most economic choice. I've had some expensive dogs (hip replacement, chemo, CCL surgeries, etc.) but I still think I've come out ahead.

Posted by: LINDA F | February 26, 2013 4:48 PM    Report this comment

I purchased insurance for my two dogs, but canceled it after a year since I could not afford to continue. Like human health insurance, pet insurance will never be cheaper for most of the pet's life; it;s better to save a certain amount of money each month and earmark it for pet expenses. As for cancer treatments, kidney dialysis, etc., for pets, I don't believe that they should be made to suffer through such treatments. They are painful, just like such treatments for humans. My husband died of cancer after one year of intense suffering due to chemotherapy. I certainly don't see any reason why a loving dog or cat should have to put up with similar painful treatments just because the HUMAN wants it. Animals know when they are ready to die and that should be honored. They go to a better place.

Posted by: margeam | February 26, 2013 3:47 PM    Report this comment

We had insurance for my two hounds. But the first time I tried to submit a claim they put me through so many hoops that it became a waste of my time. I cancelled both policies and now we to rely on wellness visits and crossed fingers. I had gone through PetPlan as they were supposed to be rated the top insurance company when it comes to coverage and policies but I did not find that to be the case.

Posted by: VERONICA M | February 26, 2013 3:39 PM    Report this comment

This message is for those who have pet insurance. What company do you have your insurance with? Thanks. Sherry C

Posted by: Unknown | February 26, 2013 12:16 PM    Report this comment

My 10 week old French bulldog lost his neutrophils due to a rare reaction to intestinal parasite treatment. After 10 days in isolation at the vet specialists and much money spent, he recovered and I purchased pet insurance. I recently had surgery for him for brachycephalic syndrome. However, when I put in the claim it was denied because as a puppy the said he had "noisy breathing". I canceled the insurance that day because what bulldog or brachycephalic dog does NOT have noisy breathing.
I disputed the claim to no avail so I canceled my insurance. Why have insurance if the company denies claims due to a breed characteristic!! Besides they charged me a high premium BECAUSE he was a French Bulldog.

Posted by: fred2010 | February 26, 2013 12:16 PM    Report this comment

We have had pet insurance for the past 5 years and will NEVER be without it. We do NOT find it a ripoff as "trento" does. In fact, our current insurance company pays better than our own medical insurance.

We have the 90% plan on 3 Standard Poodles aged from 9 years down to 4 months. We pay $125 per month in total. Last year, when my middle Standard was diagnosed and treated for Immune Mediated Thrombocytopenia, our bills were over $10,000. His insurance paid for most of that and we had not yet come close to exhausting our major medical limitation when we lost him in September. They paid for his meds and treatments without question.

I will tell you they are very anal about receiving their paperwork in proper order. I submit all claims, complete with chart notes once a month. Our policy even pays for spay and neuter.

Get the right company, DO YOUR HOMEWORK before choosing. The company we are with now is the 3rd company we went with, but have been with them 5 years next month and we couldn't be happier.

Posted by: SUE D | February 26, 2013 10:54 AM    Report this comment

It's ripoff.I went through the initial sign up and the very first time I wanted to start a claim they then told me there was a deductible.It depends on the program you choose as to how much that deductible is.The more you pay/monthly the less the deductible.I signed up to pay almost $90.00 per month and a $130.00 dollar vet bill wasnt covered.I needed to spend more!The services were covered I just didnt have a big enough bill.Also if your pet lives 12-14 years,my last dog lived to be 14,thats more than 15,000 dollars.That would go a long way to paying for a lot of treatment and then you still have the monthly payment, if the occassion arose.To opt for a cheaper plan just doesnt cut it either.The less you pay the less you get.It 's not for me.An ACL operation might come in at $2000.000 tops.I had one done.

Posted by: trento | February 26, 2013 10:33 AM    Report this comment

After paying for major cancer surgery and Chemo treatments (I quit counting after $20,000!) I picked up our new puppy and went online for insurance as soon as we got home. After more than 3 years my beautiful 14 year old Golden is still here and doing great, we call him my new car!

Posted by: Karen W | February 26, 2013 10:32 AM    Report this comment

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