Editorial September 2015 Issue

Spend to Save

It seems like there is never enough in the budget to pay for insurance but when disaster strikes, you wish you had.

Whole Dog Journal editor Nancy Kerns

Nancy and Otto

I spent more than $7,000 on vet bills last year. Only a fraction of that was spent on my own two dogs and two cats; the bulk of it was spent on foster puppies and a relative’s dog. The crazy thing is, I think would have come out better if I had bought pet health insurance for all of them, the six foster puppies and my relative’s dog included.

This is something I just figured out, after getting quotes from a number of companies based on information I learned from working with WDJ contributor Cynthia Foley, who wrote the article on pet insurance that appears in "Pet Insurance 101" this month. I’ve gotten quotes before, but I have always (in the past) been daunted by the prospect of adding more to the things that go under “pet expenses” in my budget. I have not, as yet, pulled the trigger on buying insurance for any of them. But that’s about to change.

As Foley mentions in the article, pet insurance is a bit of a gamble. You may spend a bunch of money on something that you end up not needing or benefitting from in any way. If your dog has an uneventful year with no health problems, the company whose insurance you bought will make a little profit. When there are things you’d rather spend money on, this can be a bit galling.

But look at it from another angle: What if your dog had a major health problem? What if your heart dog experienced a major heart problem all of a sudden? Would you spend whatever it cost to save and extend his life?

When it happened to me more than a decade ago, I just pulled out my credit card and resigned myself to paying a certain amount of interest, because I didn’t have the thousands of dollars I ended up spending just laying around. My Border Collie Rupert was fine one day, and the next, he developed an idiopathic ventricular tachycardia – that is, his heart started going pit-a-pat, too fast and without any sensible rhythm at all. The condition was severe enough that several veterinary cardiologists told me that Rupie could literally “go at any time” if we didn’t get and keep the condition under control with medication.

As it turned out, the bulk of the money went toward trying to discover any underlying condition that might have been responsible for the tachycardia. I authorized test after x-ray after scan, only to end up with the dreaded designation of “idiopathic” – no explainable cause found.

But back to my question: Would I do it again, spend a small fortune if my dog Otto suddenly developed a similar condition? You bet your booties I would.

And what about those foster pups, two of whom ran up bills of more than $1,000 apiece (one that I injured accidentally by tripping over him; one who suddenly “tanked” – and then within a day, after a bunch of tests and the administration of fluids and antibiotics, completely recovered); would I spend that money on them again? Well, of course.

So why on earth does it seem like an extravagance and a gamble to spend far less than that on a plan that would pay a good-sized chunk of that money back to me if those dogs had been insured at the time of their misfortune? Human nature, I guess.

Another thing I’ve learned: I’m not alone. According to experts in the industry, no more than two percent of the pets in this country have health insurance.

Having learned more about it, and how to best go about buying it, though, I’m going to add my pets to the ranks of the insured.

Whole Dog Journal editor Nancy Kerns

Comments (2)

I know that in some cases pet insurance can be a lifesaver. I think people purchasing pet insurance should know it varies widely. I purchased pet insurance from VPI when I brought my pup home at 8 weeks. He had all clearances from a reputable breeder. I thought that by purchasing the insurance for him right away - I chose VPI's Superior Plan - I would have it for years to come and not have to worry about pre-existing conditions. At 9 months, the vet discovered a very serious heart condition which ultimately required life-saving surgery only available at CSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital. My pup had the surgery - successful ! - and today, at 10 years old, is still living a healthy, happy life.
VPI denied the surgery, all associated diagnostics, and after-care. The way they were able to do that is they have a clause that denies coverage for congenital conditions. This was not genetic, many plans will exclude genetic conditions. The fact that his heart problem was something he was likely born with but not picked up in the puppy cardio exam, they enacted the exclusion and denied coverage.
This is just a cautionary note for people when selecting a company and a plan, it's wise not to rely on it being there without question. I believe for accidents the coverage is more reliable.
In spite of the fact that I purchased to top plan that VPI offered at the time, I thought their payments were such a small percentage of the office visits that it was hardly worth it. I really was purchasing pet insurance for a more catastrophic illness - and VPI was not there for me when I needed it. I wouldn't recommend VPI. I think there are more reputable companies in the pet insurance business now.

Posted by: goldy1 | September 6, 2015 12:59 PM    Report this comment

You folks ran a great article about health insurance years ago. I'd spent quite a bundle on one of my dogs, so I looked into health insurance. Using the www.petinsurancereview.com website you cited then, I chose Petplan, and I've been pleased. I've submitted two claims over the last seven years, and had no problems with either. Overall, yes, I've spent more than I've claimed. However, when my dog needed emergency surgery recently, what a relief it was to be able to wave away the estimate saying, "It's OK, I have insurance."

Posted by: septembermary | August 28, 2015 8:50 AM    Report this comment

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