You might be surprised to learn how common pet insurance is outside North America. “In Sweden, about 60 percent of cats and dogs have medical insurance,” says Darryl Rawlings, chief operating officer of Seattle-based Trupanion. “In the U.K., 27 to 28 percent of pets have medical insurance.” But in the United States and Canada, less than 1 percent of pet dogs and cats have medical insurance. But is pet insurance a good investment or not? Many people don’t understand how it works and are confused about the different policies, options and companies. Each company’s policies are different, and it isn’t always easy to wade through the “insurance speak” to understand your best option.
Pet insurance reimburses you if your pet becomes sick or injured with something that is covered under your policy. Some insurance plans exclude things like cancer or hip dysplasia, but you might be able to pay extra to add a rider to your policy. Other plans cover everything, as long as the condition is not pre-existing.
Pet insurance does not reimburse you for well-pet services like spay or neuter, annual bloodwork, vaccines or dental cleanings, unless your provider offers a wellness add-on (an additional cost). For instance, pet insurance provider Embrace offers an option called Wellness Rewards, which you can add on to any insurance policy. It acts like a health-savings account, reimbursing you for wellness care like dental cleanings, vaccines, spaying and neutering, grooming, nail trimming, flea, tick and heartworm prevention, and more.
“One of the reasons we offer it is because we want to encourage pet parents to have their pets seen for their routine care,” says Dawn Pyne, marketing manager for Embrace, which is based in Cleveland, Ohio. “Typically, that’s where veterinarians will find illness. Preventive care is good for us but it’s also good for the pet. There are no preset limits on how much of your routine care allowance you can spend toward any particular item. The pet parent is not limited on what wellness services they want to have completed.”
Pet insurance for dogs might make financial sense if you have a new healthy puppy. Puppies are the least expensive to insure, and we all know how much trouble they can get into (good thing they’re cute!). One major accident or illness could make a policy worthwhile.
The older a dog is, the more expensive it is to insure him. Financially, it might not make sense to buy new insurance for a senior dog — any preexisting health conditions will be excluded. Some insurers even decline coverage to dogs over a certain age. If your dog is a young adult and healthy, you should be able to find a policy with a reasonable premium.
If you have pet insurance for your dog, you might do less hemming and hawing when it comes time to decide if your dog needs to see the vet. “A lot of people don’t have a lot of disposable or discretionary money left at the end of the month,” Rawlings says. “Pet owners (without insurance) aren’t going to the vet because it’s nerve-wracking, and they don’t know if it’s going to be $3,000 or $5,000.” But if you have insurance, you don’t have to worry about being able to afford the care.
It’s easier for a lot of pet owners to pay a small amount every month rather than be faced with a huge vet bill all at once. “We as Americans all live month to month,” says Carol McConnell, D.V.M., MBA, chief veterinary officer for Nationwide (formerly Veterinary Pet Insurance). “When you’re faced with that random unforeseen event that could have significant financial consequences for you, you don’t have to worry about it (if you have insurance).”
It’s no secret that veterinary prices have gone up over the years. Insurance can help bridge the gap for many pet owners. “If you look at the cost of services from 10 or 20 years ago compared to now and the availability of specialty care,” Dr. McConnell says. “The medicine has evolved, and the prices have gotten higher.”
You don’t have to worry about whether your veterinarian accepts a certain type of insurance or not. “Pet insurance isn’t regulated like human healthcare, so there are no networks,” Pyne explains. “Pet insurance is a relationship strictly between the pet parent and the pet insurance company. You can basically go to any veterinarian, including emergency and specialty clinics, and use your policy.”
Annual premiums are based on several factors, including your dog’s breed and age, whether he is fixed, and where you live. Sometimes you may choose from varying tiers of deductible: low, mid-range and high. The higher the deductible, the lower the annual premium will be. Pay close attention to the deductible. Your best option is a lifetime deductible — once you reach it, you never have to pay it again, no matter how many times your dog sees the vet. Your next best option is an annual deductible — once you reach it, you’re set for the year. Some deductibles are “per condition/incident,” meaning you pay the deductible just once in a year for the same problem. Avoid plans with “per visit” deductibles — every time your dog sees the vet, you must pay the deductible before anything will be covered.
You might be able to select different tiers of payout for claims after meeting your deductible: low (for instance, 80 percent), mid-range (90 percent) and high (100 percent). The higher the payout, the higher your annual premium.
Some insurance providers offer discounts if you pay online or insure multiple pets. For instance, Embrace offers multiple ways to save, including discounts for paying your premium annually rather than monthly or if your pet is spayed or neutered, and military discounts.
“We are also the only pet insurance company that offers a Healthy Pet deductible,” Pyne says.“The pet’s annual deductible automatically goes down by $50 each year that the pet parent doesn’t receive a claim reimbursement. For example, pet parents who may have a $200 deductible and healthy pet who doesn’t receive either an accident or illness claim reimbursement for four years could potentially have no deductible when it’s time to go and claim.”
If you have a purebred dog, you must be extra cautious about the dog insurance you buy. Some policies exclude hereditary diseases and conditions that are genetically linked to certain breeds. If, for instance, your German Shepherd Dog develops hip dysplasia or your Golden Retriever gets cancer, it might not be covered. Luckily, a few dog insurance providers proudly advertise that they never exclude hereditary conditions for purebreds.
PetPlan Pet Insurance, based in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, shared some typical claims and average payouts:
“Remember, gastrointestinal issues tend to reoccur so several of these claims can add up,” says Elyse Donnarumma, CVT, veterinary manager for PetPlan. “Cancer unfortunately is never a single visit. There are often expensive diagnostics, chemotherapy appointments, and consultations with the oncologist. Skin allergies are chronic in nature, so several visits for skin allergies can add up quickly.”
So is pet insurance for dogs really “worth it”? The answer is different for everyone and every dog. You might buy an insurance policy for your puppy and never need to use it. On the other hand, one major medical issue can cost into the thousands. For example, a California pet owner was glad for the Trupanion policy when his 3-year-old Newfoundland had to be treated for eating seven baby pacifiers. The payout? $5,397.30.
“Pet insurance provides peace of mind and takes the thought of cost away from taking care of furry family members,” says Elyse Donnarumma, CVT, veterinary manager for PetPlan Pet Insurance. “It allows everyone to focus primarily on quality of veterinary care and makes cost of care secondary. Whether it’s for yourself, your pet or your car, buying insurance is always a gamble. You might never need it, but if you do, you’ll be happy to have it.”
Tell us: Do you have pet insurance for your dogs? What type of dog insurance do you use? Do you find pet insurance to be worth it?
Thumbnail: Photography ©Kerkez | Thinkstock.
Jackie Brown is a freelance writer, editor and pet-industry consultant. She lives in sunny Southern California with her Miniature Poodle, Jäger. Reach her at jackiebrownwriter.wordpress.com.
Editor’s note: This article appeared in Dogster magazine. Have you seen the new Dogster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? Subscribe now to get Dogster magazine delivered straight to you!
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