I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few months looking at pet insurance and seriously considering the pros and cons of it. With two new puppies in the house and having gone through added medical costs in the last months of Roxie’s life, I decided I really needed to investigate the pet insurance options.
Pets are an investment. Pets are expensive to care for; they become valued members of our family. So how can we best protect them and be prepared for emergency situations?
Pet insurance seems like an easy solution, right? Well, maybe. It’s not as affordable as you might think. It also doesn’t cover everything you’d hope it would. In fact, reading through some policies will leave you scratching your head, wondering exactly what it does cover.
Unfortunately, navigating your way through the various policies, coverages and fine print is as complicated for pet insurance as it is for human health insurance. Many options, deductibles, varying premiums depending on the coverage; lots of exclusions and vague language that suggests many of the policies won’t pay out– at least, not the way you would expect. You don’t always get what you pay for.
A Financial Decision
The idea of pet insurance sounds like a good investment… but is it worth it? It’s always a good idea to educate yourself before making such an important financial commitment, no matter how logical it sounds to you initially. Do the numbers, compare and read before you sign.
Coverage could be the best way to go for people on a tight budget, that might not be able to afford a large unforeseen expense. It’s also a good option for people that, by making a monthly payment, will give them a sense of security and peace of mind.
For people that can afford an immediate and unexpected outlay of cash; coverage may not be beneficial. Especially, if your pet lives a long, healthy, incident-free life.
There are two main options to consider first: pet insurance and/or a wellness plan. These are two different protections that do not cover you for the same expenses. Some companies offer one or the other and some offer both options– charged separately. Pet insurance starts with a chosen deductible amount and can cover medical care, surgeries, emergency procedures and some medications– BUT, what is covered depends on the individual policy. A wellness plan does not carry a deductible (in any of the examples I have found) and can cover many of the reoccurring, yearly costs of preventative care. These can include: health check-ups, vaccinations, heartworm, flea and tick preventatives, spaying or neutering, and sometimes even discounted grooming services. All plans are different, as are the costs. Many I found are $25-$40 a month per pet.
Most companies offer plans with deductibles of $0, $100 or $500. The better the coverage, the more it costs. Most companies do not cover preexisting conditions. Yearly wellness and preventative care are not covered by any of the pet insurance policies, from any of the companies I researched. When looking at insurance, make sure you read the complete policy to be sure all your concerns are covered. There are many exclusions you would expect to be covered. Several companies also provide additional coverage (riders) for more specified health concerns, adding to the cost of your plan.
The least expensive plans I could find, providing what I would consider average or basic coverage, was just over $2,000 a year, with a $500 deductible, per pet. Policies easily climb in cost up to around $6,000 a year.
In the long run, most pet owners do not benefit from the coverages. In some cases, the policies are written in a way that the companies could legally avoid any actual payout. It’s legal– but I still consider it a scam. Negligence is subjective. Most policies will not pay for services that are needed as the result of what they consider owner negligence. Many accidents and incidences such as the ingestion of foreign objects, could easily be classified as negligence.
I also found that, except in the most extreme circumstances, most people pay more for insurance coverage than if they paid for medical care out-of-pocket. In most of the cases, this costs pet owners $2,000-3,000 more annually for the insurance, even if minor unexpected medical services were needed.
One of the main benefits of a wellness plan is that you pay a monthly premium that spreads the costs of preventative care over the course of the year as opposed to all at once. On average, the cost of a wellness plan is pretty much equal to what you will need to spend each year on your pet anyway. Some wellness plans offer discounts for multiple pets so there could be a savings there. If you have a wellness plan that covers all office visits, you might find you are more likely to be proactive regarding any early signs of possible illness.
Insurance is a gamble. You put out a sum of money now, in the hopes that it will pay off (protect you) in the future. If you carry insurance, pay monthly premiums and actually need medical treatment, then it’s could be worth it.
Important to Note
I’m purposely avoiding too much discussion on specific companies. I recommend doing a review and complaint search online before you commit to any company.
I do have to point out that where most policies’ deductibles cover annual costs, Trupanion’s deductibles are per incident. I did not even notice that fact until it was pointed out to me in one of the articles I read. Each accident, illness or incident would require you pay a deductible for each, prior to insurance paying for anything.
I found a really good article in Consumer Reports you should look at before purchasing pet insurance. It will help you along the way, give you some idea of what to look for; and help in deciding whether this is the best decision for you and your pets. It compares several polices and gives several incident scenarios that might help you decide.
If you are disciplined enough, you might want to consider putting a certain amount aside each month, maybe opening a savings account; to accumulate funds in case of an emergency or to cover future expenses. There’s always the risk you might be tempted to use the money elsewhere; but if you end up not needing to use the funds over the lifetime of your pet– the money is still yours.
I also found a company called Pet Assure that offers a 25% discount program, for an annual fee, on all services. They have rates for individual to unlimited family pets– which could provide a huge savings. There are no exclusions with this plan. The program does require services through participating facilities. There may be other programs out there you might want to look into providing a similar savings.
Michael and I decided that at this point, neither pet insurance nor a wellness plan was the right decision for us. We might sign up for a discount program in the future; but again, at the current time it does not benefit or protect us financially, in a way that we need.
I hope this helps some people considering coverage. Coverage is a personal decision. Never let anyone pressure you into committing to a policy that makes you uncomfortable. The most important thing is that you do the very best you can to keep your furry family healthy, happy and safe.
I like the distinction you made between wellness and “accident” insurance. It’s a very important one for people to understand if they are considering pet insurance!
Just out of curiosity, was the decision not to get insurance purely based on the cost of the premium quotes? If so, what would have been an amount you’d be comfortable with?
Oh yeah… and great post by the way.
We decided based on the premium cost, with a deductible that was at, or higher than the normal yearly vet costs, wellness insurance wasn’t necessary. As far as accident/incident insurance, financially can afford major medical– within reason. I used the medical history of the 10 pets we’ve ‘owned’ over the past twenty years as well. Several that had major vet/medical expenses, would not have covered all of the addition expenses we paid, even after the deductibles. We still would have had substantial, additional out of pocket expenses. I would be more inclined to get pet coverage if it was all-inclusive with wellness (with meds, visits, hospitalization, procedures, tests, vaccinations, etc.) along with a deductible. All the plans I looked at only paid up to 80%, after the deductible; and had many exclusions or addition add-ons, that had to be purchased for specific coverages (cancer, in some cases.) We have one cat and three dogs now. If one of the four had major medical expenses, it wouldn’t come close to the costs to insure all four over time.
Gotcha… Thanks for sharing the additional details that went into your thought process.
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