Pet Insurance: A Better Way to Pay the Bill

Don’t fret that Fido and Kitkat were forgotten in this year’s Congressional health care fight.

 

Health insurance for pets—primarily dogs and cats—is readily available and can potentially save you a bundle. In the United States pet health care is a $500 million-a-year business and growing.

“About 20% of our clients have it and that has probably doubled in the last 10 years,” says Dr. Kurt Miller, owner of the Winnetka Animal Hospital.

In many ways pet health insurance mirrors human health insurance. Depending on the provider there are:

  • Waiting periods for some coverage
  • Preexisting condition exemptions
  • Caps on procedures
  • Maximum payouts
  • Co-payments
  • Deductibles

Costs vary depending on coverage, deductibles, the pet’s age and the insurance carrier, but $13 to $35 a month is a reasonable estimate for a young dog or cat.

A relatively new business in the United States, pet health insurance generally differs from human health insurance in the way it reimburses for expenses. Most reimburse the pet owner directly rather than paying the veterinarian—a feature that allows you to pick the doctor and the treatment.

There are an estimated 176 million cats and dogs in the United States and only about one percent currently have pet health care insurance says Darryl Rawlings, CEO of pet insurance company Trupanion, and a board member of the North American Pet Health Insurance Association.

The association says the biggest benefit of insurance is helping pet owners to control and plan for the medical costs associated with keeping a pet healthy and often keeping a pet longer.

“More pet owners are facing the choice of paying their utility bills or providing care for their pets,” Loran Hickton, executive director of the pet insurance industry’s trade association says in a press release. “Some face a far worse decision: The excruciating choice between providing necessary care or euthanizing their pets.”

Because dogs and cats can’t tell owners what ails them, “the need for diagnostics is greater for pets than humans,” Rawlings says, and insurance helps protect against the costs of those tests.

“One serious illness or one catastrophic event and the insurance pays for itself,” says Dr. Miller. “With all the different tests and tools we have…an owner is much more likely to take that extra step if they have insurance. It seems to be a pretty good thing to have.”

Consumers Reports, in a 2007 article however questions the value of pet insurance and urges pet owners to weigh the benefits carefully. We suggest you discuss it with your veterinarian and also ask if there is a specific company she or he prefers.

Pet insurance companies websites make it easy to compare and contrast coverage opportunities and let you customize health plans for the pets you have and for coverage you want.

Trupanion
www.trupanion.com

VPI
www.petinsurance.com

PetCare
www.petcareinsurance.com

PetPlan
www.gopetplan.com

Pets Best
www.petbest.com

ASPCA
www.aspcapetinsurance.com

PurinaCare
www.purinacare.com

PetFirst
www.petfirsthealthcare.com

Embrace
www.embracepetinsurance.com

Before buying pet insurance, here are some questions to ask the insurance company:

  • How financially stable is the company?
  • How long have they been in business?
  • Do they do business in other countries? (Pet insurance has been available and popular in parts of Europe, Canada and Scandinavia for many years)
  • How are reimbursements determined? I there a schedule available?
  • Will they provide insurance for specific ailments?
  • What is the waiting period before initial coverage kicks in?
  • Will they send a clearly written renewal notice each year?
  • What has been the history of rate increases?
  • Are experimental procedures covered?
  • What routine care is covered if any?
  • Annual deductibles vary. Ask how they are determined and if they apply from the first visit?
  • Are there discounts for a second and third covered pet?