Pet Insurance

“Do y’all take pet insurance?” This is a question we are hearing more and more. The answer of “no, we don’t,” gets us into the difference of pet insurance and human insurance.

******DISCLAIMER******* I do not work for a pet insurance company nor do I receive any kick backs or bonuses from companies. The only benefit I would see would be a client more likely to bring their pet in for a sickness check knowing they would get reimbursed.

Payment for Services:
The first item to clear up is about payment. You still have to pay out of pocket for everything we do before leaving the office. You then file a claim with the insurance company and they will or will not reimburse you depending on your policy. This is always the biggest misunderstanding. The insurance company does not pay us like in human medicine. The client pays us and then they will get reimbursed by their insurance policy. The reimbursement varies depending on companies as well. Some cover office exams and some don’t. Double check the percentage they reimburse of what they do cover. Some companies will cover up to 90%. Please make sure you understand the reimbursement before purchasing any insurance. 

Payout Limits:
A payout limit is what the company will pay per year for any injury/illness. Some companies have these limits while others don’t. This is important to think about because you may think you would never need to spend that much for an issue but some treatments can be very expensive. Say your pet got into a toxin and needed to be on a ventilator for a week, that treatment could be extremely expensive. If the company will only pay $10,000/year and that bill comes up to $15,000, will you have the extra $5,000 to cover it?

Which Plan to Choose?
There are quite a few plans to choose from. I do not want to recommend one over another but there are some key differences between them. Some plans will be an accident only plan and others will be a wellness plan. The difference is in what they will pay for.

Wellness Plans:
These will typically cover yearly shots, blood work, exam and some will even cover flea and heartworm preventatives!

These will not cover the annual wellness items like listed above but will cover accidents and illnesses, i.e. your dog/cat breaks a leg or develops diabetes.

Wellness and Accident:
Some plans will even cover both wellness and accidents. These will be more expensive of course.

This can be confusing as if differs greatly between companies and policies. Just like human insurance, a deductible will need to be reached before the company will begin reimbursing you. The tricky part is knowing if you have to reach it each year or is it for the life time of the pet. In addition to having to reach it each year or not, sometimes you will have a deductible for each disease. So, one company may have a deductible to reach yearly but it covers all diseases. If you have a kidney failure cat, you will have to reach the deductible each year while treating it to begin the reimbursement. If the option is a deductible for the life of the pet then that same kidney disease cat will not need to reach a deductible each year. However, if the cat has something unrelated to the kidney disease like arthritis, then you will have to reach the deductible for that issue before getting reimbursed.

Pre-existing Conditions:
Get the policy while they’re young! That’s simple enough. If your pet had one ear infection before you start the policy, the insurance will NEVER cover it. One episode of diarrhea before, never getting covered. Even if you start a plan and have to cancel, if you begin again everything that occurred before you renewed your plan, even if it was covered before, will be considered “pre-existing.” Some policies will not even accept new patients after a certain age. Also, you should ask if they exclude hereditary issues. Some places won’t cover bulldogs for allergies because it’s a genetic issue. Or they won’t cover a german shepard with hip dysplasia. Check to make sure they don’t exclude certain things for certain breeds.

How much does this all cost? It depends on the plan and your pet’s age. Some companies will claim not to increase the premium(unless the cost of care goes up) and some will increase every few years. An example is a company that offers accident/illness only coverage will not increase the premium due to age(unless cost of care goes up) and another company that does wellness and accident increases every couple years but can go from $40/month for a young dog to over $100/month for that same senior dog.

Cost vs. Benefit:
As you can see these premiums can range from $500/YEAR to well over $1000/year. Some people may say “why put that money into insurance when you could save that on the side and use it when/if you need it.” That’s not a bad idea if you can make yourself save it. But what happens if within 2 years your pet breaks a leg and needs a $4,000 surgery. May not be $4,000 up front but may be $1,500 surgery and then added bandage changes, re-xray, meds, physical therapy etc and end up being $4,000. The insurance may well pay for itself if something happens. Of course, if you’re lucky enough to have a healthy pet it’s whole life than insurance would not be worth it financially.

Take Home Points:
1) Get a policy when your pet is young! This will help eliminate pre-existing issues.
2) You have to pay the veterinarian out of pocket for services, then submit a claim to the insurance carrier.
3) What is the deductible and does it have to be met every year?
4) What is the pay out limit? Do you have a cap per year they will pay or a cap over the lifetime of the pet?
5) Decide if it’s worth the plan that covers wellness(more likely to go up in premiums every couple years) or accident/illness only(more likely to stay around the same premium, depending on company).

Overall, pet insurance could be the difference between a client getting the best care for their pet or just not getting any treatment. You have to decide as an owner if you need that security or if you just want to have that one credit card for a rainy day.

Websites comparing insurance plans:

Consumer Advocate

Canine Journal

Nerd Wallet