Pet insurance can buffer shock of veterinary cost
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EASTHAMPTON — A few years ago, my usually lively dog, Kobe, seemed subdued, so I took her to the vet. A quick exam revealed she’d cracked a molar, and it required immediate extraction. Since she’s a dog, she’d need general anesthesia, and since she’d broken one of the three-root molars canines have, the extraction would be complicated (read: expensive). They’d have to break the tooth, and remove it shard by shard.
I think I felt as much pain as poor Kobe when I handed over my emergency credit card to cover the $700 fee.
My vet, noting my dismay, mentioned that pet insurance would have helped with the cost. I bought a policy immediately, and thanked the doctor profusely two years later, when a hiking accident necessitated a $2,200 ligament replacement surgery for my furry friend.
My experiences were not unusual for today’s pet owners. Americans now spend more money on our pets than ever before. According to the American Pet Products Association, total pet expenditures last year topped $50 billion, and much of that spending was on pet health care. Constant innovations in the field of animal medicine mean that we can do more to help our pets live longer, healthier lives, but this comes with a giant price tag. And that’s where pet insurance can help.
The first pet insurance policy written was for a dog in Sweden in 1924. Britain started offering policies in 1947, but it wasn’t until Lassie was insured in 1982 that pets in the USA started getting coverage.
Now, though, we’ve made up for lost time and at least a dozen major pet insurance companies exist, all offering different types of plans.
All pet insurance companies sell reimbursement plans. So technically, the plans are styled more like property coverage. When your pet is “damaged” by illness or injury, you pay the expenses yourself and then submit the vet bill to the insurance company for reimbursement.
Depending on your plan, you’ll be reimbursed anywhere from 50 to 90 percent of the bill after paying your deductible. Most plans accept claims from any vet, which is great if your pet gets injured while you’re on the road. Most plans will also determine for themselves what acceptable charges are for various services, so if you go to a pricey vet the plan may only sign off on a portion of the charge.
Most companies have a cap on per incident reimbursements, and some have an annual cap as well. So do the math, and make sure that cap will allow reasonable charges — you don’t want to pay into a plan that won’t provide enough help you much when you need it. Occasionally, a vet will allow a patient to pay only their unreimbursed portion, and will agree to be paid the remainder directly from the pet insurance company. This is not a common practice, so check with your vet before assuming this is a possibility.
Ranges of coverage
Most plans have many coverage options, as well as different deductible levels, ranging from full wellness/preventative coverage to catastrophic only. For my dog, who signed on in middle age, I opted for a mid-range plan that reimburses me for expenses resulting from accident or illness.
Most plans will reimburse a portion of end of life services too; which is one less thing to worry about while grieving a loss.
And keep in mind ...
Read the fine print regarding age limits and pre-existing conditions. Most policies won’t kick a pet off once it reaches geriatric age, but few accept senior animals.
Make sure you have documentation proving your pet’s age. And check to see precisely what will be covered; some companies allow pre-existing conditions, some don’t.
The more exotic your pet is, the harder it may be to find coverage. Most companies only sell cat and dog policies, and while policies do exist for birds, reptiles and other exotic pets, they’re hard to find. VPI is the only major company that offers them.
Horses are a different industry entirely, and there are companies that offer equine coverage.
How to choose?
I chose my company, ASPCA (part of the Hartville company), because that was the only flyer in my vet’s waiting room. Now that I’ve learned more, it seems a few other companies are slightly better for me, but since my dog is twelve she’s too old to switch around.
The website www.petinsurancereview.com is a good place to start searching. It has a chart comparing all major plans, and maintains a database of customer reviews and comments. What’s more, you can input your pet’s information and request multiple quotes.
When you pay a monthly premium, it may feel like you are just building up savings to draw from. But having a pet plan is far more helpful than a savings account. If a young pet needs care, it’s unlikely a new savings account would hold enough money to cover your vet bill. And as costs keep rising, the money you save today may not be enough for tomorrow.
Most importantly, the policies buy peace of mind. As my friend Cheryl, a Vermont equestrian, puts it, “the policies buy comfort … I can concentrate on what’s best for the horses and not worry about my wallet.”
And ultimately, we all want to do what’s best for our best friends.