Mar 13 2012

Is Pet Insurance Right for You?

The phone rings at 1 a.m. on a Sunday morning (true story).
“Doc! My puppy ran outside and into the street and just got hit by a car! I found your number on-line so I called you. He’s bleeding all over the place. You need to come out right away! I think he’s dying!”

I jump out of bed and scramble for my work clothes while balancing the phone on my shoulder and clearing the sleep from my brain. “Is he breathing?” I ask while a jam my feet into my shoes and maneuver my left arm into my doctor coat.

“Yes,” the owner replies, starting to cry. “But Doc, I have to be honest. I don’t have any money to pay for veterinary bills. What do I do?”

How do you answer this? As a businessperson, who must purchase goods, pay insurance, pay salaries, make auto payments, buy gas and pay out many other sundry bills that deplete my small bank account, I cannot service everyone in need for free. I also have a heart and it breaks mine every time a call like this comes in.

Which is why I wish every pet owner took a good hard look at what catastrophic things could happen in your pet’s lifetime and how he or she intends to prepare for them. And then I’d recommend getting pet insurance.

We have insurance for many things in life- medical, auto, home, business. There are approximately 77.5 million owned dogs and 93.6 million owned cats in the United States per the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association 2009-2010 Survey. This translates to 45.5 Billion dollars per year, the vast majority of which is spent in veterinary care. Over the last 30 years, the veterinary industry has grown at a consistent rate of 10% yearly despite fluctuations in the general economy (CTVMA). The veterinary industry is one the fastest growing industries in America with 39% of households owning a dog and 33% owning a cat, and many households have multiple pets. With such vast sums being spent on veterinary care, it is a natural extension to include your pet’s medical insurance in the list of must-haves.

Yet despite how important it is, few people have any idea how pet insurances work, where to find them and how much they cost. In fact, there are eleven pet insurance companies to choose from. So I have done some legwork for you and have complied some important considerations that will help you, the pet owner, find the best insurance plan for your pet. In general, most companies allow you to see any regular veterinarian you want, and have you pay your bill to the vet, then reimburse you later. But it is when you get your check that the following questions come into play.

  • How does the company reimburse the client- is it based on a pre-set schedule of prices or a simple percentage? (I prefer percentage based as it often pays far more than the company-set limits.)
  • What is the deductible? Is it yearly, per incident or none? (You should be able to set this to your comfort level.)
  • Is there a co-pay?
  • Are there annual or lifetime maximums?
  • How do you get your money reimbursed? Direct deposit, check in the mail or directly paid to the veterinarian? (Does your veterinarian participate in direct pay or not? Most do not.)
  • Is there a waiting period? (Most have at least 2 weeks in order to reduce insurance fraud. Orthopedic waiting periods are often longer, taking 6-12 months before coverage begins, unless you get a special waiver examination.)
  • What age can you, or should you, start coverage? (I recommend as early as 6 weeks- the sooner the better! You NEVER know when something will happen.)
  • Do you want accident coverage, illness coverage or both? (Often you can only get accident coverage after a certain age, which brings me back to getting the insurance earlier rather than later.)
  • What is NOT covered? (Examples: cosmetic surgery, pregnancy, experimental procedures, emergency room ‘non-life threatening’ visits, breed specific conditions, hereditary conditions, orthodontic care…)
  • No company will cover a pre-existing condition, but different companies will classify pre-existing differently. (For instance, if your puppy had a respiratory infection at 4 months old, then was cured with antibiotics and has no residual problems, some companies will still call that a pre-existing condition, and will never cover respiratory infections for the LIFE of the dog. This is called distinguishing between ‘curable’ and ‘non-curable’ illnesses.)
  • Are chronic conditions covered, and if so, is there are cap to the care they will pay for? And then, will the company call it pre-existing the following year at renewal, thereby no longer covering it at all?
  • How is your premium determined and can you get discounts for spaying, micro-chipping, military service, multiple pets or payment in full? (Policies range from $20/month to $100/month depending upon the breed, your location, the species, the age and what you want covered.)
  • Do they cover wellness care? Dental care? If so, how much, is there a waiting period or a co-pay for these services?
  • Is alternative/ complementary medicine covered? (Something near and dear to my heart!)

Although I cannot advise you what type of policy is best for your situation, I would compare two well-known companies, and review these questions as you look over their benefits. Embrace insurance ( is a percentage based company that allows you to create your own policy that suits your risk and financial comfort. It has an easy website that will calculate your premium in many combination, and I am pleased with their reviews. VPI insurance is a well-known set-benefit based company that many of my clients have used in the past ( The best way to objectively evaluate the companies is by going to where policyholders discuss their experiences and satisfaction in an open forum.

No matter what company you chose, I hope you will never be in a position where your beloved companion’s heath is irreparably damaged because of financial hardship.

Oh, and by the way, that lady that called me in the middle of the night ended up hanging up the phone before I could get her address. I never found out what happened to her puppy.

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