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Cost of Pet Care Part III

When I first heard about pet health insurance, I was leery. If it is anything like health insurance for people, then we and our pets are in big trouble. I’ve spent countless hours on the phone fighting with health insurance companies over payments for my child’s coverage. I always win. I have the support of wonderful doctors. The insurance company always tries to deny coverage–even when my son is entitled to it.

So, I approached pet health insurance with a great deal of negativity. However, my mind has been changed. Veterinarians are smart people. They learned a lot from watching medical doctors deal with insurance for people. While our doctors have hired staff to handle health insurance payments, veterinarians don’t have to.

It's important to keep up with your pet's routine care. (Photo courtesy: PurinaCare Pet Health Insurance.)

Pet health insurance plans are agreements between the carrier and the pet owner.  Policy holders are reimbursed by the insurance company, so the vet is out of the loop. We fill out a form, submit it with our vet’s invoice to the insurance company, and the health insurance company sends us a check.

Plus, there are no networks. You can go to any veterinarian.

Who Needs Pet Insurance?
“Pet owners see their pets as family members,” says William H. Craig, DVM and chief medical and underwriting director of PurinaCare Pet Health Insurance. “We want the same health care for our pets as we do for other members of our families. Unfortunately, a lot of technological advances come with a price tag. Advanced imaging procedures, ultra sounds, high tech surgical procedures, the list goes on and on.”

“Ten or so years ago, many of these procedures were not possible. Pets would have had to suffer with consequences of disease. We have so many more options these days. However, these procedures come with a price.”

Choosing A Policy
Deciding whether or not your pet needs pet insurance is a personal decision. “The sole purpose of pet insurance or any insurance is to soften an unexpected, financial bill,” says Frances Wilkerson, DVM and the author of A Vet’s Guide to Pet Insurance.

Costly, unexpected, financial hits in veterinary medicine come in the form of:

  1. Emergencies (fractures, accidental poisonings, foreign body ingestion, etc.)
  2. Chronic diseases (heart disease, liver disease, cancer, chronic kidney disease, etc.)
  3. Sudden, service diseases (pancreatitis, leptospirosis, etc.)

To get an idea of your costs, ask your veterinarian, ‘What is the highest estimated cost I can expect from each of the three scenarios above?’ The costs will vary based on geographical location, with big cities being much higher than rural areas.

Health Insurance Policies Differ
“The rules for each policy vary among the 50 states,” says Arnold L. Goldman, DVM, Canton Animal Hospital in Canton, CT. Consult with your local veterinarian and your state’s insurance commission.”

Dr. Goldman believes that pet owners should purchase health insurance before any pre-existing conditions occur, but for major medical only. “The cost of first dollar insurance for routine annual care is not worth the bother or extra cost whereas, the security of knowing that if a disaster occurs, a sudden illness or accident, the cost of the required care will not have to limit the possibilities or result in the end of a pet’s life,” he says. “Insurance represents peace of mind.”

The Cost
Policies vary. Some can cost as little as $5 a month. Some have deductibles, others don’t. Insurance for large dogs will cost more than insurance for a cat. The breed and the size of the animal are factored in, and can greatly effect the cost of the policy.

Not all animals are covered. PurinaCare, for instance covers dogs and cats. The bottom line is to do your research. The prices for many policies are on the insurance sites. Ask about pre-existing conditions and other policies. For instance, dysplasia is not covered by most insurance companies. A few vets said that the surgery is costly, and that it is most likely a financial decision made on the part of the insurance company.

Ask lots of questions, and you can visit sites like Pet Insurance University.

The series continues on Monday with a post about pet medications. You can read Part I, where readers sound off about their high pet care bills or Part II, where vets speak out. If you want to share tips on how you handled pet care costs, please post them in the comments section. I hope you are your pets are well.

7 comments to Cost of Pet Care Part III

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  • I have mixed feelings about pet health insurance. If you’re going to buy a plan do your research! Just because you have a plan doens’t mean that it’s a good effective one

  • Yes, it really is important to be prepared for emergencies, and pet insurance is more affordable than insurance for myself! Thanks for the informative post.

  • Great series, Michele. Being faced with a large vet bill has occurred more than once in our home, and advance preparation is the key. What I have found to be the most difficult is comparing the policies! Many exclude conditions based on breed as well as pre-existing conditions. Wading through the mass of information has kept me from getting a policy for Buster – though after reading your post I’m going to get it done. Maybe I can get Rod to do it?

  • Sherri

    It is a good thing to look into. I just heard about it last year and ended up enrolling my dog not long after. I used it twice to file illness visits to the vet and they were covered 90%. Really great! And you’re right Karen, just because you have it, doesn’t mean it’s the best..it’s important to shop and compare companies. I’ve had Trupanion and they worked best for me, price and coverage wise, and they are the only company that doesn’t increase your premium as your pet ages…pretty neat. http://www.trupanionpetinsurance.com

  • I always make sure that my family gets Health Insurance from very reputable companies. health insurance is very important these days.:”,

  • Hi Mary Alice,
    Farm Sanctuary is one of my favorite nonprofits. They do such good work to help farm animals.