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Pet insurance: Is it worth the price?

Insurance for your furry friends can be pricey, but there are ways to minimize premium costs.

By Cheapism.com Sep 30, 2013 2:13PM
This post comes from Louis DeNicola at partner site Cheapism.com.

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Pets are members of the family, especially the feline and canine varieties. When they're hungry we feed them, and when they're sick we take care of them. And when a medical emergency arises we do what must be done and worry about the bill, which can skyrocket into the thousands of dollars, later. Some dog and cat owners opt for pet insurance to cover such contingencies. But this product, too, comes at a hefty price.

Tony Campbell/ShutterstockLast year we suggested 10 tactics for reducing outlays on pet care. This year we queried five pet insurance providers about why cat and dog owners might consider insurance, what they can do to minimize the cost of premiums, and what fine print to watch out for.

The first question owners should ask is whether to buy pet insurance at all. Although pet insurance providers have an obvious bias towards an affirmative answer, they do offer several persuasive reasons why it might be a good idea. For one thing, more than one-third of household pets become sick or injured in the course of a year, noted Laura Bennett, CEO of Embrace Pet Insurance. And, added Jessica Calise, marketing manager at PetPartners, the cost of one emergency vet visit could easily top $1,000. Pet insurance, then, provides a type of security that lets owners make health care decisions based on medical necessity, rather than what their budget allows, say Chris and Natasha Ashton, co-founders at Petplan Insurance.

Pet insurance premiums are paid monthly or annually, the latter often offered at a slight discount. The cost varies depending on factors such as type of animal, age, breed and place of residence, and on the extent of coverage, the size of the deductible and the percent reimbursed (vet bills are typically paid upfront).

For example, the price of insuring a 6-week-old Maltese mix in New York City through one of the providers we interviewed ranges from nearly $22 a month to $63; the lower rate covers up to $10,000 a year in expenses, with a $200 annual deductible and 80% reimbursement; the higher rate covers up to $22,000 in annual expenses and miscellaneous outlays -- such as $500 toward boarding and $500 to advertise a lost animal and/or pay a reward -- with a $50 deductible and full reimbursement. Another provider charges $15.28 a month for a one-month-old mixed-breed male cat (also living in New York City) on a plan that includes a $5,000 annual maximum, a $500 deductible, an 80% reimbursement rate, and coverage for prescription drugs; choosing a $200 deductible would push up the monthly fee to $23.51, while wellness coverage would add $14.95 a month.
 
 
Upscale plans open the door to coverage for prescriptions, annual checkups and shots. Dental cleaning often can be added for an extra fee, and ditto for coverage of chronic and hereditary conditions (on the order of $50 a month with some providers). Some insurers argue that a full-bore plan that includes hereditary and chronic conditions is a better value than an economy plan with restrictions.

As evidenced by the examples above, the best way to lower the cost of a plan is to accept a higher deductible and lower reimbursement rate. Another alternative is to choose a low-cost plan with minimal coverage. For example, Veterinary Pet Insurance features a $10 monthly plan that covers injuries for cats and dogs but not medical conditions; an $11 plan covers the 15 most common cat medical conditions but nothing else.

Spaying or neutering a pet also lowers the cost of pet insurance, as is covering several pets at the same time (the family-plan approach). And if rising premiums become an issue, Dr. Jack Stephens, president of Pets Best Insurance, recommends speaking with the insurance provider before canceling. Most providers don't cover pre-existing illnesses, so trying to switch providers by canceling and then re-signing at a later date with the original carrier can prove even more costly.

Before choosing a pet insurer, it's important to check the fine print. A wellness option may set yearly allowances for certain services, a dental rider may exclude X-rays or crowns, and the deductible may not cover exam fees. Pet owners should carefully scrutinize plan restrictions related to specific breeds, conditions (such as cancer), or even animal age. Additionally, some providers don't cover costs for weekend emergencies or specialty vets even though their expertise may be necessary.
 
Adam Fell, a spokesman for Veterinary Pet Insurance , suggests that owners look for plans with an annual deductible rather than one that imposes a deductible for each incident. Dr. Stephens also urges owners to shop for an insurance company that reimburses based on the vet's actual bill, rather than a benefit schedule or a UCR (usual, customary and reasonable), which both pay a pre-determined amount. He also advises owners to inquire about how quickly insurance companies pay claims.

Bottom line: As with any type of insurance, tolerance for risk has a big impact on decisions about coverage. Cost plays a role, too, and pet owners need to weigh what they can afford emotionally and financially.

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26Comments
Sep 30, 2013 6:36PM
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I would, some animals are better than human beings....just my opinion.
Sep 30, 2013 4:40PM
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I have a mini-farm. I don't have insurance for any of them. I do shots myself. Everyone is either spayed or neutered. The costs they mention in the article are PER ANIMAL. Most homes these days have more than one dog or cat. I don't know anyone who has pet insurance because it's just too costly. Yes, surgeries can run into a lot of money, but are you really farther ahead paying possibly years of premiums "just in case"? I don't think so. Most vets will offer a payment plan or they can refer you to a company that could grant credit specifically for veterinary purposes. Personally, I think it's smarter to set up a savings account for pet emergencies. Vaccines are a good way to help keep your pets healthy and if you can do them yourself (except rabies), you're off to a good start. With everything they try to convince us we need for pets, it's a wonder we can afford pets at all. I think that the pet care industry and some veterinarians play into how much we love our pets. I hate to say it, but I think if you aren't careful, it's very easy to be taken advantage of by both by purchasing products or agreeing to services they don't really need.
Oct 3, 2013 10:46AM
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My mother back in the 60's had an envelope for each of her 2 cats and each of her 4 grandchildren.  Every week she put some money in it.  When she died in 1979, one cat, Jenny, was left for us to take care of, her envelope had $368.00.

Silly Mom....I donated the $368.00 to a shelter in Mom's memory and we took care of Jenny like a baby until she died at the ripe age of 19.

We do what we have to do with our responsibilities.

Sep 30, 2013 4:57PM
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I have pet insurance for our dog....we got it for him as a puppy and I'm glad we got it. We get reimbursed on shots, heartworm, and flea/tick. He had a tummy issue last year and we got most of our money back on blood work, etc. Our last yellow lab had lots of health issues, so we feel better having it. So far, it's been worth it. We don't have it on our cats though- we've been lucky to have our cats stay healthy well into old age (except for shots and other occasional issues)
Oct 3, 2013 12:29PM
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For the first time in my life I bought pet health insurance (VPI to be exact) for a 10 week old rottweiler puppy I got at our local dog pound last year. My reasoning was because I had a dog that had IMHA (Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia) caused by vaccines given by my Vet and the subsequent loss of that dog because I couldn't afford to treat her. I have had 1 cruciate ligament repair requiring a loan, and other maladies over half a century of dog ownership. A couple of months ago this puppy which was now 13 months old went into respiratory distress from a possible allergic reaction and needed to be hospitalized for 5 days, in an oxygen tank no less for a couple of those days, my hospitalization bill was approx $6,000 dollars and has climbed to $7,000  and will climb even higher with the ongoing after care that she will most likely need. She was diagnosed with a rare lung disorder called (PIE) Pulmonary Infiltrates of Eosiniphils.  I was relieved that I had purchased VPI (Veterinary Pet Insurance) and that I didn't need to worry about trying to save my beloved girl because I had wisely purchased this insurance. That quickly came to an end when all of the claims my Veterinary Hospital submitted were denied...the reason was because when my puppy was adopted by me from the shelter she had Kennel Cough, this was 11 months prior mind you. PIE is in no way related to Kennel Cough but VPI has chosen to use this excuse to not reimburse me for this claim. This has caused me great grief and anxiety on how I am going to pay off these maxed out credit cards when I thought this emergency would be covered under my Major Medical Coverage that I purchased from VPI. I even called in to VPI to let them know this was going on and was told that it was ok just to submit the bills and they will be taken care of. We are in the process of appealing their decision. Right now I can say I would NEVER recommend VPI to any pet owner, I feel ripped off at this point, and having to put all this money up front to be reimbursed is a crime in my opinion. I am continuing to pay the $32 premium, which comes directly out of my bank account, in case of something else happens to her, I am waiting for the results of our appeal before I make a decision to cancel the insurance.  When we get sick and have insurance we have a co-pay then all is submitted to insurance...pet insurance does not work that way, you pay up front, if it did we would have known up front that they were not going to cover treatment. 
I am very disappointed and would urge all that are thinking about pet insurance to really read the fine print and do your homework on the companies offering pet insurance. My dog has a huge following on facebook and in the areas she visits, my friends have watched her grow and know of the near fatal problem she had, they were amazed that I had purchased pet insurance on her and they themselves were waiting to see the outcome of the insurance payouts and many were looking into buying it for their pets, now they are waiting to see if I get reimbursed at all. I am wondering how regulated pet insurance is, and you can bet your bottom dollar this will be my mission to find out in the very near future. 
Sep 30, 2013 6:10PM
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I see no reason for us to carry insurance on our dogs. We have two very happy and healthy Chihuahua's who have only ever been to the vet for shots and spay and neutering. They have never been sick (one is 3 the other 13) and honestly, if our older one did get sick or her quality of life were to diminish so much that she wasn't really living, we would put her down. Yes, we love her and she is a huge part of our family, but just as I don't want to see a person suffer I don't want to see my animals suffer either. As for any injuries, i.e. a broken bone or something, I would suck up the cost for something like that because that is not an everyday occurrence.
Sep 30, 2013 4:59PM
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Beware of Pet Smart. Just saying.....
Oct 3, 2013 11:23AM
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Some people don't realize that most of these plans, if not all of them, work by REIMBURSING medical costs.  So if you don't have the big bucks ($1,000 or more for a broken leg, $5,000 - $10,000 if a car accident, etc.) to pay your vet up front, these policies can be useless.  My vet told me it is best to get a credit card with a decent line of credit and reserve that just for pet medical care.
Sep 30, 2013 6:10PM
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Are we insane as a society, that we need to insure our pets too. Cant we quit feeding these greedy insurance moguls. We dont remember as a society when accidents in life affected us we came together as neighbors and friends to help one another. In case of fire flood health issues etc. Now our first call is to whatever insurance rep is needed. Do they give a rats uknow what about you. If we werent paying so much to the medical insurance cartels do you know how much cheaper our medical care would be ? I bet youd be surprised.
Oct 3, 2013 2:16PM
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We got a Chihuahua/Mini Doxie puppy in January.  I had thought about pet insurance before, but because our cats are already well into adulthood (they're actually considered feline senior citizens) it didn't seem very cost effective for them.  The dog is a different story.  When I looked at the cost of all the dog's office vists, vaccines, spaying, including the dr and the hospital, it seemed far more cost effective to get insurance.  So far, I was 100% correct.

 

I pay $31.95 per month for her first year and it drops to, I believe, $21.95 after she's 1 year old.  At $31.95 per month (just under $385 a year), it's paid for itself many times over.  The bill to have her spaved was almost $700 - nearly TWICE the annualized premium.  So, yeah -- it saved me a LOT of $$!  After she's 1 year, the cost is just over $250 per year.  Her average office visit runs about $125.  Two office visits and it's paid for itself.

 

I would absolutely 100% do it again if we ever have another puppy, or even a kitten.

 

Oct 3, 2013 6:46PM
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I have 2 dogs and 6 cats insured through Pet Plan. What I have received in pay outs from them has covered every ones premium for a year. I had to take both of the dogs to animal emergency runs about $1200.00 for each and a cat with a pancreatitis attack that ran about $2000.00. All were paid in a timely manner and no quibbling about what was and wasn't covered.
Dec 9, 2013 11:39AM
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i have really enjoyed reading this article and i will be returning to find out more in the future about <a href="">pet insurance</a>
Oct 3, 2013 4:44PM
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IF you have a horse do not even THINK about not getting insurance for them ! They are the most expensive animals ever to mantain and if they get sick. or surgery is needed .............well say bye to your bank account  or have them euthanized unless you have insurance or are a millionare.
Oct 1, 2013 9:20AM
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Based on my observations of my brother's french bulldog, if you have a high-risk breed like a french or english bulldog, or one of the high-health problem larger dogs, get insurance. That thing is more expensive than a child.
Oct 2, 2013 6:44PM
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This yarn is about whole milk.  I'm my favorite pet and as such treating me frugally and healthily

is top priority.  But there's a WEALTH of savings that can be passed to you by me treating my

pet very well.  For starters, I loathe reduced-fat gallon sized milk products.  I've tried for years to

like reduced-fat milk and have not changed my mind since age 7. At 70 now, I'm not about to

change.  Or so I thought until and hour ago.

 

Our chain grocers sell milk by the gallon, and give discounts for two gallons purchases at a time.

The usual cost of one gallon only is $4.09, the usual cost of two one-gallon packs is $3.09 per

each. (Save a dollar per gallon but two must be purchased.)  I can't consume even one whole

gallon in two weeks usually so two whole gallons would be out of the question as an avenue to

save. Not only that, I usually dispose of one-third a gallon within any 2-3 period, so again, one

gallon is too much but to buy the quarts the prices are even more ridiculous, so wasting is the

the lesser of two evils. So how does this affect you? Well, shop more often perhaps, or drink

more and waste less, or buy smaller quantities. Maybe do some of all? Ya, some of all.

 

A less-fatted milk is healthier for an adult; you'll have calcium deposits from drinking too

much whole-milk products, your cholesterol will become unbalanced, etc., etc. Your weight

and body mass index won't appreciate whole-milk either.  Doctors recommend low-fat milk.

Because I was wasting milk (last time I checked my refrigerator) and noted again that even

the cheese was turning blue (which has to be cut away and wasted)  I decided to adjust the

fridge's temperature to very cold.

 

Went shopping two day later. Bought milk for a dollar less than normal for a gallon size but

didn't get whole-milk but rather "44% less fat than whole milk" reduced fat milk (says its 2%

milk-fat). Brought home and refrigerated. 36 hours later decided I wanted a drink of milk.

 

Delicious!  Reason? The temperature!  All these years later and I could have been healthier,

and saving a bundle by buying the lower-fat substituted milks but never knew the temperature

would affect the taste. Today my PET is happier than ever and I'll never return to whole-milk.

LIVE LONGER, HEALTHIER AND SAVE 25% per container when you shop!  Such returns

the stock market isn't offering usually.   

Sep 30, 2013 5:48PM
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Surprised the Libs. haven't mandated pet insurance. After all it would make it so much cheaper for those on food stamps and welfare to cover those poor animals that help them cope with not having a job.

Sep 30, 2013 4:09PM
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They are animals and not human beings. If we treated the people aroundus as well as we treat our pets the world would be a better place.
Sep 30, 2013 2:49PM
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Anybody else remember when you got the dog a rabies vaccination every year and that was it ? If he got too old and sick, he got the needle and you moved on.
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