Is pet insurance worth it?

October 7, 2011

lola REUTERS/handoutGiovanna Dimperio’s dog Lola, a pit bull mix, has a knack for getting hurt. Her first big problem — eating part of a Frisbee — resulted in surgery. The $1,000 bill prompted Dimperio to look into pet insurance. More than two years after signing up for the $25 a month premiums, she says it paid off.

When Lola blew out a ligament in her leg chasing a ball, Dimperio was told the dog would need “extensive, intensive surgery.” The charge was $6,000. Dimperio of Madison, Wisconsin, ended up paying $1,000 out of pocket.

A few months later, the same injury happened when the dog was playing a game of hide-and-seek. This round of surgery cost $1,000. Her cost: $200.

“Overall, we were pretty sad that our dog was hurt, and that the operations would be so expensive — but we quickly realized how lucky we were to have this pet insurance,” Dimperio says. “I had figured when it came time to collect on the insurance policy, something wouldn’t have been covered, but it truly was taken care of. They didn’t increase the premium on Lola either after the accidents, which I had also thought would be the case.”

When it comes to pets, it’s hard for many people like Dimperio to see them as anything other than members of the family. But — unlike your kids — figuring out whether pet insurance is worth it can be tricky: It ultimately depends on who you are as a pet owner and how much you’re willing to pay out of pocket.

Minnesota veterinarian and author Dr. Justine Lee says pet owners have a variety of factors to consider before making a decision about getting insurance. The best value for the insurance is when something catastrophic happens, but she cautions that it is vital to understand what is excluded. That can include pre-existing conditions, which often also means any known congenital problems, including hip dysplasia that is common to a wide variety of dog breeds — including  bulldogs, pugs, golden retrievers and German shepherds. Animals of mixed breeds can’t be excluded due to genetic issues attached to specific breeds, Lee says.

Owners have to also ask themselves if their pet could benefit from an MRI — which can cost $1,000 to $2,000 — and would be covered under certain plans. Would they go to great lengths to try to treat the animal if it meant another year with them? If the answer is no, then insurance might not be of value.

Lee suggested another tack to avoid insurance, but not be unprepared: Set aside the amount of a premium, about $1 to $3 a day, and put it into a pet account that you know is there just in case there is a medical problem.

“You’ll be a much more prepared owner,” she says.

Among the major pet insurance providers are VPI, Petplan, ASPCA and Purina. The website Moneycrashers.com recently looked at several providers and found monthly premiums for a young, healthy dog ranged from about $11 a month for emergency-only coverage to $90 a month for a policy that covered all medical expenses. Reimbursements in most cases were about 80 percent of the covered costs.

Pet writer Michele Hollow, who writes the Pet News and Views blog, says she’s not a big fan of pet health insurance, mostly because she has seen plenty of examples of readers who have gone to great lengths to save their ailing and often older pets and have spent $10,000 t0 more than $25,000 for surgeries and treatment.

“As hard as this sounds, sometimes it is best to put down an animal that is in pain,” she says. “It is the kindest thing to do.”

She advocates instead for being sure your pet gets to the vet regularly for well visits.

For those who see Fido or Fluffy as part of the family and think they’ll do anything they can to get treatment if that time comes, consider insurance so you don’t take a financial kick in the pants. Just be sure you know the deductibles, the restrictions and the limits so you’re not expecting to get a benefit you don’t have.

Dimperio says that for her and her oft-injured dog insurance was unequivocally the right choice.

“Now that I know how expensive pet surgeries can be, I surely wouldn’t want to be in the situation where I was paying $6,000 for Lola’s leg to be fixed,” she says.

 

 

 

4 comments

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I had Veterinary Pet Insurance for my dog and kept careful records over his 15-year lifespan. I had to fill out claim forms, get the vet’s signature for each claim and copies of detailed medical records, keep track of and follow up on unpaid benefits, submit additional documentation when claims were denied, and argue about a lot of vague exclusions that seemed to apply to whatever they didn’t want to pay. The net savings was just under 20%. Definitely not worth it; just another racket.

Posted by mario56 | Report as abusive

Another great pet insurance company (that was not mentioned in the article) is Pets Best Insurance. This company was founded by a vet name Dr. Jack Stephens– who was the actual founder of pet insurance in the US in the early 1980s. http://www.petsbest.com

Unlike many of the other pet insurance companies, Pets Best Insurance does not require a vet signature on claim forms, doesn’t have any upper age limits, costs around $1.00 per day, and doesn’t have any extra associated fees. Unlike VPI and some of the other companies, Pets Best Insurance pays a flat 80% of the ACTUAL vet bill after a deductible.

While it’s great (in theory) to set aside money for a pet health savings account– something to take into account is the possibility that you may just have begun saving, and your pet could have a serious illness or accident before you’ve saved enough money to cover the bill. Even if you’re putting around $30 a month into the account– two or three months into saving, you would still have under $100 available to you.

Visit www.petsbest.com for more information.

Posted by LovesDogzz | Report as abusive

Great article. It is always best to know what you are buying and find a plan that works for you and your pet! Here is another article on how to do your research:
http://www.petfirsthealthcare.com/commun ity/blog/2011/12/01/is-pet-insurance-wor th-it.aspx

Posted by PetFirst | Report as abusive

From what I understand traditional pet insurance doesn’t add up to much of a value once you take into consideration the monthly premiums and the fact that coverage is often limited. My sister-in-law had a vet practice and many of her clients complained of the headaches associated with traditional insurance, eventually opting for alternatives such as Pet Assure who offer simple discount plans. There may be others but I think they were the most popular. Anyone try them?

Posted by MiltonMichaels | Report as abusive