Pet health insurance. Like everyone else who’s been in and out of the veterinarian’s office with their pet, I’ve heard of it. But is it worth it? Does it make sense? What exactly does it cover? Is it crazy to buy my dog insurance? After pondering these questions myself, I went in search of answers. In the end, I did purchase dog health insurance for Maggie, but what I really want to share with you in this post is all the useful information I’ve learned along the way.
Is pet insurance worth the cost?
It definitely can be. Just like with humans, we don’t know how our health issues will play out, but — also like with humans — as pets grow older, many require vet visit and treatments, for digestive issues, for musculoskeletal issues, for dental issues. Then there are accidents and sudden illnesses, which can happen at any time and are completely unpredictable, from traumas to cardiovascular disease to cancer.
Recently, this happened to my best friend. Her four year-old Golden Retriever was diagnosed with an incurable, inoperable cancer. The total vet bills were over $15,000, and even then, the dog couldn’t be saved. That probably sounds like a lot of money to you (it does to me) but there are many necessary veterinary procedures that have high price tags. The surgical repair of a knee ligament can cost up to $8000; treating and managing diseases like Cushing’s and diabetes can be $10,000 annually.
Also, because genetic issues run in dog breeds, make sure you know which genetic conditions to be aware of in your dog’s breeding. If you have a breed that has a high rate of genetic health conditions, definitely consider insurance to help alleviate those eventual costs.
We all love our pets. The last thing we want is to have to make a choice to treat them or save their lives due to our own human economic circumstances. No one wants to be at the emergency vet under those circumstances. Insurance gives you the peace of mind for these instances when you really need to do whatever it takes. I know I would go the extra mile to make sure Maggie gets all the treatment and care she needs, so why not protect myself (and my bank account) now by investing in that promise?
(Note: For the cat people out there, cats can get insurance too. For the purposes of this post, I didn’t really dig into it, but what I did learn is that cat insurance is less expensive than dog insurance.)
What is covered?
Most pet insurance companies only cover injury and illness. However, there are a few, which I’ve noted below, that have wellness plans available at an additional cost to cover your routine check-ups and dental visits.
It’s never too early to get health insurance for your dog. Insurance won’t cover a pre-existing condition, so the sooner you have a policy in place, the less you have to worry about. Here’s an example from my own life: Maggie has allergies that have required tests and shots. If I’d insured Maggie before the allergies occurred, all of her treatment would have been covered. Because I had no insurance for her, those costs — and they were considerable — were out of pocket.
To really, really know what’s covered under each policy, you really do have to read the fine print. Study every website inside out. That way there shouldn’t be any surprises. Each company offers a slightly different service, so you should choose the policy that best fits your desired coverage for your pet’s breed and lifestyle.
How does pet insurance work? What vet do I go to?
Pet insurance is different than human health insurance because, with most policies, you pay the vet bill up front and then you’ll be reimbursed by your insurer directly. This allows you to take your pet to the veterinarian of your choice – such as a holistic vet or a sought-after specialist in your state. However, there are some vet-specific insurers such as Banfield, where you are restricted to using the extensive Banfield network.
Pet insurance is similar to human health insurance in that there are deductibles, co-pays, and maximum payouts. Again, it’s all in the fine print, so take the time to read through it.
What to look for in a pet insurance policy:
Even if you go with one of the insurers listed below, policies are always changing. There are things I would make sure are covered before you take out coverage for your pet’s care.
1. Cancer. Sadly, cancer is not uncommon in the canine world. Treatments are available — and improving in efficacy — but usually very expensive. Some breeds are more vulnerable than others. Check to see what coverage is available for this.
2. Chronic diseases. Conditions like kidney disease and arthritis are common in senior pets. Make sure you know before your pet gets old that this is included in your coverage.
3. Continued coverage for chronic diseases. Make sure you aren’t covered only in the year it was diagnosed; otherwise you aren’t saving yourself as much as you would be if your pet has lifetime coverage.
4. Hereditary and congenital diseases. This varies from breed to breed. If you have a breed with a predisposition for certain conditions, ask your prospective insurers specifically about coverage for your dog. (If you’re not sure what genetic conditions might occur in your breed, an online search should turn up that information.)
In the end I went with Figo Pet insurance but here’s a look at other policies that I considered:
Banfield – I’ve spoken to some pet parents that love this insurance. It would never work for me, as Banfield requires you to exclusively use the Banfield network of providers. I already have a primary care vet, Dr. Sherif, and a holistic treatment vet, Dr. Mahaney, who aren’t part of the Banfield network. If an emergency arises that requires a specialist, I’d like to take my dog to the specialist of my choice, rather than limiting myself to Banfield vets. However, Banfield does have a wellness plan, meaning your can get coverage for your non-emergency and preventive vet services like annual check-ups, vaccinations, and teeth cleaning.
Embrace – Embrace is a plan I was honestly really excited about. A big reason was that, for an additional cost, Embrace offers a wellness package that covers the annual dental and health care visits. But while Embrace has good polices, my research showed you can get a lot more coverage for less out-of-pocket each month. The Embrace policy was almost double what I currently pay. Yikes! But Embrace does offer accident coverage for pets over 14 years of age, which is very good news for senior pet owners.
After studying the website, I was still confused about coverage, so I got in touch with Embrace. There are three different wellness plans: (1)$18/month, which gets you $250 coverage, (2) $32.50 month for $450 total coverage and (3) $46.95 for a total of $650. When you do the simple math, you’ll see that you are saving at most $34, $72, or $86 per year on those coverages. Because I thought this didn’t sound like a good deal at all — your coverage maximum is only slightly higher than your paid premiums — I called them to ask about it. But that’s what it is, take it or leave it.
Trupanion – Trupanion is one of the big players in the pet insurance world. They have been around a long time and their name is well known. But I noticed there were a bit more expensive than other policies and the coverage was a bit less. Their policies had a lot of fine print. For example, Trupanions covers dental surgeries, but only if the pet owner gets their pet’s teeth examined by a vet every year and if the owner follows all of the vet’s recommendations for dental care (which would be at the owner’s expense). I also learned they charge a deductible per condition, instead of a flat or yearly fee. It was this last thing that made me look elsewhere.
VPI/Nationwide – Nationwide bought out VPI pet insurance, they are now the same company. VPI had the most restrictions of all of the ones I looked at. The list seemed to go on and on. VPI does not cover dogs more than 10 years old, hip dysplasia is covered only with restrictions, prosthetic and mobility devices have limited covered, chronic conditions covered only with restrictions. Etc. It’s a lot of fine print; it’s up to you if you want to read it and internalize it for your next vet visit. They offer a plan called a ‘Benefit schedule’ which has a very misleading name, it basically means they have a predetermined amount of how much they pay out per condition. For example your dogs ACL surgery may got $4,500 but they have already written in pages of text that the max payout for this is $1,500 and that’s not negotiable; in my eyes you canre’t get the most coverage for your pet and that’s what this is all about.
Pet Plan – Pet plan’s deductible is per incident (and by policy period as well) instead of per year, which could add up quickly and is something I simply don’t agree with, so that was the deal breaker for me.
Healthy paws – Healthy Paws seemed to me to be almost on par with Figo. There are a few restrictions regarding hip dysplasia and alternative treatment, and the latter was an issue for us as I’m a fan of holistic and alternative treatments.
UPDATE: a quick update from my original post, I also learned that Healthy Paws does not cover the vet visit for an issue (not speaking about a routine early vet visit, but the vet exam when you think/see an issue arise), these vet visits can quickly add up and be a major portion of your bills – so to me having them covered is a must.
Figo – Figo surprised me in a number of ways. Figo is a new insurance provider and I hadn’t heard of them before, but they clearly have studied the market and are doing it right. For starters, their communication has been top notch. Shelter pets – like Maggie! – get a 5% discount (I was able to get the same discount for Maggie’s friends which can be applied by clicking this link or the Figo logo below and the coupon will be automatically applied). A Figo policy covers the exam fee for vet visits (although not an annual check-up). You can submit bills for reimbursement through their mobile app — take a photo of the bill with your smart phone, upload it, answer a few questions, and in less than two minutes, it’s all submitted. Figo fully support going to the vet of your choice. As we travel a lot, this is important, as is coverage for holistic vets and alternative treatments. We are huge fans of holistic vet, Dr. Patrick Mahaney so knowing Maggie is covered at her annual vet with Dr. Sherif or with Patrick puts me at ease.
For just a small additional amount more each year you can get unlimited coverage. I opted for this as the amount was insignificant. There’s no upper age limit — a problem I know some of our friends have encountered with senior animals – so you can stay with Figo for the life of your pet. I was pleased to see there’s no co-pay or deductible for emergency treatment, although I also have to admit that I hope I never have to take them up on this.
A lot of blog posts are posted by pet owners in exchange for discounts and promos with an insurance company. Figo did not ask us to do this. I did my own research, crunched my own numbers, and read lots of fine print, and after all that, I came out of it with a Figo policy. You might find something different is more suitable for your situation, but in any case, I hope you found my information helpful. We get nothing personally from the Figo discount, just an added benefit for friends of Maggies.
Insurance infographic from Visually.