Is it worth it to get pet insurance, what to know, and company comparison

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?

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(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.

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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:

figo pet insurance discount code maggie and nicole ellis

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.

 

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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.

 

Pet Insurance Infographic

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  13 comments for “Is it worth it to get pet insurance, what to know, and company comparison

  1. February 24, 2016 at 10:31 pm

    Thank you so much for this post. I am not familiar with Figo but I am going to look into their policies. I have been searching for an insurance company that won’t be too expensive but still help in the event of a major illness. ♥

  2. February 27, 2016 at 11:33 am

    Hi! So glad we could be of help, I found myself in the same predicament and wanted to help others find a good company too. There are so many companies out there to make money and not help the pets, and we all know that’s know what it should be about.

    I’ve been really happy with Figo, you can text them with any questions you have as well. And uploading vet bills is as easy as taking a photo with the app. Be sure to use the discount if you go with them 10% was a helpful discount for my pup. Let me know if you have any questions and I’ll be happy to help.
    Best,
    Nicole

  3. Paul Royce
    November 12, 2016 at 12:52 pm

    Hi Nicole!
    Thanks for the informative article! I agree that Figo seems pretty good but i do want to point out a few things that i think you may not be aware of….
    One of the only problems with Figo is if your pet is not neutered or spayed…then there is a list of exclusions a mile long! You really have to read the fine print when it comes to pet insurance! There are other pet insurances that do NOT have all these penalties if your pet isn’t neutered or spayed.

    Another issue seems to be Figo is really big on you ‘following all of the vets recommendations’. I see potential possible major issues with this, for example, lets say the vet recommended you get the dogs teeth cleaned when really the teeth were not that bad but the vet wanted the extra money so you decided to wait a few more months, Now, lets say your dog was biting on a bone and cracked his tooth which would have happened regardless if you got the teeth cleaned or not would Figo use the fact that you disobeyed your vets recommendations regarding teeth therefore would not pay the claim???? I would be real concerned about that because Figo will tell you that want you to follow ALL your vets recommendations!
    Let me know what you think!
    Thanks!
    Paul

  4. November 18, 2016 at 1:54 pm

    Hi Paul,

    Great questions!! Love the interest in this and very responsible thoughts. I actually followed up with them and got some answers that I think make complete sense personally. If you have more questions I would be happy to pass on their email or ask any other questions, they have always been fast to respond.

    As to our spay and neuter exclusions, we understand the concern are actually in the process of implementing an updated version of our policy. This updated policy no longer includes the spay/neuter exclusion. If you visit our FAQ page, http://support.figopetinsurance.com/customer/en/portal/articles/1929985-plans-and-sample-policy-download-?b_id=11682, you can see which States have already approved our new policy version and download a copy. If the State does not have the new policy implemented as of yet, then it would still include the spay/neuter clause. The policy changes are all pending approval by each State’s Department of Insurance. I would suggest that anyone who has questions to reach out to Figo directly.

    As far as following your veterinarian’s recommendations, our policy does ask that you follow your veterinarian’s recommendations, but if you’re concerned as to the recommendations your vet is administering, this can be addressed with them directly. Ultimately, veterinarians should be acting in the pet’s best interest, to help make sure they stay healthy, which is why we ask that the vet’s recommendations are followed.

    Hope that helps clarify. 🙂

    All the best,
    Nicole

  5. Paul Royce
    November 18, 2016 at 2:34 pm

    This is awesome news Nicole! That was my only real concern, the spay/ neutered exclusions and since you have it confirmed that is being deleted from the policy i am signing up!
    I can agree with you now that Figo seems to be the best out there!
    Thanks for all the time and research you have done on this valuable topic of pet health insurance!
    Paul

    PS. I can understand why you think that Healthy Paws pet insurance seems to be on par with Figo and before Figo i would agree with you 100 percent that healthy paws was one of the best ones out there BUT Healthy Paws does NOT ever pay for the exam! Even if its an emergency exam! Next time you update this blog please point that out because even though they list that on there website some customers seem surprised.
    Remember, Healthy Paws pay ZERO exam fees, so regardless if you go to a specialist vet for an exam, your regular vet or even an emergency vet exam they pay ZERO for the exam and that can really start to add up especially if your pet develops a chronic illness where he need to be examined frequently by a specialist!

  6. November 18, 2016 at 2:51 pm

    Fantastic, I did not catch that but I’ll update it now! That is great to know and really interesting as like you said that can be a major portion of your pets bills!! Fantastic team work, thank you for that additional info and love to hear your pet(s) will be insured too – hopefully we both never need it!

  7. November 22, 2016 at 10:48 am

    Hi Nicole, this is an excellent write-up on pet insurance. Having worked in the industry for six years, I especially agree with the four points you mentioned in what to look for in a policy – and why reading through each provider’s terms and conditions is critical to really understanding what you’re purchasing for your pet. One note I did want to mention is simply that Petplan now offers an annual deductible and unlimited annual coverage option for new policies as well, which could be useful for readers to know when conducting their research on pet insurance plans. Thanks again for the great article!

  8. December 1, 2016 at 5:50 pm

    Thank you Keith! I really appreciate that. Great information to know!! Thank you!

  9. Guin
    March 2, 2017 at 9:07 pm

    I just signed up for Healthy Paw for my 11 year old dog ($55 a month / 60% reimbursement / $750 annual deductible / unlimited coverage). I just discovered FiGO and wondering if I should switch. In comparing FIGO to the most similar plan with Healthy Paw ($85 a month / 70% reimbursement / $500 annual deductible / unlimited coverage). I think the only real difference if you remove the techy / lost pet / vacation payout (stuff that I don’t care too much about when deciding which to choose) is that FIDO covers hip displasia where Healthy Paw does not (note this is a plan for older dogs)
    My main issue is that pet policys rise each renewal year. Even though Healthy Paw does not increase due to pets increase in age, they still raise it due to high cost of veterinary care. Can anyone tell me about how much these increases are each year with either company?
    I’m fine to pay monthly what it is now but scared to be locked in each year while these companies can raise the rates so much but can’t switch due to pre-existing clause.

  10. March 5, 2017 at 7:13 pm

    Hi Guin,

    Hip dysplasia could be super expensive,I would ask your vet to examine your pets hips to see if he thinks it could be a potential issue in the future.

    I’ve had Figo for 2 years so far and I was charged the same each year – so thats good. Maggie is 9, so she isn’t super young. But their customer care team is amazing so I’m sure if you call them they can explain when they do increases – I would love to know too! Hope that helps.

  11. Guin
    March 5, 2017 at 7:18 pm

    Thank you so much. They told me the increase as they age will go up a few dollars to up to $10 a year. If that is the case it is reasonable. I am thinking of joining FIGO and canceling Healthy Paw once FIGO kicks in because with Healthy Paw they only offer one plan which is covering only 60%. At least with FIGO I can choose to pay more each month and get more % covered. I have done excel on each company and different plans and I found that with the FIGO plan regardless of the % covered, once you factor in how much you pay yearly, there isn’t much of a difference. I’ve spent days maybe weeks figuring things out and my head hurts. I still worry it won’t be worth it but after having to pay $10k in one month (and still climbing) I think I should do it for the future (knock on wood).

  12. Guin
    March 6, 2017 at 8:22 pm

    FIGO requires you to do an annual exam every year or you might run into problems. Does anyone know how this works? My dog rarely went to the vet until recently when she became ill. I assume we will continue to go for annual exam each year as she is older dog. I was just wondering if anyone experienced this with FIGO? I think I’ll sign up with FIGO and eventually cancel my Healthy Paw which I just enrolled in last week. I like that Hip Dysplasia and vet exams for illness is covered where HP doesn’t. My dog like most older dogs have arthritis. I’m worried they will consider it as “symptoms” of Hip Dysplasia if she were to get it.

  13. March 6, 2017 at 9:18 pm

    I’m not too sure how that works, sorry – I take mine yearly for an exam and titer tests.

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