A bit ago, at the AVMA Convention, I ran into a former colleague at the airport. She now works for Petplan Pet Insurance, which is a neighbor of NSVH, based in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. We had a lengthy discussion about the value of pet insurance, and what Petplan offers its customers. Pet insurance is something I advocate regularly, but unfortunately only a small percentage of our clients insure their pets.
Pet insurance is a bit more commonplace in other countries, particularly England where reportedly 15% percent of pets are insured. In the United States, the statistic is less than one percent! As most of us pet owners know, owning a cat or dog is not an inexpensive proposition. Food, treats, collars, beds, grooming and accessories are only a very small percent of the costs of owning a pet. Many people who have never owned a pet before, or haven’t owned one in many years, are not familiar with the costs of routine and emergency veterinary care. For example, it can cost upwards of $1,500 or more to appropriately treat a cat with a urinary tract obstruction, a life-threatening but common emergency in young male cats. Heartbreakingly, I have euthanized several blocked cats over the years because the cost for treatment was too much for the client; this is a particularly difficult decision for all parties, since a urinary tract obstruction is entirely treatable. Many dog owners are familiar with cruciate ligament tears, which are the most common orthopedic injury we see in canines; surgical repair of a cruciate injury can exceed $3,000 or even more.
What I have found over the years is that my clients who have insurance for their pets are able to make the best medical choices, with less concern for what things cost. Clients with insurance are not faced with having to euthanize a pet with a treatable illness because they cannot afford the treatment; instead, they can make the decisions that are best for Fido, and for their family, without worrying about economics.
Pet insurance does work a bit differently than human medical insurance. Clients are typically responsible for their bill in full, every time they visit the veterinarian. Reimbursements are done directly from the insurance company to the client. Every pet insurance plan offers different levels of care; some cover routine services such as annual examinations, vaccinations and preventative care like screening bloodwork. Other insurance companies, like Petplan, offer large amounts of coverage for surgery, hospitalization or medical care for illness, but not preventative care. As I tell my clients, if Fido has one surgery or one hospitalization in the course of his life, your insurance has likely paid for itself. Most animals have at least that, plus more, in the course of their lifetimes.
Before enrolling your pet in an insurance program, please read the fine print! Know what your deductible and monthly payments will be, what level of coverage is provided and what the maximum reimbursements are. Insurance is truly beneficial for all pets, but especially for our disease-prone purebreds (Bulldogs, Boxers, Labradors, Bernese Mountain Dogs, and all purebred cats to name a few.) However, unlike Petplan, some plans exclude genetic or inherited diseases with specific breeds (ahem, bulldogs) and many will exclude pre-existing conditions. Often clients want to enroll in an insurance plan once Fido has been diagnosed with cruciate injury and needs surgery; unfortunately many insurers will not cover this, as it is pre-existing. The key is to enroll your pet in a plan when they are young and healthy, before any illness or injuries are diagnosed. And make sure to find a plan that will cover diseases common to your purebred pet.
Of course, it goes without saying that pet insurance is not a magic golden ticket that will free animal owners from all out-of-pocket veterinary expenditures. It does not cover every scenario, nor reimburse every dollar that you might spend. Pet insurance, like car insurance or homeowner’s insurance, is peace of mind for when the unthinkable happens- for life’s calamities. After a decade in this profession, I can tell you that the unthinkable happens entirely more than you could ever expect!