|Captain after an overnight stay in the emergency vet clinic, treated for pneumonia when he was a puppy.|
Our Introduction to Pet Insurance:
When we were planning on getting a puppy, my Uncle kept recommending that we get pet insurance. At the time, I kind of laughed it off. Insurance? For my dog? What? Never having had a dog before, it seemed like a hassle, and a waste of money. The first time we took Captain to the vet for his puppy shots, our Vet also provided us with some information, and left the decision up to us- she was pretty up front about it sometimes paying off and sometimes not. We didn't seriously consider insurance until after a GIANT vet bill from an unexpected- and scary- trip to the emergency vet.
Captain's puppyhood was filled with a few issues, including a number of episodes of giardia and a few bouts of kennel cough. These are fairly common for puppies, particularly those in cities or who go to day care and dog parks, since their immune systems are still developing. As with human child development, there's the argument that the social interaction with peers (yes, puppy peers!) outweighs the minor sicknesses, and may possibly strengthen immune functioning in the long term. But the difference is, most puppies don't have health insurance, so every time you are treating those sicknesses, you are paying out of pocket for them. Unless, that is, you have health insurance- although even then you may be paying at least a chunk of the cost. (By the way, yes, it is very important to take your puppy to the vet if they are experiencing an issue! Better safe than sorry!)
One Friday night, we came home after a puppy social, and Captain wouldn't stop wheezing and twisting his neck around. It looked like he was painfully trying to get air, and it scared us. He'd recently had kennel cough and had finished his medication, so we thought he was all clear, but his breathing suggested it had now taken a turn for the worse. At about 10pm on a Friday night, we took him to SF's SPCA emergency clinic (a really great facility, by the way).
After a few hours, we were told they thought he had pneumonia and that he needed an overnight stay, various tests, etc. When we were given the anticipated bill, our mouths dropped. It was over $2,000. When the clinician handed us the sheet of paper though, she told us to ask questions if needed. At the time, I was still in grad school, and my husband was unemployed (what a winning financial combo, I know!). So my husband started asking questions about each item, and that was when we were told not everything was absolutely necessary. It was kind of a new concept for me to "negotiate" terms at a medical center. I had background thinking, as a human- or at least as a lucky health-insured human in a developed country- that if something is medically needed and available, it's done. Of course I wanted the best care for Captain, and I was a little uncomfortable trying to negotiate a "bargain basement" medical treatment. At the same time, forking out over 2 grand for everything under the sun was a hard pill to swallow...
In the end, we ended up paying for what was necessary to get him better, while balancing cost- which meant leaving out a few diagnostic tests, but paying for x-rays and overnight treatment, somewhere around $1,200 I think. Ouch. That was when I started looking in to pet insurance- which would have reduced my out-of-pocket cost to only a few hundred dollars. I signed up for a pet insurance plan through VPI shortly thereafter, and it has helped to cover some costs for heartworm and flea meds, yearly checkups, and portions of other vet visits.
After two full years of a (thankfully!!) completely healthy pup, though, I'm starting to question our $49/month payments, especially when I look over the list of benefits schedules and limits. Allergies are only covered as one incident (no matter how many times you go to the vet for allergic episodes), something to consider for Vizslas especially. And there are other considerations...
- During the time we've had pet insurance (about 2.5 years), we've had an average of 42% of our vet costs reimbursed. That sounds fairly helpful, except that we are paying a month rate, and the savings haven't been offset by the amount we've spent.
- Comparing the cost we've spent on vet bills to the cost with vet bills+ pet insurance less pet insurance reimbursements, we've spent an extra 17% (about $350 more during our 2.5 year pet-insurance coverage, above the cost we would have spent on vet bills alone during this time had we not payed for pet insurance.
- If we had gotten pet insurance right when Captain was a puppy, before any giardia, kennel cough, or pneumonia (which we had to claim as pre-existing conditions, and for which we cannot receive any reimbursements for), we would have saved a few hundred dollars.
Pet Insurance Basics (based on my knowledge; please consult with individual insurance agencies for more info!)
- The amount of coverage you receive will improve the more you pay monthly.
- There are different coverage options, from emergency accident-only coverage, all the way up through "superior" medical coverage.
- Any condition your dog has had before you enroll for insurance cannot be claimed in the future, since it will be considered "pre-existing."
- A few pet insurance companies:
- Peace of mind. Most of us have health insurance, and pay a pretty penny for it; why shouldn't our fur-babies be covered too?
- Emergency situations and large expenses will be significantly cheaper if you have insurance.
- You can choose different plan options, to fit the type of coverage you want.
- Our experience with VPI has been overall positive- the agents are very friendly and helpful, and the claim reimbursements are processed fairly quickly.
- Monthly payments may not be offset, particularly if you are paying for insurance for a healthy dog.
- Pre-existing conditions are not covered, which is a greater issue for older dogs.
- Expenses are not fully covered, and are sometimes poorly covered depending on the condition.
- You need to stay on top of submitting claims, and you must wait for reimbursement checks.
I actually don't have a "final" conclusion; I'm still weighing the pros and cons and thinking about what makes sense, and what makes sense will likely differ for different dogs. I'm eager for readers to weigh in their thoughts and experiences in the comments below, as I hope this will be helpful not only for me but for others dropping by to learn a little bit more.
For more information:
- I found a good article on MSN Money weighing the pros and cons of pet insurance. And of course, the breed they picked for their dog picture is a total winner ;-)
- Check out www.petinsurancequotes.com to compare payments by insurance company.
I will update this post as needed.