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Buying Pet Insurance
Do you or don’t you?

Earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal ran a short piece on pet insurance. Mostly, it’s a primer on how to shop for policies. In a Bark story last summer, Nancy Kay, DVM, recommended considering pet health insurance as one of ten strategies for stretching your vet dollars (More Bark for Your Buck, May/Jun 2009). Everyone seems to think it’s the coming wave, even though only about one million pets in the U.S. are currently insured.

But I’m not onboard. I haven’t invested in pet insurance for my dogs, and I’m not entirely sure what’s stopping me since I figure I’d willingly mortgage the farm to treat anything that might ail them. Part of my problem is an uncomfortable feeling about pet insurance turning into the convoluted nightmare that is our current health insurance setup. As treatment for dogs and cats becomes more advanced, specialized and expensive, it’s easy to imagine that pet insurance will distort costs and decisions. If I only pay for 20 percent of my dogs’ treatment (a pretty common coverage level), won’t I demand more care? Won’t that drive up costs overall? And what will more treatment mean to my dogs, especially late in life? Medical interventions to extend a dog’s life, such as surgery and drugs, aren’t without risks, side effects and pain all born by an animal who can’t understand why he or she is being subjected to these measures. And I haven’t even raised the specter of HMOs—but once pet insurance is firmly entrenched, won’t the industry push back and attempt to dictate treatment? After all, there’s a precedent.

Of course, I know the argument on the other side—an unexpectedly sick or injured pet with a good prognosis, plenty of quality life ahead but owners’ with no money to pay for care. I haven’t stood in their shoes, and probably if I had, I’d be writing my check to VPI right this minute. How are Bark readers making this decision?

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Lisa Wogan lives in Seattle and is the author of, most recently, Dog Park Wisdom.

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