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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. lisawogan.com

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Submitted by Annie Marie | December 15 2009 |

I signed up my lab last year with Trupanion pet insurance after doing a great amount of research on all of the companies policies. It's important to research them all before you purchase a policy so it makes sense for your wallet and your pet. I had to file a claim this summer when Charlie got into an accident and needed surgery on his hip. I have no idea how I would have been able to afford it if i didn't have him insured. When it comes to our pets, they really are unpredictable in instances when a random illness or accident can occur. Pet insurance is quite different from human insurance, but I can see why you might be slightly uncomfortable. Trupanion pet insurance covers 90% of the vet bill, they cover hereditary and congenital disorders, and their premiums don't increase with the age of the pet, unlike some other companies out there. After having pet insurance, I've realized that $27/ month for peace of mind and knowing my pet would be covered is definitely worth it. It may not be for everyone, but checking it out is worth a shot. :)

Submitted by JoAnna Lou | December 16 2009 |

I've been thinking about it a lot lately, especially because I recently had an $800 emergency vet bill that didn't even include any surgery!

But for every story I've heard where someone has gotten an expensive surgery covered, I've heard several more where people have had a hard time getting money reimbursed. And I've heard most insurance companies don't cover agility injuries.

I do think that pet insurance companies are evolving, so I'm not totally ruling out the possibility yet!

Submitted by Anonymous | December 17 2009 |

I had a dog I couldn't afford to treat. It broke my heart. I wish I had had insurance.

Submitted by Anon | August 3 2010 |

Yeah I know what you mean same thing happened to me..and from then on for every pet I have I have insurance..I mean I'm not gonna say it cheap cause it's not..but it's a smart investment...and if you are considering insurances do a little research...sites like this one are sure to be helpful Dog Insurance Reviews

Submitted by Tima P | December 17 2009 |

I had ASPCA insurance, paid $400 a month for 5 animals. They paid virtually nothing back and anything they did actually pay, was only after numerous phone calls, resubmissions, etc. I would caution buyers to beware. They repeatedly declined for pre-existing conditions that did not exist, for claims they said were routine lab and not covered, that were actually diagnostics etc. A big big pain. I cancelled.

Submitted by Anonymous | December 30 2009 |

Wow, that is pretty pricy!

Submitted by Candace | December 19 2009 |

After having an emergency with my dog last summer where she tore a muscle in her leg I was very disappointed with my insurance. After spending over $300 on x-rays and diagnostics and then another $600 on treatment I got $50 back. I was told it was because it was my $300 detectable which also comes off of your maximum payout each year, My maximum payout for alternative treatments (which is what we did) Didn't cover any of the treatment, most went to my deductible and apparently x-rays aren't covered. I ended up spending all of the money I had saved all year for school to make sure that my dog got the treatment she needed, luckily the treatment worked she is happy and we didn't need to go threw with surgery.

Submitted by Judith | December 22 2009 |

I had thought about pet insurance, done the research and pretty much picked out the policy I would eventually go with (PetPlan USA http://www.gopetplan.com/). I can't say I was conscientious enough to think over the thoughtful issues of the author; I wish I had that excuse. Before I actually signed my greyhound up, she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. We immediately signed up our second grey, and will not bring another pet into our pack without insurance.

We are 1. completely goofy about our dogs 2. good at research about treatments and blessed with wonderful vets and great resources for consultations and 3. in the fortunate position to be able to pay the + $4000 Maggie's care is costing. So much for a Christmas (or anytime soon) vacation, though.

However, we don't want to and could not do this again. It is heartbreaking to have to think of money when you have a sick or injured pet. As another poster stated, it is worth the price of the premium for peace of mind. It sure helped calm me down when Cookie, the insured grey, needed stitches from the emergency vet (the insurance company paid up and quickly!).

You definitely have to do your homework, however, as some policies are just evil scams, IMHO. Check out http://petinsurancereview.com/ for a good starting place. If you have a breed of dog that is prone to a hereditary illness or condition, DOUBLE-CHECK the policy. Check to see if your pet is covered for life.

Feel free to reply to me is you want more of my opinions!

Submitted by Laurie | December 23 2009 |

I carry pet insurance through Pet Plan for my three border collies. I've watched too many friends dogs go through expensive surgeries and rehab and wanted to make sure that was an option for us if something ever happened. In the last two years I've filed enough claims for smaller things that it at least covered the cost of the premiums for the years. I hope I never need it for anything big but if I do it's peace of mind. I do not intend to use it to go to drastic measures is the outlook for one of my dogs wasn't good. I believe there is a balance you have to strike and it's something you have to think about in advance so it doesn't become an emotional decision later.

Submitted by Anonymous | December 23 2009 |

I purchased petplan pet insurance because I wanted a plan that would be there for any major emergency that we might face. The plan is backed by the humane society and doesn't cover routine procedures, but I already budget for those. I wanted coverage for the unforeseen cancer or broken bone and this plan covers that. It doesn't cover hereditary problems, but I think being a dog owner implies swallowing the fact that purebreds are going to have hereditary problems. In the end, I know I would mortgage my house to keep my dog alive; and therefore, I'd rather pay a minimum amount every three months to an insurance company to keep from having to do just that.

So far, I haven't had to use the insurance and I hope that I never have to! However, it will be there if I need it.

Submitted by Miss Jan | December 30 2009 |

The problem with pet health insurance is twofold: one, that it is largely unregulated as an industry so chicanery abounds; two - you STILL have to pay the vet and then hope for reimbursement at a level that you think you are paying for. IMHO, that latter isn't going to happen any time soon. Please understand that vets' offices are not going to bill the insurance for you. Even in the emergency situation, you still have to pay FIRST and go begging to the insurance company afterwards. When you do, you will be supplicating "adjusters" whose complete job description could be written like this: "save money for your employer." Not "pay the nice people for their poor dog's injuries/illness/hereditary problem." I have to say I've also overheard my horse vet saying that it was no problem to "charge what the traffic would bear" about an owner whose horse needed surgery and who had insurance for this which is even more rare in equestrian circles than among companion animal guardians. I do think it is a temptation to vets to keep raising the fees esp. for exotic surgeries which may or may not actually improve the life of the animal, as well as unnecessary and duplicative diagnostics. I personally have been thinking long and hard about watching the whole pet insurance thing travel paths identical to the abusive human health insurance problems and would like to see a lot more intelligent legislative oversight of these companies before purchasing their expensive "products" which are most often emotionally marketed and spontaneously purchased on scare tactics by these often unethical companies.

Submitted by Katy | December 30 2009 |

My dog, when first adopted from a humane society (before her training as a Service Dog began) was given a bill of good health upon my adopting her.
The adoption agency was clear that she had just been spayed, had all her shots and "appears to have a good, clean bill of health" is what is said on my receipt.
My dog came with an insurance plan that was supposed to cover her for two weeks post-adoption in case anyting came up.
Turns out she hadn't been vaccinated, as the shelter claimed, and that she had Parvovirus and almost died three days after adopting her. The shelter, despite veterinarian documentation, tried to pass it off as Kennel Cough when I demanded that, if the dog died, I be refunded my adoption fees.
I sold my saxophone and my computer in order to pay for the emergency vet fees up front so that my dog of 3 days would survive, because insurance requires you to apply AFTER you've payed. So I payed, called the insurance company and guess what... the insurance company decided my dog got the illness AT THE SHELTER and so, she was not covered by the plan.
The shelter claimed she didn't have it with them so as not to return my adopting fee, but the insurance claimed she got it there so as not to pay for her surgery.
I was disgusted by the deceipt on the part of both the shelter and the insurance company, especially when a week and a half later, the company called to ask if I wanted to renew my insurance plan for my dog!! Talk about unprofessional. And this is the insurance company the entire shelter was dealing with when adopting out animals!
So be warned: You have to pay for your pet's veterinary care up front either way. When you buy pet insurance, you are buying the CHANCE that you MIGHT be reimbursed, which is at the sole discretion of the insurance!!

As a side note: Please consider donating to the Farley Foundation, a Canadian Not-For-Profit Charity dedicated to assisting the disabled with emergency veterinary bills for their pets (or service animals).

Submitted by Kari Jo | June 26 2010 |

I too have Trupanion Insurance for my GShep and 2 chihuahuas. After many late nights perusing the web for Pet Insurance options after adopting my rescued GShep, a friend told me about Trupanion. He'd already had one successful claim with them, and was quickly reimbursed 90% of his large (a few thousand dollars) vet bill after an emergency incident with his GShep). I figured I could always cancel if I found something better, but at least here was an actual report from someone I actually knew who had actually gotten a check from their pet insurance company - and without any problems.

I'm still with Trupanion, no need to use them yet thank goodness, but my same friend has again. He said he was reimbursed his 90% even quicker this time (another emergency appointment running a few thousand, his dog gets into a lot of stuff adventuring I guess!!), with no fuss from Trupanion or increase in his rates. He couldn't be happier with them. Seems like with dogs like ours, who are out at the park or beach daily, hiking a few times a week, leading very active lifestyles, pet insurance is indeed worth the minimal monthly expense. (We each pay around $35-40 for each dog for $0 deductible). Also, since I got the GShep covered before he was 1yr, Hip Dysplasia is covered too).

Not a bad deal for peace of mind, I hope I never have to use it!

Submitted by Greg | July 10 2010 |

When I adopted my two mixed breeds 11 years ago, I decided to forgo insurance. I assumed the roughly $600 in premiums I would spend over 10+ years would exceed any potential medical expenses. Boy was I wrong!

For 10 years both dogs were very healthy. However, last August, my Jiffy was diagnosed with soft-tissue sarcoma. In 4 months, after biopsies, surgery, prescriptions, and radiation treatments, I racked up bills over over $12,000. On top of all that, my little girl passed on Christmas Day.

During all of this, I reviewed many pet insurance policies and finally settled on Trupanion for my 10 year old Border Collie mix. I was limited to just a few based on her age. However, I liked the fact that Trupanion has a $20k lifetime limit, with no per-incident maximums. Also, they pay 90% of ACTUAL costs (what's with this ALLOWED costs BS, anyway?). Due to my dog's age I pay a monthly premium of $50, but it is well worth the peace of mind after the amount I spent last fall. Thankfully, I haven't had to use it but I'm comforted in knowing that others have had positive experiences regarding reimbursements.

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