Is pet health insurance worth the money?
Denise Leonard of Richmond thinks so, having saved thousands of dollars on vet bills for her 5-year-old yellow Lab, Caymus, who has broken teeth eating firewood and undergone $1,000 worth of treatment with a dog allergist.
A stay-at-home mom, Leonard doesn't worry about such expenses because Caymus has had insurance with AKC Pet Healthcare Plan ever since she was a puppy. She's covered for accidents and illnesses, as well as all routine care, including an annual dental cleaning and medications.
Leonard learned about pet insurance through her vet, and after her brother's dog had both knees replaced and another family member's dog required costly treatment for liver problems, Leonard recognized the value of insurance.
She pays a monthly premium of about $60, an annual deductible around $100 and 20 percent of covered costs, a model most pet insurers use. But packages can be tailored to your dog's or cat's needs, from accident-only coverage to a full range of care, from preventive to catastrophic. Monthly premiums start around $6 and increase to about $75; deductibles vary. Patients pay their veterinary bills and submit claims to their insurance company for reimbursement.
"It's a win-win situation," says Dr. Carolyn Evans, veterinarian and owner of Quioccasin Veterinary Hospital. "The costs are reasonable, and pet owners never have to stop and think about whether they can afford to treat their pets, so pets get the care they need."
Dr. Tom Massie Jr., president of the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association, also recommends insurance for many of his clients, saying it improves health care for pets by making it more affordable, especially in an emergency situation.
There are more than a dozen reputable pet health insurers, including Embrace Pet Care, Pets Best, AKC Pet Healthcare, PurinaCare, Trupanion and VPI.
Nonetheless, although the number of providers has more than doubled in the last decade, few pet owners choose to buy insurance. Of the 72 million pet dogs and 82 million pet cats in the United States, fewer than 1 million of them are insured, according to the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues.
Tina Metzger, the Midlothian owner of Penny, an 11-year-old cocker spaniel that underwent costly cancer treatment, didn't have insurance for her dog "because the vet never talked about it, and we didn't know anyone who had it." Although Penny is too old for aggressive medical treatment, Metzger says she will consider purchasing insurance the next time she adopts a pet.
Still, there are a few points to note before buying pet insurance: Pre-existing conditions, hereditary disorders, and ailments that strike during the first month of coverage are often not covered. Also, premiums rise and coverage shrinks for elderly animals. The American Animal Hospital Association publishes a checklist for choosing an insurance provider, including questions about policy exclusions, spending caps, and the appeals process for claim denials. Their best advice? Shop around.