PET INSURANCE: THE REAL STORY.
Every day I am asked about pet health insurance. Is it worth it?
How much is it? Does it pay to get it, or is it just a sham? What
does it cover? All very pertinent questions. Please understand that
what you are about to read is my opinion and mine alone, based on
my years of experience in private practice. Others certainly may
differ with my opinion, and the world of pet insurance is changing
all the time. I will try to keep you posted as new developments
The world of veterinary medicine is changing rapidly and we are
now able to offer pets nearly the same care that humans receive.
But this care does come at a cost. And because euthanasia is an
option in veterinary medicine, unfortunately some decisions regarding
the care are based more on the economics than on what is best for
a pet. This is the harsh reality of being a pet owner and a practicing
veterinarian. So where does insurance fit in ?
Pet insurance has been around for nearly half a century in one
form or another, mainly in Europe. Although less than 1% of pets
in the US are insured, in some parts of the world this number reaches
25%. Americans have been much slower to accept third party payments
for their pets. Some reasons for this are:
- The US has a human health care system that is much different
than other parts of the world, so our point of reference is a bit
- Health care for pets is more expensive in the US, so the insurance
costs relative to the coverage you receive is not perceived to be
as much of a value as in other countries.
- I believe that as pet insurance became more readily available
in the US, people were becoming more and more disenchanted with
their own health insurers, so they sure were not going to trust
similar companies to insure their pets.
With the development of expensive new technological and medical
advances, we are all going to be deluged with advertising and information
about pet insurance. There are many policies out there and it is
impossible for even me to decipher what some of these policies say.
Let me share a true story with you (the names are changed to protect
I was working with insurance Company A who wanted to begin a new
pet health insurance program. They registered one of their own pets
with Company B, one of the companies that had been around for many
years. After paying the premium, the Company A personnel received
the policy and all its information, declarations, etc. Then there
was an assignment; they pretended the dog had a particular illness
and created a fake invoice for the diagnosis and treatment. Five
employees from insurance Company A took the invoice and the policy
information, and went off to try and determine how much they would
be reimbursed for this medical problem. Can you guess the outcome?
They came back with five different reimbursement amounts with dollars
differing by as much as 40%! If insurance experts cannot decipher
exactly what is covered, how can you and I?
So what information can I give you? First, what do I really think
about pet insurance? I think it is a good idea. Again, the medical
advances come with a price and if you want the best for your pet,
insurance is a good investment. But you have to have realistic expectations.
Pet insurance does not work like people insurance, and this is where
most people become disenchanted. But don't get discouraged, because
if you think about it our human health care system does not work
all that well at times.
So how do most of these pet insurance policies work? Here's what
you need to know:
- Most of the policies come with some sort of deductible, either
per year or per medical event.
- Most have a co-payment, meaning the company and you each pay part
of the bill.
- Most have a maximum they will pay for a particular incident, and
you are responsible for the balance.
-In most cases, you have to pay the veterinarian in full, then
submit the insurance papers for reimbursement (most reimburse within
30 days and often within 15 days).
This information is not meant to sound negative, just realistic.
The insurance is still a good thing to have, but I'd like you to
be sure you know what you are getting into.
Now here is where I will go out on a limb (again, this is only
my opinion). Many policies have come and gone and many more will
do the same. There are multiple policies on the market at any one
time. In my experience, the best company out there is Veterinary
Pet Insurance (VPI). They have been around now for nearly 20
years. They know what a hard business it is, what premiums should
cost so they can be around for the next 20 years, and they know
what the pet owner and the veterinarian's needs and wants are. They
are a company that has weathered the test of time and unlike many
other companies, they are not in it for the quick buck. VPI (www.petinsurance.com)
is in it for the long term. They want to help your pet, provide
a way to decrease euthanasia due to finances, and make an honest
living doing it. I have seen too many other companies try to make
a go of it for the wrong reasons and, in the long run, they have
generally disappointed their clients
As I have no vested interest in VPI, I am simply giving you my
opinion based on my experiences and those of my clients.
So my recommendations are the following:
- Insurance is not for everyone. Some think it is great, some
think it is silly. I think it is a good investment.
- In my experience, Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI) has
been the most reputable company for the longest period of time.
- Have reasonable expectations. It is my impression that the insurance
will usually cover between 50% and 75% of any particular incident.
- If you have one major medical incident with your pet throughout
their lifetime, the policy will most likely pay for itself.
- Remember that, like all insurance, you want to have it, but you
hope you don't have to use it. If you never get your money's worth,
it means you never had a major crisis with your pet. That's good
I hope this helps shed some light on a very difficult and confusing
subject. In future articles I hope to give some examples of real
life events and what insurance would and would not have covered.
As always, I'm happy to help your pets….and their people, too.