Am I being gullible for considering cat insurance?
September 30, 2009 3:25 PM   Subscribe

Am I being gullible for considering cat insurance?

My cat-girl is about to be 6 months old. We pretty much found her on the streets when a baby. She had a funky eye, flatworms, a crazy flea infestation and was insanely underfed. we took care of her and now we want to take her to the vet so she gets spayed. They will spay her as long as she has all her vaccines and other thingies in order (she has none of these), and at the local pet supermarket they advised me to get her cat insurance. The prices are as follows:

First payment: 69.99
monthly payment: 21.00

This insurance covers vaccines, spaying and other basics for no extra cost, plus free vet visits with/without calling in advance, and a 10% discount on anything else.

I thought it was a good deal, but then, how big is the probability that my cat will need to go to the vet in at least 7 years?

Prices without insurance: The spaying alone is about 400.00 dollars, and the vaccines are about 50.00.
posted by Tarumba to Work & Money (27 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You could consider getting the insurance solely for the spaying and vaccines, then promptly cancel it.

Consider that if the insurance was worth the cost (ie, you profit from the transaction), they wouldn't sell it to you. There's a short term benefit, of course, which would make me figure out a way to get the insurance solely for the spaying and vaccines. However, if insurance companies paid out more than they received, they wouldn't exist. Hence, never insure costs you can't otherwise bear yourself. Keeping a pet should fall under that category.
posted by saeculorum at 3:29 PM on September 30, 2009

Best answer: That's a bit pricey.... Yes, for the first year, IF they cover everything 100%, it's a DEAL!

After that, unless she has a catastrophic problem, heavens forbid, she should be fine for at least 10 years.... Your costs would be annual physical and vaccines, maybe $100 a year.

10% on everything else - like food and toys and litter? That MIGHT be a good deal if you had more than one pet, but only her on the plan! Find out more on the specifics. Then Google the plan name, and look for complaints about the company not paying, or anything else that may be a deal breaker.
As she gains weight, she WILL start to go into heat, and you DON'T want that! She's a lucky girl, kinda reminds me of my kitty girl's story...
posted by Jinx of the 2nd Law at 3:32 PM on September 30, 2009

Best answer: If you put $70 in a no-interest account right now, and $21 a month here on out, you'd pay for the vaccines and the spay surgery in 18 months. It doesn't seem worth it to me, unless as saeculorum says you can cancel the insurance at any time (doubtful).

Basically, getting pet insurance over the long term doesn't make any financial sense. Just put the monthly payment in a high-interest savings account instead and it'll be there when you need it.

If you don't think you can afford the spay fee, there are ways to get discount certificates. Here is a list of programs by state. Some of them have income requirements but a lot of them don't.
posted by muddgirl at 3:37 PM on September 30, 2009

Best answer: Short version: don't, unless (as saeculorum suggests) you've got a plan to screw them, so it ends up in your favour. And that's likely to be difficult, because they're the ones writing the terms.

Longer answer: it's basically something to sell the pet owner who has everything. If you get your cat healthy, keep her indoors and safe, your vet bills should trail off to nothing after the first year, so you'd be spending good money on nothing. At the end of the cat's life, when you're facing thousands of dollars of bills to treat feline lukemia or diabetes, it's time to let the little guy go, not sink the housing budget into him.

Here someone relates their experiences with pet health insurance. They basically say that every nightmare you have dealing with people health insurance is double for pet insurance because it's a smaller industry that's basically selling a bauble. "They are notoriously bad at honoring the terms of their policies. I have to hound them to pay claims, and sometimes they still won't pay what they are obligated to under the policy."
posted by fatbird at 3:40 PM on September 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Spaying for 400 dollars?!?!? Whoa, where do you live? Please check to see if there is a low-cost spay/neuter clinic nearby (or even not-so-nearby). The one in my town offers spaying for $45 for cats, and the only shot they require is for rabies, which they will provide for a minimal cost.

That being said, pet insurance is like any other insurance. A waste of money, unless you need it, then it is well worth it. Always a gamble.
posted by thebrokedown at 3:40 PM on September 30, 2009

I have Pet Insurance. I paid something like 150 bucks for the year. Did this for three years. Just tried to use it a few weeks ago after a heft vet bill and they gave me the run around saying it was a 'pre-existing condition'. It wasn't. I argued. They argued and refused to pay.

Fuck you, Petplan.
posted by ryecatcher at 3:43 PM on September 30, 2009

Oh and yeah, the spaying cost seems really high. You can get it done for free or low-cost in LA at a variety of clinics. Probably in your area too if you look around.
posted by ryecatcher at 3:44 PM on September 30, 2009

Yeah, I only paid around $150-200 to spay my cat in NYC. I would look around for other vets =)
posted by shownomercy at 3:44 PM on September 30, 2009

I think the difference between pet insurance and human insurance is that, honestly, medical care is cheaper for pets - if it's more expensive then a couple thousand dollars, then it's probably not treatable.

The problem is (and I know from first-hand experience) that pet owners don't plan ahead for any health issues, so even a small vet bill can be a budget-killer. But the solution is not to spend $21 a month on a service that you won't earn interest on. The solution is to set aside an emergency budget, just like we do for a car or an HSA for humans.
posted by muddgirl at 3:46 PM on September 30, 2009

Cat ownership, presuming that you will care for the animal through its full life, tends to be most expensive toward the beginning, and then again toward the end. Can expensive things go wrong during those many years in the middle? Sure, but do you also buy extended warrantee insurance for your television and dvd players? The big box stores--and, make no mistake, our "local pet supermarkets" are in many ways the equivalent of a big box store--promote these insurance programs because the stores make big profits from them.
posted by applemeat at 3:54 PM on September 30, 2009

Pet insurance is a rip-off. Unless you plan to feature your cat in a death-defying sideshow during which she is shot out of a cannon without a net. And then they probably wouldn't cover that, as Feline Flight is a pre-existing condition.

Also: $400 to spay a cat? Are you having her encased in gold, too? That's outrageous. Find another vet.

Note: a few years ago I got a cat from the pound. She was spayed, vaccinated, and flea-treated. It was less than $200.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:00 PM on September 30, 2009

Unless you plan to feature your cat in a death-defying sideshow during which she is shot out of a cannon without a net.

Not covered. See page 17, ยง IV, Paragraph 5(B)(3)(iii).
posted by applemeat at 4:05 PM on September 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have pet insurance for some of my cats, and plan to get it for future cats, because I seem to wind up with cats with bizarre medical conditions that require lifelong medication. The pet insurance really helps with that. But from my experience and research, while I have the coverage for weird catastrophic things that come up, I've never seen any pet insurance where the coverage for just regular spaying, vaccinations, and annual checkups was worth it. I wouldn't get this particular plan you're being sold.

Check into low-cost spay/vaccination clinics for starters, and then start putting some money aside to handle the regular vax/check-up maintenance stuff. When time permits you might start looking around for better pet insurance options, but don't rush into this one. Doesn't sound worth it even to me, and I'm more pro-pet-insurance than most people, I think.
posted by Stacey at 4:08 PM on September 30, 2009

Best answer: This sounds like Banfield. If so, they are super scammy.

The prices of included procedures are much higher than market prices. So that free 400 dollar spaying? Should only be 50 dollars at a low-cost clinic, maybe 120 at a real vet. Also, they don't handle real emergencies or difficult procedures. I had a situation where they ran 800 dollars worth of tests (AFTER INSURANCE), and then gave me the option of exploratory surgery or referring me to a local vet specialist.

The local vet specialist promptly ran the same tests about 30% cheaper (apparently nobody in the industry trusts banfield quality), told me that surgery would be a terrible idea for a 16 yr old cat, and provided a number of non-surgery options.

Find a different vet.

And if you worry about catastrophic events, metlife and a number of other insurance companies provide non-scammy pet insurance.
posted by politikitty at 4:19 PM on September 30, 2009

Response by poster: It is Banfield! thank you so much to everyone! I'm so not getting the insurance and will do more research with other vets. Yeah, I know there is no way I will get 500 dollars in medical expenses for a kitty who seems to be alright, and I really just need to cover the basics...

Thank you all for your help!
posted by Tarumba at 4:21 PM on September 30, 2009

Response by poster: Also: no circus tricks for her, she's too lazy for acrobatics.
posted by Tarumba at 4:23 PM on September 30, 2009

I really wish I had some form of pet health insurance on my girlcat. She cost me about $2000 in vet bills within the first six months I had her. First the spaying (which was a couple hundred at the cats-only vet in Philly), then $1800 for the surgery to remove from her gut a piece of plastic she'd swallowed.

But the reason I never got insurance, even after that, is that I just don't trust any of those insurance companies to pay out.
posted by Netzapper at 4:28 PM on September 30, 2009

Um... pet insurance? No way. Don't bother with it. Unless your cat has an accident, the plan will never pay for itself.

I had my cat, Amber, for 16 years. During that time, her most expensive medical need was her teeth-cleaning, which I paid $200 for in Year 15. In Year 14, I paid $110 for her "Senior Blood Screening", to see if her bloodwork showed any health issues.

In Year 16, she had some sort of blockage in her sinuses that would have cost me $1,900 just to have the vet take a look/maybe biopsy. Had it then been diagnosed as cancer, the treatment would have been $8,000 or higher. She'd had a really phenomenal life up to that point and I couldn't see subjecting her to sickening, possibly painful, chemo/radiation treatments.

For years 1 through 15, she was cheap. I spent maybe $50 a year on her for her medical needs. More likely, I spent a lot less each year. I think I paid more for her litter than I did for her medical.
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 4:32 PM on September 30, 2009

"...the local pet supermarket they advised me to get her cat insurance."

Of course they did... they're trying to make a buck.

I've had cats all my life. Never spent much beyond spay/neuter and initial shots.

"The spaying alone is about 400.00 dollars..."

Whoa! Find a decent ASPCA. The one near me (NorthEast PA) does strays for free. (of course, please offer to pay them something for their time)
posted by jamesalbert at 5:01 PM on September 30, 2009

That's 252/year. I think it's a bad deal.
posted by theora55 at 5:25 PM on September 30, 2009

Best answer: Pet insurance for routine care (which includes vaccines and spaying) is a waste of money. Pet insurance for catastrophic (sorry) illness can be a good idea. They also will not cover pre-existing conditions or anything they can possibly claim is related to a pre-existing condition, with your kitty's already extensive history, you may be SOL anyway! Look into CareCredit for emergencies, or just put your would-be insurance premiums into a kitty bank account, is my suggestion.

Avoid Banfield like the plague, they are a corporate chain, it's like getting your own health care from Wal-Mart. They are notorious for over-vaccinating and under-diagnosing. Find a real vet.

$400 for a spay is nowhere near out of line, if you're talking about a good vet with a modern anesthetic protocol and good pain management. Sure, you can go to a low-cost speuter clinic, and you will get low-cost, assembly-line care. That is fine for a neuter, but a spay is abdominal surgery, common abdominal surgery, but still abdominal surgery. It is worth having it done properly by someone who treats it with the respect it deserves. Improper anesthetic management can have long-term effects including hastening the onset of kidney failure. You will only spay your cat once, have it done properly.

And I'm sorry, but dental care should be considered routine care for all cats. Pets cost money. Looking after them properly costs money, you are not off the hook after the first year by any means. Congratulations on saving this kitty and enjoy her!
posted by biscotti at 6:11 PM on September 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

A private-equity investor I knew was looking for an opportunity to invest in a pet-insurance company. She thought they'd clean up, which, to me, means that pet-insurance is a crummy deal for those paying for the "insurance". Given what you've described, it doesn't sound like insurance at all, it sounds like a savings plan.
posted by Good Brain at 6:14 PM on September 30, 2009

I just popped by to say that if your local humane shelter doesn't have a deal, check out petco or petsmart.
posted by cestmoi15 at 6:58 PM on September 30, 2009

I have inexpensive catastrophic (heh) insurance on my 5 year old cat through PetPlan. The cat's insurance plan is probably better than my own.

Speaking with strict logic, it would make more sense to put the insurance money in a savings account, but having the insurance just makes me feel better. I know so many cats who have had at least one massively expensive health problem at some point, even early in their lives (PSA: lily flowers are incredibly poisonous to cats, don't accept that bouquet!) and I don't want there to be the remotest chance that I'd have to choose between euthanizing my cat and paying for treatment I can't afford.

Less sensitive souls than I may opt for the more logical path.
posted by lemuria at 8:36 PM on September 30, 2009

Just piling on that $400 is WAY too much. My very spoiled cats go to the best vet in my city. The clinic charges like they're the best, they're expensive, and people are willing to pay. It's not fancyy-smancy vet care for people with more $$ than brains, it's just good, quality care by really amazing vets with a staff that cares too much. That all being said -- I was quoted $350 a cat (I have two kittens).

I love my cats, but over $700 for the spays was too much. I took them to the local SPCA spay and neuter clinic here for $120 a pop, ie 1/3 the price. I was happy with the result.

Oh, I also asked my vets about insurance. They hemmed and hawed, didn't really want to discourage me, but didn't really encourage it either. In the last 6 months, I've had to take all 3 cats (both kittens, and their mommy) in for various ailments, and it's still been cheaper than insurance for those 6 months (spay not included -- insurance doesn't cover that here).

I still may end up getting insurance for the peace of mind... or just hope I have enough room on the credit card if/when something horrible happens.

But please, get her spayed ASAP. You won't want her to be in heat -- it's miserable for everyone. Don't count on sleeping too much during those really loud yeowly days.
posted by cgg at 9:01 PM on September 30, 2009

If you're keeping the cat indoors, that will increase her life expectancy ... and you shouldn't need flea medication, either.

That's another reason not to get cat insurance: You don't need to worry about her getting hit by a car/getting an infection after fighting with other cats if she's indoors all the time.
posted by vickyverky at 11:16 AM on October 1, 2009

The specific plan you posted the details of sounds plan, but pet insurance in genearl is a good idea if you never want to face the choice between saving your beloved pet's life or saving $10,000.

Check out VPI, we have a good plan for our dogs through them.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:19 PM on October 2, 2009

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