Sorting through pet insurance
October 3, 2014 11:16 AM   Subscribe

I have two one year old dogs. They are in great health, but I worry about the future. I am not in the position to pay a huge vet bill for an emergency (more than $1000), but would want to do everything to keep my pets healthy and alive.

I fear that I would not be disciplined enough to create an emergency fund. What have been the experiences of my friends of the green using pet health insurance? What companies have you found to give you the most protection for your dollar? Previous post only mention VPI. Anybody else use different companies? What are some things I should be on the look out for when evaluating options? The options on the internet are overwhelming. I am looking for emergency care, major health issues or other high dollar costs. If routine care is included that would be a bonus. I live in Maryland.
posted by Coffee Bean to Pets & Animals (11 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
There was an interesting article in Consumer Reports about pet insurance that may help you make a decision. Good luck.
posted by apennington at 11:29 AM on October 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

My parents and sister use Petplan and are very happy with it. My sister's dog is older and has had several medical issues in the last few years, and Petplan's been a giant help - they've covered quite a bit of the vet bills.
posted by SisterHavana at 11:33 AM on October 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

What are some things I should be on the look out for when evaluating options?

Any insurance company that has a positive expected value (ie, you save more money from your insurance than you pay in premiums) would immediately go out of business. Insurance companies exist to return part of your premiums back to you in the form of benefits - not more than your premiums. In other words, insurance companies are making that emergency fund for you - except they take a bit of money off the top and then keep all the interest for themselves. It's not a particularly good deal.

The only benefit to insurance is pre-negotiated rates with vets. The vets the insurance companies negotiate with tend to be the ones that are most desperate for business and/or have the least experienced employees, so you may or may not actually want to work with those vets. That said, you'd be surprised how many vets will negotiate on price very quickly if you either indicate financial difficulty or ask to pay an insurance-negotiated rate (or perhaps 125% of said rate).

If routine care is included that would be a bonus.

No, it wouldn't be. If you're paying the insurance company for routine care, then your insurance company is taking a bit of that money for their own profit and then paying the remainder to the vet. Insurance is not for routine expenses, it is for exceptional expenses.
posted by saeculorum at 12:24 PM on October 3, 2014

Another data point: As of three days ago, California is the first and only state to enact consumer protections for buyers of pet insurance.

The law goes straight to the heart of consumer complaints regarding pet insurance. Many pet owners learned after the fact that their policies did not cover pre-existing conditions, some of which were based on the breed of the animal and the likelihood the condition could occur, rather than the animal having past experience with the ailment or condition.
posted by Flexagon at 12:37 PM on October 3, 2014

Rather than insurance, there are payment plans similar to Care Credit but for veterinary services. Ask your vet if they have information about those, in the event you're faced with an expensive procedure for your dogs.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:14 PM on October 3, 2014

I just purchased HealthyPaws insurance for my Husky, after a lot of research. Most of the plans don't cover pre-existing conditions, but there are variations on all the other aspects, explore them well, look at reviews online, talk to your vet, s/he may have a recommendation. Most of them don't cover routine/annual care/shots/etc.

I had our plan for two months before we had a problem. Once I submitted the appropriate paperwork (health records and vet bill for the event), they were responsive and I had a check within a couple of weeks for exactly what I expected (I first had to meet the annual deductible).

I don't think of it as a way to save money, but as a way to insure that there won't be some event expensive enough that I would be forced to choose euthanasia as opposed to huge debt. I'm really resting a bit easier now....
posted by HuronBob at 3:40 PM on October 3, 2014

Another vote for PetPlan! Don't know what we'd do without per insurance...
posted by trillian at 3:59 PM on October 3, 2014

We use VPI insurance and having just got a quote from PetPlan, VPI cost about half as much and have a lower deductible. We've had them for 7 years and they pay out quickly with no quibbles.
posted by merocet at 5:29 PM on October 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

One of my vets said the same thing as saeculorum-- pet insurance only exists b/c the numbers allow them to make a profit. He suggested that I take out a credit card in my pet's name, tape it to the bottom of the kitchen table, use it in case of pet emergency and put the premiums that I would be paying into a savings account. If you have a regular paycheck, I find that automating savings electronically is the easiest way to get around the discipline issue.
Also consider checking with your regular vet and wherever you might be taking the dogs for emergency visits to find out what plans they accept (my routine care vet and ER vet hospital don't take all the same plans).
posted by tangaroo at 5:40 PM on October 3, 2014

We go the emergency fund route. I researched the monthly premiums for pet insurance, and I automatically have that amount (about $8/month, I think) transferred into a savings account. The amount is small enough that I honestly never notice and honestly sort of forgot about it until answering this question.
posted by mchorn at 4:29 AM on October 4, 2014

One thing to consider when evaluating pet plans/choosing a deductible is how the vet bills you. My vet provided day hospitalization for my dog for three days straight and billed me daily. I think of it as $1500 for one incident but insurance companies may not have the same ideas, it's another loophole to watch out for.

I had an emergency fund but it was spent down due to unrelated emergencies. Financing on a credit card is not terrible if you have room to cut expenses in the case of veterinary bills.

I self-insure because I've given thought to how i will end my dog's life. I will spend max $3000 on a health incident to keep my dog alive. This is the cost of fixing up a young dog after a serious accident. I personally could pay this off on a credit card in a reasonable period of time. If the care costs more, I'm now willing to let my dog go. You're talking about a very sick dog or a protracted chronic disease at that price point. Decide in your family how you will handle end of life decision making and then decide if the insurance is worth it.
posted by crazycanuck at 1:55 PM on October 4, 2014

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