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Monday, February 2, 2009

Pros & Cons Of Pet Insurance

Now that I'm back in town, let's start the week with a question from a reader.

I'm thinking about getting a dog for my mom and concerned about the expense of vet care. What do you think about getting pet insurance? She is resistant to the cost. What are the arguments in favor of it? Do people who have pet insurance tend to care for their dogs better? Are dogs with pet insurance generally healthier?

Pet insurance is actually a very good idea, but it may not be what people expect it to be. Insurance is much more common in Europe than in the US, but even there a majority of pets are not on a program. I can't speak for how insurance programs work outside of the US, so my comments may only apply in my own country.

There are multiple pet insurance providers, and you will need to look around and check what each one provides. In general, they do not cover pre-existing conditions, like with human insurance, so if your pet has existing allergies, arthritis, a heart condition, or some other medical issue you may not be able to get insurance. The plans work very differently than human equivalents. There are no copays and the veterinary clinic doesn't handle any paperwork. You will have to pay out-of-pocket for any services, then submit your receipts to the insurance company. They will then reimburse you according to your plan. In other words, you still need to have the money to pay the vet up-front, and will get a portion of that money back at a later time.

That being said, I think insurance is a great idea. Having the money to cover a serious illness or injury, such as cancer or a ruptured ligament, can be difficult. It will still be hard to come up with the money to pay the vet, but knowing that you're getting a portion of that back can make it easier. I have had clients use it, and they have seemed very happy with it.

If you have been reading my blog or go back through the archives, you will see my discussions on the costs of pet care. Anyone wanting to get a new pet needs to be prepared for the costs involved. If you're not ready to take on those costs, then you shouldn't get a pet, plain and simple. Part of that cost may be insurance. Is the cost worth it? Well, with any insurance you're paying a monthly premium with the hope that you never have to use it. We pay our car insurance and home/renter's insurance every month, but hope that we never come into a situation where we need it. If we need to use our insurance, it means that something bad and expensive has happened, and that's never good. Pet insurance should be looked at in the same way.

Another option is to "self-insure". Set money aside in a savings account just for your pet, up to what you would be willing to spend for a medical issue. Even the most expensive procedures don't normally go over $3000 (US), and $1000 will cover any minor illness and most moderate ones. If you can leave this money alone for your pet, then you really don't need insurance.

Having insurance doesn't make a pet healthier or make someone a better pet owner. A pet's health is determined by how their owner cares for them, and involves preventative care, nutrition, and early treatment of illness. There are plenty of humans with insurance that are still in poor health, and still don't go to the doctor. The same is true of pet insurance. And even if you have the insurance, it is up to you, the owner, to take them in for medical conditions.

Also check with your veterinarian about preventative health programs. Many veterinary hospitals have developed programs where you pay an annual or monthly fee, and the basics of vaccines, routine testing, and office visits are covered at no additional cost. These programs are not offered by most vets, and will vary widely, so you may need to ask around. Some insurance programs will also cover routine preventative care and are not just for catastrophic illness.

In short, I do recommend pet insurance if you don't have the money to self-insure. If your vet offers a kind of "wellness program", consider getting that and supplementing it with insurance.

Hope this answers your question adequately!