Thursday, February 11, 2016

Putting Pet Insurance to the Test

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Putting Pet Insurance To The Test

Pet insurance began over 20 years ago, but less than 2% of Americans purchase pet insurance, compared to a UK survey that showed 46% of all pets are insured. Why the difference?

Perhaps the best way to explore this question is through a real-life case.

By:  Dr. Jim Humphries, Veterinary News Network

After playing rough one day, Tucker, a neutered 3-year old rescued Great Dane with no known history of medical problems, suddenly experienced front leg weakness and neck pain only eight months after his adoption.

His concerned family took him to their veterinarian. The initial X-rays and subsequent more accurate MRI confirmed their veterinarian’s fears - Tucker had Wobbler’s Syndrome.  Wobbler’s is a debilitating spinal cord disease which can be considered hereditary in many large breed dogs especially in Dobermans and Great Danes.  

From the initial exams and X-rays, through the neurologist’s exam, the MRI and eventually the major spine surgery (a dorsal laminectomy),  the total bill would be over $10,000.  Would pet insurance help pay for any of this?

As a head-to-head test, exact quotes were obtained from five popular pet health insurance companies. 

The key factors to consider when evaluating any pet insurance are:

• the monthly costs
• the deductable
• the co-pay amount,
• does the policy cover hereditary or genetic conditions
• are there yearly or lifetime limits

The companies we chose for this comparison are:  Hartville Pet Insurance, Veterinary Pet Insurance, Pets Best, Purina Care, and Trupanion.

Hartville Pet Insurance offered a monthly premium at $38.58 with an annual deductible of $100.  This company has a $1500 per incident limit with annual limit at $8000 and 20% co-pay.  The program does however specifically exclude hereditary coverage.  Tucker’s pay out would be zero.

With VPI, the monthly payment would be $45 with a $250 deductible per year. They pay by a complex benefits schedule where all other companies have a set co-pay amount. Also their limits on hereditary coverage are restrictive.  There is a 12 month waiting period for hereditary conditions and because Tucker’s policy was purchased just 8 months ago, they would have paid nothing on this case. Tucker’s pay out would have been zero. 

Pet’s Best quoted a $45 monthly premium for Tucker and the same $250 deductible, but per incident instead of yearly. They too have limited hereditary coverage, a 20% co-pay and limit the amount of each incident to $7,000.  They don’t consider Wobblers a hereditary condition so they would pay $8,000 minus the deductible with an incident limit of $7000.  Tucker’s pay out would be the incident limit of $7000. 

The problem here is where the dog might have complications after the main treatment, and there would be no more financial benefit. 

PurinaCare, would insure Tucker for $44 a month, with a $250 deductible per year and 20% co-pay.  They also cover hereditary conditions and have great limits of $20,000 annual and no lifetime limits.  Tucker’s pay out would be $7,800.  Should Tucker have a complications there is no problem as there is plenty of reserve financial benefit.

Finally to insure Tucker with Trupanion, it would cost $44 month with a $250 deductible per incident.  They do cover hereditary conditions. They have no yearly or lifetime coverage limits and they pay 90% of the bill!  After the $250 deductible, Tucker’s pay out would be $8,750 - -the most of any of the companies.  This is the policy Tucker had.

In Tucker’s case insurance really paid off.  Not only did it pay for the large majority of this catastrophic condition it also provided peace of mind for his owners.  They were saved the difficult decision of having to consider euthanasia or watching him slowly lose control of his legs. 

Some consumer groups say with a healthy pet it’s better to save the money.  Companies like Pawsitive Savings ( encourage pet owners to save every month, then use that money for urgent medical care. 

But insurance is protection for unknown events in the future. Even routine care can add up making a case for a healthy pet to have insurance.  And in Tucker’s case, it happened in 8 months, not long enough to have saved ten thousand dollars. 

Veterinary costs can easily run into the thousands, so, maybe now is the time to give this serious thought.

An important note: all pet insurance companies are managed as a third-party reimbursement program, requiring you to pay the initial fee.  Normally the reimbursement is only a few weeks, minimizing the initial financial impact.

Also, you must be aware these companies may have rate increases, and some, have significant increases in rates as your pet gets older.

Pet insurance is an individual decision. With a little online research, you can make a smart decision for your budget and your pets and find the right company for your needs.  A helpful site that can assist you in your pet insurance decision is