Sunday, November 19, 2017

Pooches: What We've Learned about Pet Insurance

One of the first pieces of unsolicited advice I always give to new pet owners is to apply for Pet Insurance.
Immediately.
Before you can develop any pre-existing conditions.
And with everything we went through with Miss M this past year, we have learned a lot about pet medical bills.
Though the biggest thing we found out:
It's not enough to just have Pet Insurance. You have to choose the right Pet Insurance.

Just from our experiences, this is a tale of 2 Pet Insurance plans: Miss M was on 24PetWatch and Mr. B has Trupanion. And seeing how making the right choice in the beginning can make a huge difference as your dog gets older.

Pre-existing Conditions
I enrolled Miss M in her Pet Insurance plan way back in 2007 when there weren't as many options out there.
To put this in perspective: The final Harry Potter books was just published. Britney Spears was still considered a positive role-model. And they just invented the i-Phone.
Simpler times.
When I was looking at plans, the biggest thing was checking the pre-existing conditions. Some plans won't cover conditions for certain breeds of dogs. You want to make sure to sign up before your pup has any major health problems.
But, it makes it really hard to switch insurance if you are diagnosed with anything.
At one point I had asked the vet about a urination issue--which we later learned was behavioral--and after that the insurance used that one question as a pre-existing condition where they would not cover illnesses involving her kidneys.
With that one strike against us, we always thought that we were stuck and we had to stick with her plan.

Your Policy Changes as They Age 
When you enroll in pet insurance with your young pup, it's so easy to skip the parts that talk about how your policy will change as they get older.

Most of the policies will have dramatic annual premium changes when they turn a certain age. We originally had Mr. B on Embrace Pet Insurance, which we liked a lot, but when he turned 6 years-old his annual premiums increased 40%! He didn't have any pre-existing conditions, so he wasn't tied to the plan and we were able to switch him over to Trupanion. Though as a 14 year-old dog, his current premiums are extremely high.

In our case, Miss M's total coverage drastically drops. Originally we could insure her up to $20,000, but once she turned 10 they would only reimburse up to $5,000. Given the costs of the co-pays and the annual premium, we only received about $3,000 back from her insurance.
You don't get any benefits for being a loyal customer.

Consider Total Coverage
I always thought it was enough that we were insured, and I never considered we would reach a point where our medical bills would exceed our insurance.
To put it all into perspective (and we know all costs differ depending on location, specific condition, and type of dog):
A visit and stay at the Pet ER can be $2,000+
It depends on a lot of factors, but in our situation a round of chemotherapy can be $5,000+ and an additional radiation dose is $2,500+. But the testing and procedures between and after testing can be as much as $600-1,500+ each time.
We had several rounds of testing.
Since she was older than 10, Miss M's coverage dropped to only covering $5,000, which is really $3,000 after co-pays and the annual premium.
Unbelievably, Mr B's plan with Trupanion has unlimited coverage. We met someone at the vet's office with the plan who told us they spent about $40,000 and they were still getting reimbursed.

Getting Reimbursed
I never thought about it when I signed up, circa 2007, but knowing when you're being reimbursed is a huge deal. 
Especially when you're dealing with thousands of dollars.
It took 2 months for Miss M's insurance to reimburse us. 

Ask About Add-on's
It turns out that Mr. B's insurance does cover some non-traditional therapy. If we had known this, we would have signed up long ago as we've had too many friends whose pups have ACL injuries and we would have wanted to prepare.
We unfortunately couldn't take advantage of it because we asked our vet if he seemed arthritic, and it was noted in our file as a pre-existing condition.

Pet Insurance vs. Just Saving Money for Emergencies
We have paid for Mr. B's plan for years and he has only turned in small bills a few times. 
So yes, we have lost money on his coverage.
At the same time, you never know what can happen, and I'd rather be prepared.
Despite all my years of saving, and being financially responsible, this past year was the most financially unlucky year of our lives. 
Baby K needed an emergency surgery on his large intestine and was hospitalized for 7 days. Our Developer decided not to honor contracts and has left us with a college-tuition's worth of needed repairs. Even our 3 year-old water heater gave out. All in addition to Miss M's illness.
It's a terrible feeling to have a sick pet and to be worrying about financial decisions.

These are just our experiences with the few Pet Insurance companies that we've worked with.
What are other people's experiences or things that we're leaving out?

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