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.
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.

NOTE (12.3.19): We no longer recommend Trupanion. They raised our monthly premium 40% without telling us. They claim that the increase is not due to age, but that they can increase the percentage given the types of claims for other pitbulls in our zip code, so they can never know how dramatically it can increase in a year.

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?

Check our Facebook page for more photos, comments, and story lines beyond the blog.


M said...

Sorry to hear about your year! I have had Veterinary Pet Insurance (now owned by Fidelity) for over 15 years and have been very happy. THe highest expenses we had was while caring for a diabetic cat for 8 years until he passed at the ripe old age of 18. VIP reimbursed well. However, since you posted this, I felt I need to revisit my policy while my current batch is still fairly healthy. Unfortunately one of our guys went thru the cancer treatments while not covered with any plan. That was a painfully expensive experience. Hugs to your family. It's a lot to go thru. Appreciate the post.

REINA said...

When I met my spouse we both had 2 dogs. He carried insurance on his dogs and I did not. Since that time both of his boys, who were much older, have passed- and we found the insurance to be zero help. For a young pup with routine stuff- maybe it is worth it but it seems that in the times you need it, it is not there. Since that time I have declined insurance coverage. I would need more information to change my mind on one specific policy/company. Now my boys are older and I suspect they would have minimal coverage by any policy at this point.

AJ said...

When my husband and I adopted Roadie, we discussed insurance for him. We’ve been with PetPlan since 2010 and only have needed to use it once. Roadie (60# pit mix) had surgery, TPLO, I know shocker right? but It felt good not to have to worry about which plan of action to take regarding his care. Having coverage made making decisions easier. We’ve kept his insurance as he’s aged and yes premiums will rise but the piece of mind is worth it. Especially if it ever comes to an emergency or large medical treatments. No regrets.

Unknown said...

It is alarming to read that when you asked questions of your vet that they got noted in the files and were considered pre-existing conditions (the urination problem and Mr. B's arthritis check). Sounds like you can't ask the vet questions. Our adopted pittie, Fawn, had surgeries for a luxating patella, torn ACL and spleen removal (hemangiosarcoma). We just bit the bullet and paid and I'm not sure if paying premiums for 10 years would have resulted in any reimbursement anyway.

nscook said...

Thank you so much for this information! We are currently looking at insurance for our very active young pittie, and this gives us things to consider.

SandyCu said...

We had VPI for our two for a while, but they were a pain to work with and too many things fell under what they considered to be pre-existing conditions (based on the health report from the Humane Society). We now have PetPlan which I've been very happy with, although they recently raised their rates dramatically. To keep it (somewhat) affordable I had to change my coverage choices -- higher deductible. Basically the insurance will only kick in under very catastrophic conditions. I recently got something from Pet Hero, which sounded promising but our vet is not one of their providers. Our vet said they have heard good things about Nationwide.

Unknown said...

I had 4 dogs all have Pet Insurance and a card especially for them. Care credit all vets take this card and is a true life saver. I started with VPI now Nationwide Pet Insurance. My boy dog was diagnosed with bladder cancer and the visit and treatment reached into the thousand since I had cancer with the insurance I ONLY paid $50 for each visit. I truly recommend Pet Insurance and Care Credit Card

greg said...

That was a great posting with many good comments. From our own experience we would strongly recommend Healthy Paws insurance. As long as you get signed up before you have a bunch of preexisting conditions, they essentially will cover everything outside of the basic ongoing maintenance like yearly shots. Our two pitties have had far more than their fair share of visits to the emergency vet and it is always a relief to know that whatever needs to be done will be covered.

They have different options available, but we chose 90% coveage with a yearly $250 deductible. The cost is about $45/month for our 5 year old. They have always been very prompt with reimbursements and they honestly seem to be truly caring. When our boy Tack passed away, they sent us a touching sympathy card with handwritten notes of condolence from many on their staff. I don't think you can find a better company in this business.

Diana said...

Nationwide and VPI are the same company, just rebranded the name!

Linda F said...

We have had Trupanion for our chihuahua mix for about 6-7 years now, and I'm sorry we didn't start sooner, as she does have one pre-existing condition (periodontal disease) that would have been covered but is not because she already had it when we signed up. She has Cushing's disease now, and the insurance covers the medication and periodic blood tests for that chronic condition (minus the deductible, of course). Trupanion reimburses quickly, and our vet submits the claims directly online, so I don't even have to do that. I am so happy to know that, if our dog develops cancer or some other serious illness, or is injured, I won't have to focus so much on the cost when I am thinking about treatment options. For me, pet insurance is definitely worth it.

kasia077 said...

Pet insurance saved me when my guy was diagnosed with Cushing's Disease. Much like with Mr. B, I paid insurance year after year without using it and when his rates went up because of his age, I considered canceling his coverage and I am so glad I did not. We have Pets Best and they have been great, but if I had to do it all over again, it is Trupanion all the way!

LolaOlive said...

We'be been using Healthy Paws insurance for the past six years, altogether for 4 dogs. Nothing but a great experience. Unlimited coverage. No yearly/lifetime maximum. They cover ER visits, acupuncture,physical therapy. Our claims always get processed within 1-3 days and we receive a check in a mail within one week. Our deductible is $50 and $100 per year with 90% coverage. The premium goes up slightly every year but it's still very affordable and worth it! (We figured with our boy who passed away two years ago we got reimbursed about $30,000 within 2 years.)

How Sam Sees It said...

All good information! I'm looking to put Harlow on insurance - Ramble won't be covered because of his condition, and Monty has too many pre-existing issues.

Monty, Harlow, and Ramble

World of Animals, Inc said...

Thanks for sharing this wonderful information on insurance. We hope that this will help out paw parents with their fur babies. We hope you are having a fantastic start to your week.
World of Animals

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philipalexis633 said...

You should also consider factors like deductibles, coverage limits, and exclusions. Be sure to compare policies from multiple insurers to find the best coverage for your pet.

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