You have insurance on your house, your health and your car, but what about your best four-legged friend?
When it comes to the welfare of our pets, any dog or cat lover will walk through fire to ensure their beloved fur baby receives the best medical treatment it needs when sick or injured. The average vet visit can be anywhere from $50-$400 dollars, which certainly isn’t a pretty penny. While on average, routine annual veterinary care might cost between $200-$400 dollars for dogs and $90-$200 dollars for cats. Unplanned events such as accidents, injuries, or unanticipated ailments can cost thousands upon thousands of dollars. According to PetInsuranceQuotes.com, every six seconds a pet owner faces a vet bill of $1,000 or more. So, what do you do in the event Fido gets seriously sick or injured?
One day he’s out playing in the backyard rummaging through your perfectly well-kept garden, the next day he’s writhing in pain and torture. You do what any responsible and loving pet owner does, you rush him to the nearest veterinary facility. The vet tells you both good news and bad news. The good news is, Fido is going to live, the bad news, it’s going to cost you at minimum $2,000 dollars to perform surgery to remove the baseball he digested while playing in your garden.
But at what cost?
If you’re already living on a seriously strict budget, and don’t have this kind of money lying around, this can put you in the hole big time. But there’s nothing you wouldn’t do for your best friend, so you bite the bullet and put the vet bill on your brand-new credit card with a 24% interest rate.
Over the course of the year, Fido continues to run amuck and rack up the vet bills and drain your savings account. Your veterinary hands you a shiny brochure for pet insurance and you are seriously considering it after spending nearly $5,000 dollars in unanticipated vet bills, so much for that kitchen remodel you’ve been saving for. But is pet insurance really the answer to helping you cut the cost of those astronomical vet bills?
According to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association, last year U.S. pet owners spent more than $1 billion on insurance, up 23 percent, and more than 1.8 million cats and dogs are now covered, up more than 17 percent. The demand for pet insurance, comes with the assurance from the insurers that it is affordable and lifetime care for your beloved fur baby. But is pet insurance affordable?
In terms of pet insurance being affordable, it really all depends on at what age you enroll your pet at and in most cases, the breed of the animal. Pet insurance differs from health insurance because with pet insurance you have to pay the bill up front and then file a claim with your insurance company in order to get reimbursement.
If you are looking to get the most bang for your buck, at the lowest cost, you should enroll your pet as a puppy. One of the biggest downfalls with pet insurance, is that none of them cover “pre-existing conditions.” This little fact has big repercussions in terms of how much reimbursement and coverage you really get. A “pre-existing” condition is any ailment or injury the animal had before it enrolled in pet insurance.
Take for instance, your beloved dog goes to the groomers and has the misfortune of getting his toenail cut when getting them clipped. Fido is prone to derma topic skin allergies and it is now spring when his allergies are in full bloom. Several days later, you notice him incessantly licking his paw and observe a red bump resembling that of a nasty infection. You take him to the vet, and the vet confirms it’s not a skin allergy but a serious infection. You know for a fact that even though Fido is now 8 years old, he hasn’t had a toenail infection prior to enrolling him in pet insurance 6 months ago. You submit a claim, and it gets rejected even after a secondary appeal from your vet reassuring your claim because it is considered a “pre-existing” condition. The pet insurance company argues that throughout Fido’s medical history he has had several bouts of derma topic skin allergies and this toenail infection is similar to that and will not be covered. You then question why you pay $80.00 a month in premium fees for an insurance policy that won’t even cover a simple toenail infection. The solution to this unfortunate reality is, if you’re going to enroll in pet insurance you may want to consider doing so when they are at a very young age.
Is it worth the money?
To validate this fact, we compared one of the top pet insurance companies, Pets Best when a dog was enrolled in insurance as a puppy versus at the age of 8 years old. Enrolled as a puppy, the premium would be $35 per month, which isn’t exactly cheap, but shouldn’t put a huge dent in your wallet either. In comparison, if you enrolled your dog at the age of 8, that monthly premium nearly doubles to $83 per month, which can certainly put a sizeable hole in your wallet when you are trying to pay down debt or save for a home!
Another leading pet insurance company, Trupanion, has stated that “premiums are generally low during pet adolescent years and sharply increase as the pet ages.” If you don’t have the money when your pet is older, the best financial advice would be to start an emergency veterinary savings account in case of accidents or injuries in lieu of purchasing pet insurance and being locked into a very high monthly premium.
Consumer’s Checkbook also suggests instead of buying pet insurance to pay the high costs of vet care, focus on cutting those costs by shopping around for the lowest price on the veterinary service you need. Depending on where you live will determine how much you pay in veterinary costs. When shopping around, you will find price differences and savings on hundreds of dollars for the same vet service which can help you save hundreds of dollars a year even if it means you have to commute to the neighboring community to do so! If you’re still considering getting pet insurance, you may benefit the most from accident only policies which cover injuries but not illnesses and can be considerably less expensive especially if you have an older pet. Again, if you have a younger pet, you have the likelihood of saving money on veterinary bills because they will be eligible for coverage in more categories as opposed to an older pet who may not be due to “pre-existing conditions.”
ASPCA offers “accident-only policies,” which would charge Fido $35 dollars a month and doesn’t increase with age. For most households that own a pet, this is a price range that is reasonable. Another tip when buying pet insurance to keep the cost down would be to consider forgetting add-ons for wellness, preventative and elective care. When Consumer Checkbook added up the lifetime costs of Fido’s routine care, about $2400, and used that to compare Nationwide’s Major Medical Illness and Injury Plan with its Whole Pet with Wellness Plan, it found that adding wellness coverage was a terrible deal. Total lifetime Whole Pet premiums for Fido were almost $11400 more, almost five times the dogs’ lifetime wellness costs. In this case, you are paying for services you don’t receive because you don’t need this kind of coverage.
Pet insurance can be a very good idea in theory, when your pet is young and perfectly healthy. It can end up saving you thousands of dollars and give you peace of mind that your beloved four-legged best friend is protected and cared for.
However, if you decide to get pet insurance when your pet is much older, you may end up paying for a service you may not even be reimbursed for because of “pre-existing conditions, or hereditary congenital conditions.” Either way, taking on the financial obligation of owning and raising a pet is a huge responsibility. If you already live paycheck to paycheck, you may want to rethink becoming a pet owner.
Ultimately, your decision to enroll in pet insurance or not is strictly a personal one.