To Insure or Not to Insure, That is the Question!

Your Insurance Card, Please

So after a couple minor injuries due to Suki giving into her beagle nose and having no regard for her own safety, I’ve decided it’s time to look into pet insurance.  There are so many articles touting both sides that it’s mind numbing.  Ultimately, I decided pet insurance would be better for our situation:

Reason 1: I’m not looking into insurance for wellness visits or routing care (vaccines, annual heart worm test, flea/tick preventatives).  Those are expenses I can budget for each year.  I’m looking for insurance to cover unexpected major illnesses or injuries that I can’t budget for regularly.  These major expenses are the ones that could break the bank or make it difficult to afford treatment. You can significantly lower the pet insurance premiums by not opting for the additional routine wellness riders.

Reason 2: I know alot of people/websites state it’s better to put the money aside in a savings account to “self-insure”.  This would be fine if I was guaranteed the time to save up the same amount of money an insurance company would reimburse me before my “curious” fur baby became sick or injured.  The policies range from $2,500 to $20,000 annual payouts.  It would take me a long time to save up that kind of money.  If Suki needed medical care in the meantime, the account wouldn’t be funded yet.

Reason 3: Yes, pet insurance works differently than human insurance. You have to pay the vet bill up front then submit the paperwork to the insurance company for reimbursement.  This is somewhat of a turn-off, I’ll admit.  However, I’m happy to put the charges on a credit card or take the money out of savings then be reimbursed to pay it back to the card or account.  I’m not losing the money for good.

Reason 4:Suki is my baby!  I don’t ever want the day to come where she is unable to receive necessary medical treatment because I can’t afford it.  My heart breaks when I hear stories about animals put to sleep because their parents couldn’t afford the treatment.

Reason 5:  My baby is a lab/beagle mix.  Enough said!

CHOOSING AN INSURANCE COMPANY

Now that I decided insurance was right for us, I had to actually choose a provider.  There are so many pet insurance companies and discount plans (more on these later) available, that it can be a daunting task to choose one.  I’ve spent quite a bit of time perusing reviews, so thought I’d share my discoveries.  First and foremost, there is a great site that has compiled a comparison and reviews for a majority of pet insurance plans http://www.petinsurancereview.com/dog.asp. This site was a godsend!  It ranks the plans and also includes links to policy details, customer reviews, and company websites.  Not all pet insurance plans are on this site, but it’s a great start! I only have a dog, so my post is focused on the dog plans.  These companies also offer insurance for cats, but I’m not sure about other pets.

Things to Consider:

  1. The type of plan you want. I want Suki to be covered for both illnesses and accidents, so I only delved into those plans.  Some companies offer accident only plans if you’re not concerned about illnesses down the road.  Many plans offer additional discounts for:  microchipped pets, spayed/neutered pets, service animals, military owners, online quotes, and company sponsors. Most of the companies have different plan levels as well, so you can customize to your needs and budget.
  2. The age of your dog. Most of the plans have a minimum age before a puppy/dog can be enrolled.  The thing to watch for are the plans that have a maximum age for enrollment. For example, Embrace requires requires that mixed breeds be enrolled before age 9 and pure breeds before age 7.  Healthy Paws only covers hip dysplasia for pets enrolled before they are 6 years old.  This put Healthy Paws firmly in the “no” bucket, since Suki is 7 years old.
  3. Waiting Periods.  The plans have waiting periods from the date of enrollment until coverage kicks in.  Some plans have separate waiting periods for accident vs. illness coverage.  For example, Pets Best (First Plan) starts covering accidents 3 days after policy and illnesses 14 days after.
  4. Per Incident or Lifetime Limits.  Be sure to check out any limits the plan may have.  I’m not overly concerned about annual limits, since most I’m considering are high, but the per incident limit is a big red flag for me.  PetPlan has unlimited lifetime limit with different options (Bronze, Silver, Gold) where you can choose your annual limit. Trupanion has no per incident, annual or lifetime limits. Some vet reviews I read suggested at least a $10,000 annual limit when selecting a plan.
  5. Pre-Existing Conditions. None of the plans cover pre-existing conditions.
  6. Hereditary or Congenital Conditions.  Check and double check a plan’s policy on hereditary and congenital issues. You don’t want to pay into a plan only to be told a condition is excluded because they don’t cover hereditary conditions.
  7. Deductibles.  These are similar to people insurance.  You pay the deductible amount first, say $100, before the insurance then starts paying their portion.  Most of the plans let you customize your deductible for your budget.  The higher the deductible you choose, the lower the premium you’ll be charged. It may be tempting to choose the highest deductible to lower the premium, but remember you have to pay the deductible before coverage.  Make sure you choose a deductible you can afford.  I recommend putting the deductible amount aside in a separate bank account, so you have it when needed.  One word of caution: read the fine print on a plan’s deductible.  Some are per incident while others are annual deductibles.
  8. Co-Insurance. This is the payout ratio between your portion and that of the insurance company.  For example, if you choose a 90% co-insurance, than the insurance company would pay 90% of bills and you would pay 10% (after the deductible is met).  The most common co-insurance options were 80%, 90% and 100%.  The co-insurance amount you choose affects your premium.  The more ratio you’re willing to pay, the lower your premium. Just remember, you need to be able to afford that co-insurance amount when the time comes.
  9. Actual Vet Bill or Customary and Usual. Some plans pay their portion based on the actual vet bill, while others use what’s known as Customary and Usual charges.  This means they have a schedule of charges for what they think something should cost.  If your vet charges more for that procedure, you’re responsible for the difference.  I personally would only choose a company that pays on the actual vet bill.

Discount Plans

These are not insurance plans, but membership/discount plans.  They can be a less expensive alternative to full blown pet insurance. You pay a membership fee to join then receive discounts on services with participating providers.  Pet Assure is one such plan.  You receive a 25% discount on services if you use a participating vet.  I strongly caution you to verify your vet is in a plan’s network before you join.  Neither my primary nor my backup or ER vets were in the Pet Assure provider network.

My Choice

Let me preface this by saying I am in now way affiliated with any of the pet insurance companies, nor do I receive any payment for reviews.  Not with that legal disclaimer out of the way, I’ve decided to go with Pet Plan http://www.gopetplan.com/ for the following reasons:

  1. I like that I can customize the deductible, limits, and co-insurance amounts between the Bronze, Silver and Gold levels. I’m choosing 90% co-insurance, $200 deductible, and either choosing Silver or Gold.  UPDATE: Based on a friend’s bill for her dog’s broken leg, I changed to the 100% co-insurance, $200 deductible, Gold plan.
  2. It also offers full coverage for hereditary and congenital conditions.
  3. Covered for Life Guarantee. This is a big pro for me. If your pet becomes ill, some insurers can label it a chronic condition and not cover it going forward. Trying to switch to another plan can have it labeled as pre-existing and not covered with anyone else.  Pet Plan covers your pet for life as long as you renew the policy and don’t allow a lapse in coverage.
  4. There are many positive reviews on their claims be hassle-free and paid quickly.  Some other plans had reviews about claim reimbursement being difficult.
  5. Alternative treatments like acupuncture and chiropractic services are covered.
  6. The premium was a good bang for the buck.  Some of the other plans wanted twice the amount for similar coverage.

I hope the time I’ve spent researching insurance plans helps you if you choose to enroll your pet.  I highly recommend going to each company’s website and reading the policy details when you’ve narrowed it down to a few.

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Posted on November 3, 2012, in Paw Worthy News and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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