Many people have asked me, as a vet, why do you have pet insurance? You can do anything or treat anything that happens to your own pet at a reduced cost! I tell them I have pet insurance for two reasons, the first and main reason is that I really can’t do everything that my pet may need. I am a general practitioner veterinarian, not a board-certified specialist. The world of veterinary medicine has expanded exponentially in the past couple of decades. We now have cardiologists, neurologists, oncologists, and so many other specialized doctors that are incredibly intelligent in their fields. Board certified veterinarians go through a rigorous internship and residency after they earn their veterinary license, which takes an additional four years. That’s 12 years of schooling after high school. And if something major were to happen to my pet, say she got hit by a car or had an aggressive type of cancer, I would want their specialized care for my dog. I simply do not have the tools, medications, nor the expertise needed to perform some of the advanced surgeries and treatments that could be done to benefit or cure my pet.
I know that am the type of person that would want to do absolutely anything needed for my dog if she has a decent prognosis afterwards. I also know that the specialty hospitals and referral centers are significantly more expensive, costing anywhere from three to five thousand dollars (or more!) for hospitalized care, surgery, and various diagnostic tests. As a recent graduate from veterinary school with a high student loan burden, I cannot afford that kind of out-of pocket expense. Therefore, having pet insurance allows me to offer her the best treatment, without breaking the bank. That peace of mind of knowing I can “afford” the best care for my dog is my second reason for having pet insurance. Not having to worry about expenses takes an incredible burden off of me, and for that I am thankful.
Now, the question comes, how do you choose a pet insurance company? There are so many options out there and it can be difficult to know what is best. The website, www.petinsurancereview.com is a good place to compare different companies and policies without a lot of bias. One of the biggest differences between companies is how the they cover the charges, either through a payment schedule or a set percentage of the bill. With a payment schedule, the insurance company pays out only what a ‘typical’ hospital charges for that service, no matter what you paid. For example, they may say the average cost of blood work around the country is $150 so that’s how much will be covered. However, you may have paid $300 for blood work with specialized add-ons, but you would only be reimbursed for the $150. A company that pays a set portion of the bill has your vet fill out a form to confirm the charges, or has the vet send them the records, and then sends you a check based off of the bill you paid. Most companies have you pay the bill first, and then they reimburse you shortly afterwards.
Personally, I chose a company that pays a set portion of the bill because then if my pet gets care from a specialty hospital that is more expensive, I receive more money back. I originally chose Embrace to insure my pet. They were wonderful to work with, had great, fast customer service, and I received my check back in a timely manner. I could choose my deductible, my annual maximum payout amount, and what percentage I wanted reimbursed. That kind of flexibility allowed me to ensure my monthly premium was well within my budget. For a young Bernese Mountain Dog with a $5,000 annual maximum, 80% reimbursement, and $300 deductible, my monthly premium was about $30 a month. The only reason I switched from Embrace was because my yearly premium doubled when I moved to Minnesota (their rates are based on your zip code). I currently have my dog insured through Trupanion, and while I haven’t had to file any claims with them yet (thankfully!) they also have been wonderful to work with. I can customize my monthly premium by deciding what I want my deductible to be, and they always pay 90% of the bill. What I love about Trupanion is that they have no annual maximum payout. One of their customer service representatives once told me that the most they ever paid out on a claim was $60,000 in one year!
As a veterinarian, I wish more people had pet insurance because then finances would never be a limiting factor for treatment. There is not doubt about it, medical care (human or animal!) is expensive and only increasing. Most people cannot afford to do gold standard medicine for their pets, they have children to feed and bills to pay. And as stressful and hard as it is for owners to make decisions based on finances, it’s also very emotionally taxing on us that are caring for your pet.
I hope my thoughts and experience on pet insurance helps to give some insight into what pet insurance is like and why it’s beneficial. I don’t receive any sort of endorsement, kick-back etc. for mentioning the brands I did, those are just the two I have used and have the more experience with. If you have any questions, call the insurance company you are interested in and ask them for detailed quotes, coverage policies and more! The best part is, pet insurance is SO much better, more straightforward, cheaper, and easier to manage than human insurance!
— Dr. Katharine Kancer