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I have been a veterinary surgeon since 1980 and was an original investor in Veterinary Pet Insurance, one of the original providers of pet health insurance in the United States. A week does not go by in my practice where an owner declines a necessary surgical procedure due to the costs. Less than 1% of American pet owners carry pet health insurance and few people, if any, are even aware that such coverage is even available. Yet, 35 years after it's introduction in Europe and England, nearly 25% of pet owners carry pet health insurance. The Wall Street Journal wrote an excellent article about whether pet health insurance is a good investment. You can read the article at this link: online.wsj.com
From $2.98 a month for accident only coverage to $50 a month for full coverage including wellness plans and a $125 deductible, insurance is both easily available and very affordable. Most people are not aware that pet care is a ten billion (billion with a "B") dollar industry. If your pet accidentally gets out of the house or yard and gets hit by a car and breaks a leg, surgery alone can cost in excess of $2,000 plus the cost of examination, radiographs, bloodwork, contrast studies to evaluate the bladder for tears, electrocardiograms to evaluate heart damage, chest radiographs to evaluate lungs for contusions and leakage, and more. For $2.98 a month, you can have the insurance company pay for up to 90% of the bill. How reassuring is it to have a large estimate presented to you for the cost of veterinary care and surgery and be able to say, "money is no object, I have pet health insurance, please do everything that is required to evaluate and fix my pet who is a member of our family.". Yet, inexplicably, 99% of the pet owning public does NOT have pet health insurance.
All pet health insurance policies are not the same. Please see the enclosed chart entitled "Pet Insurance At A Glance" from Veterinary Economics, which compares all the major companies. Aside from coverage (accident only, full coverage, wellness exams and vaccines and neutering), premiums, and deductibles, I highly recommend you examine some other factors that affect your coverage. This includes pre-existing conditions and genetic or hereditary conditions or behavior conditions. Some companies have a twelve month wait to cover ruptured cruciate ligaments, an epidemic disease in large breed dogs that can cost anywhere from $1000 to $3000 depending on the size of your pet and the procedure you elect to have performed (lateral suture, tightrope, TTA or TPLO). Some companies have a six month waiting period and will cover a second side (which occurs in 40-60% of pets) after twelve months while others never cover the second side. Another important factor that is commonly overlooked is whether the insurance company pays part of the bill based on a usual and customary fee schedule or simply 80% of the actual bill. For instance, if you elect to use me to repair your pet's ruptured cruciate ligament with a tightrope procedure, the average bill is $2250 and Pet's Best will pay 80% of that bill after deductible. Some pay 70 or 80% of the bill. Other companies pay a percentage based on usual and customary fees which is an average cost in your area. If the average local veterinarian who does a lateral suture with fishing line charges $1500 then the company will pay 90% of that amount, not 90% of my $2250 invoice. This can make a huge difference in your reimbursement.
Another factor is whether a full coverage plan covers dentals, vaccinations, neutering, dental cleaning, and flea and heartworm preventative medications. Most pet owners can afford simple conditions like itchy skin or simple ear infections as well as annual exams, fecal testing for parasites, and neutering. It is the unexpected injury or cancer or organ failure in the older pet that strains most pet owner's budget. Although veterinary care is still the best value in medicine (most times the anesthesia for a major surgery in human medicine is more than the entire bill for veterinary surgery) it seems expensive to the general public because they have the pay the entire bill of $2-3,000 out of their pocket! Even a simple dog spay which cost around $100-250 is a great deal when you consider the fact that it is the same procedure in all respects as a hysterectomy in human medicine which can cost tens of thousands of dollars. We use the same anesthetic equipment, surgical tools, cap, mask, gown, gloves, IV catheter, fluids, antibiotics, pain medication, etc. In addition, your doctor did not have to invest $300-500,000 to build a hospital with an operating suite and radiograph machine, laboratory, and hospital. In addition, human physicians need a four year undergraduate degree, a four year medical degree, an internship and residency. This is the same training and cost as a veterinary surgeon! And after spending $250,000 in education costs you then have to invest another $250-500,000 to build a hospital which our human counterparts do not. They simply use the area hospital that was built, maintained and paid for by someone else. Bear in mind that an experience veterinarian salary averages around $80,000-$90,000 in the United States often with more than $250,000 in school loans.
Some companies bend over backwards to avoid paying a claim while others are happy to pay as much of your bill as possible. That is why Jack Stevens, the founder of VPI (Veterinary Pet Insurance) left the company he started after many years and started Pet's Best, one of the best companies offering pet health insurance in my opinion as a veterinary surgeon of over 30 years.
If you have any questions about pet health insurance please feel free to contact me through my website. I strongly recommend you invest in at least an accident and injury plan with a high deductible for the most bang for your buck and consider upgrading your policy as your income or budget allows. Don't be another pet owner who has to euthanize your beloved pet who is considered a member of the family because you did not invest in a pet health insurance policy. Any policy is better than no policy, but Pet's Best is the plan I recommend. Click the link above for a 5% discount. You can also go to this link to see what a policy would pay toward a veterinary bill with the Claim Calculator: gopetplan.com
Paul M. Newman, D.V.M.
MASH (Mobile Animal Surgical Hospital)
Mobile Veterinary Surgeon