By Dr. Shannon Leggieri, DVM, MS of Claremont Veterinary Hospital, Oakland.
One of the most frequent questions I receive from pet owners is "Should my dog have health insurance?"
The pet health insurance industry is growing rapidly. With many different companies and plans available it has become difficult for owners to navigate the many options and decide which plan, if any, is best for them and their pet. Some of the more popular companies offering plans include Trupanion, ASPCA, VPI, Healthy Paws, Petplan, Embrace, Petfirst, Nationwide, Petsbest, and Figo. Recently, it has even become more mainstream for your place of employment to offer pet insurance for your furry loved one.
To understand whether pet insurance is right for you and your beloved dog, first you need to understand what it is. Pet insurance is intended to lessen the financial burden of necessary and often unexpected medical expenses. For example, if your rambunctious Labrador slips away and runs in front of a car or ingests a sock, you may not be prepared to pay for life-saving surgeries and hospitalization. Additionally, some plans offer coverage for routine procedures such as vaccinations, annual exams, or spaying/neutering your animal. Similar to human health insurance, different pet plans offer different premiums, deductibles, and co-pays. However, it is important to understand that pet hospitals, unlike healthcare providers for humans, do not bill insurance companies directly. You pay the veterinarian directly, and then the insurance company reimburses you after you file a claim.
From a veterinary perspective, health insurance proves most useful when an unexpected catastrophic event occurs — e.g. when a young, otherwise healthy cat has a urinary blockage that requires surgery and multiple days of hospitalization, or a puppy fractures his leg. In these instances, insurance plans often cover 100% of costs, financial burdens that could have been crippling for owners. Many insurance companies do not offer extensive coverage for pre-existing conditions, breed specific ailments and wellness services.
A wonderful resource written by a veterinarian is www.pet-insurance-university.com/index.html. The website offers a step by step guide as well as quizzes to determine what insurance company and plan is best for you. It also has a list of companies and their compared coverage. Remember that no insurance company offers perfect or complete coverage, and coverage may not be appropriate for every pet and pet owner. It is important to research all options thoroughly, considering your pet’s breed, age, personality, and lifestyle as well as your personal financial situation.