Navigating the Pet Health Insurance Maze

Tripod Puppy Jerry before AmputationNine years ago, when Mom and Dad took me to my first vet visit, Mom saw pet insurance brochures on the counter. She remembers thinking to herself; “Insurance, for dogs? You’ve gotta be kidding.” Being new to dog parenting, she didn’t give it a thought after that, for a while.

During the first several years of my life, my vet bills were never more than a couple hundred bucks a year. But then I got cancer.

And as they say, houndsight is 20/20. Mom now thinks differently about insurance. She feels that if health insurance is so important for her, and my Dad, why not for me? I’m a family member too!

Plus, pet insurance premiums are less expensive than human medical insurance. My Mom knows that if she had signed me up long ago, she would’ve saved a ton of money when I got sick. Since my diagnosis, my pawrents have paid out about ten times more in health care costs for my vet bills, then their own health care bills!

Is pet insurance worth it?
Tripod dog post amputation surgery photo If your dog became a Tripawd because of cancer, and you didn’t have health insurance before the illness was diagnosed, you’re already well acquainted with treatment costs. It may too late to buy insurance for your Tripawd (pet insurance won’t cover pre-existing conditions). But if you ever add another furry friend to your family, it’s a good idea to sign up for pet insurance as soon as s/he comes home.

Because sadly, until there is a cure, cancer will keep happening to dogs. And if your dog is one of the unlucky ones and isn’t insured, and you’re in a tight financial position some day, you may end up in the heartbreaking situation of having to put a price on your beloved dog’s life.

Tripawds recently asked pawrents on the Bone Cancer Dogs group if they had pet insurance on their dogs with cancer, and if so, what their experiences were like when filing claims.

“I lost a dog 10 years ago. I had to make a decision about putting her down based purely on what I could afford. I swore I would never do that again if I didn’t have to,” says Mary Beth.

She added, “What they pay back seems worth it to me. Like any insurance policy, you are playing the odds as to how often and how badly your dog will need extra care.”

Affordable Pet Health Insurance For Cats And DogsThere are a variety of companies such as Quick Care Pet Insurance, ASPCA Pet Insurance, and Veterinary Pet Insurance.

You can buy a basic plan that just covers office visits and routine tests, or you can get a comprehensive policy with cancer riders that will pay out higher limits should your pup get sick.

With all of these options, it’s a must that you do your research first. Here are three places to start:

Enroll While They’re Young
Roddy Bone Cancer Dog Bone Cancer Dogs member Ana, says “I would suggest to anyone looking into pet insurance that they do it early, while the dog is still young, before any issues come up. They do require records and will take note of pre-existing conditions.

For example, they will only cover a torn cruciate if the dog has been insured for at least a year prior to the occurrence,” she added.

Ana has had her pet insurance for over 12 years, and it’s covered bills for two of her dogs that were diagnosed with bone cancer, including Roddy (pictured at left).

Although many insurance companies will insure adult dogs, their premiums will likely be higher. And keep in mind that breeds prone to certain health problems, like Shepherds and hip displaysia, may not be insurable at all.

Premiums start from about $20 a month on up. Many plans offer discounts for more than one dog.

Despite the growing popularity of pet insurance, many pet guardians still suggest just putting the money that would go toward premiums, into an interest earning savings account every month. But Bone Cancer Dogs member Diana says that wouldn’t work for her.

Savannah Bone Cancer Golden Retriever“I know some people say just put the premium money in the bank. Well, even if I had done that, there is no way it would have added up to what they have paid so far let alone all the other things they have paid for in Savannah‘s life.

I think it is well worth it and I wouldn’t be without it especially after having a dog with cancer.”

How Insurance Helped Tasha’s Mom
Mary Beth shared her experience and suggestions with us. She had a standard pet insurance plan with a “Cancer Rider” on her dog Tasha, that cost $9 a year. Sadly, they had to use it.

When Mary Beth filed a claim for two biopsies, the second of which determined Tasha had osteosarcoma, the company paid out $500 toward the $800 in biopsy costs (some x-rays weren’t covered). And it also paid $1800 toward the $2000 in costs for the amputation surgery.

three legged rottweiler tasha bone cancer dog

Her standard plan is also covering up to $374 a year of chemotherapy treatment, with a maximum payout of $1600 (other plans offer higher benefits). The company isn’t paying out any more lab work this year, required as part of the chemo treatment, because Tasha has reached the maximum payout for tests.

Like human health insurance, when the policy renews each year, deductibles and payout limits start all over again. If Tasha lives past the renewal date, the company has stated that they will not cancel the policy.

“I consider it catastrophic insurance,” she says, “and all in all, I think they have done pretty well. I wouldn’t expect the insurance to cover all costs, as it will not. Some allowance levels are high, others too low, but it seems to even out. What they pay back seems worth it to me.”

Denied Claims: Another Side of Pet Insurance
Not everyone has great things to say about pet insurance. Sometimes, technicalities in diagnosing an illness like cancer can lead to headaches when filing a claim.

Three legged husky dog BusterTripawds member Kim just ended a battle with her pet insurance company, after they refused to pay out a claim for her Tripawd Buster’s amputation surgery.

For about two years, Kim has paid about $45 a month to insure Buster and her other dog with ASPCA Pet Health Insurance. The policy renews annually.

Over the course of the first policy year, Kim was taking Buster to the veterinarian to try to figure out why he was limping. Nobody could figure it out. Just about one year later, when bone cancer was diagnosed, the policy had already renewed, but Kim thought nothing of it. Buster had his amputation surgery, and submitted a claim for $2600 in pre-and post-surgery costs. Her claim was denied.

The company told Kim that because records showed that Buster’s symptoms started during the previous policy year, they wouldn’t pay because for the surgery appeared Buster had been treated for osteosarcoma the previous year, making it a “pre-existing condition” that they would not cover during the current policy year.

Kim fought the denial, and had to go through hours of research and paperwork. Finally, her persistence paid off, and the company decided on a settlement (not the full amount of the claim), but only if Kim agrees not to pursue any other claims for Buster’s cancer.

“If I had to do this over again, (and I had a crystal ball) I would of done my homework on pet insurance protocols. Also, I would of insisted on an initial better diagnosis of Buster’s condition,” she said.

So when it comes to technicalities, wrong diagnoses and difficult situations, pet health insurance can be as stressful as dealing with human health insurance (at least in the U.S.!). Be prepared, and keep thorough documentation of all of your pet’s vet visits, tests, etc. Hopefully you’ll never be in the same situation as Kim.

Tripod Dog Jerry relaxes on his bedSpend Money on Toys, Not Bills

Health Insurance For Pets was unheard of not too long ago. But as veterinary medicine becomes just as technical as human medicine, the costs rise accordingly.

In this day and age, taking out a policy on your furry family member definitely makes good cents!

What do you think? We’d love to get your feedback or hear your own reviews if you have or ever had a pet insurance policy.

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