Pet Insurance Saves You Money & Makes Caring For Your Pet Easier

By Sarah Jeanne Terry

The day I came home to hug my new puppy, Cleo, I knew something was wrong.

Though we had just adopted her, Cleo immediately proved herself to be high energy, friendly, and full of puppy excitement, but the shy, slow-moving dog who greeted me at the door seemed totally different. We contacted the veterinarian.

After an exam and some tests, the diagnosis was in: Cleo had developed a serious gastrointestinal infection. She needed an IV administered to regain her strength and had to stay overnight at the vet hospital. The massive vet bill associated with her treatment came as a shock, but there was no way we wouldn't give her the care that she needed. This expensive experience made us look into ways to be protected for future incidents, and we made the decision to invest in pet insurance.

Treatment for Cleo's parvovirus cost $1600, but would have only cost $260 with pet insurance coverage. *

How does pet health insurance work?

While we never want to think about our pets getting ill or hurt, we need to know what we're able to do for them if the worst does happen. Because if you haven't yet had an expensive visit to the vet, it's likely that you will at some point. So, ask yourself, when your pet gets sick, will you be able to afford the vet bill and give your pet the medical care that's needed?

We surveyed Cuteness readers, and their average large vet bill was a whopping $4,056.

Cuteness readers reported that their larger vet bills had an average price tag of over $4,000. That's a LOT of money for just one vet bill. Without pet insurance, you'd be paying the entire amount out of your own pocket. But with pet insurance, you could be reimbursed for up to 90 percent on vet bills and potentially saving $3,500. That's not bad for spending an average of $30 a month for coverage.

Beyo got into a cactus patch. The $900 vet bill would only have cost $190 with pet health insurance. *

Cuteness reader Lori Arnold Thompson told us she spent $1,800 when her kitten had a stomach emergency. She'd simply swallowed a string that became lodged in her tummy. According to our survey, 5 percent of pet owners with large vet bills spent them on similar stomach issues.

While some pet parents will argue that one large vet bill over a pet's lifetime might be less than the cumulative cost of pet insurance, doing the math proves otherwise; using the average of $30 a month for coverage, that's $360 per year, or $3,600 over 10 years — that's still far less than our average Cuteness reader's vet bill.

Treatment for Flaca's undiagnosed vomiting cost $2,000, but it would have only cost $300 with pet health insurance. *

Another Cuteness reader Kimberly Wright spent $5,000 when her Bernese mountain dog landed badly on a jump. She wrote, "my Bernese jumped for a ball and landed on one leg. Orthopedic surgeon said it looked like a skiing accident. Bone plate, 6 screws in his leg."

These costs are significant, especially considering that they could happen during any run-of-the-mill moment. In fact, there aren't many veterinary procedures that we would consider inexpensive. The top-rated pet health insurance provider, Healthy Paws, released a summary of the most common pet health conditions and their potential treatment costs.

Dogs and cats are both most likely to suffer from stomach issues.

Cost is the number one reason that Cuteness readers refrain from purchasing pet health insurance.

Like anything in life, pet insurance costs money. You pay monthly premiums up front, not knowing if your pet will need an expensive procedure in the future. This uncertainty leads a lot of pet parents to skip the pet insurance to save money now, but it turns out, they might be costing themselves more in the long run.

According to Healthy Paws' Cost of Pet Health Care Report 2017, every six seconds, a pup or cat has a vet bill that costs more than $1,000, and yet, less than 1 percent of pet parents have pet health insurance. It only takes a bill of $500-$700 for pet insurance to pay for itself, and if you've had to take your four-legged friend to the vet for an unexpected accident or illness, you know being billed for that amount is fairly common.

How does pet health insurance work?

When humans get sick and go to the doctor, our insurance covers much of what can become astronomical healthcare costs, and in exchange we pay the insurance company a monthly premium for our coverage. Health insurance works similarly for your pets. You pay a monthly premium towards your pet's health insurance, and when your pet needs medical care, your pet insurance pays a portion of the charges.

What separates human insurance from pet insurance is that humans rarely see the costs of our medical care up front. However, with pet insurance, you're typically given an estimate for the cost of treatment up front (and have to agree to pay the bill before any procedures are done). Also, with pet insurance you pay the vet bill yourself, and then your provider reimburses you after submitting a claim. So, pet insurance can feel different, because you pay a large sum at first, but you'll be relieved once you're reimbursed afterwards. Luckily, if you pay with a credit card, the best pet insurance companies will reimburse you before you even have to pay the credit card bill and, in some situations, will pay the vet directly.

Chewie ate rocks. His surgery cost $2,200, but it would have only cost $320 with pet health insurance. *

Pet health insurance terms you need to know.

Deductible: This is the amount of money that you pay before your pet's health insurance kicks in. With human health insurance, we often have to pay this amount before our insurer will start to cover treatment as well. Sometimes with pet insurance, the deductible is per-incident, which means that you have to reach a certain amount each time you go to the vet. Annual deductibles are more common, and typically reimburse you more during a policy year, as you just have to meet one annual deductible, not a deductible for every incident.

Example: A $100 annual deductible means you'll have to spend $100 on vet care each year, and your pet insurance only covers expenses above and beyond that amount.

Reimbursement level: The percentage of the total cost that your pet insurance covers, which, depending on the plan, usually ranges from 60-90 percent.

Example: If you have a $1,200 vet bill, and your policy covers 90 percent with a $100 deductible, you'd be reimbursed $980. This means your total expense would be $220.

If your pet gets injured or sick again during the same policy year, you would not have to subtract the deductible, and would in that same example above be reimbursed $1,080.

Limits or Caps: These numbers represent the maximum amount your pet insurance will pay. These limits can be per incident, or annual, so they reset each year, or lifetime limits, which means they'll only ever pay up to a certain amount. Healthy Paws Pet Insurance does not have any per incident, annual, or lifetime caps on payouts.

Example: Let's say you have a $15,000 annual cap plus a $300 deductible and a 90 percent reimbursement level for a $20,000 vet bill. The pet health insurance will cover 90 percent of the vet bill, which is $18,000. Then you need to subtract your deductible of $300, which means you're at $17,700. But since there's an annual cap of $15,000, you'll end up paying $3,000 ($300 deductible plus the $2,700, which was above the cap).

Bottom line: look for a pet insurance policy with no per incident, annual or lifetime caps on payouts.

Exclusions: Certain conditions or treatments that are NOT covered. For example, many pet insurance plans don't cover wellness and preventative care such as vaccines or annual exams. However, you want to make sure that your plan covers illnesses, accidents, and congenital and hereditary conditions.

Pre-existing Conditions: This refers to a condition that your pet suffered before they had pet health insurance. Although pre-existing conditions are covered in most human insurance plans, this is NOT true for pet insurance. No pet insurance company covers pre-existing conditions. Don't wait until your pet has a serious, chronic, or expensive condition before obtaining pet insurance.

Waiting Periods: Often pet insurance coverage doesn't start right away. There is a waiting period that lasts anywhere from 7-30 days. Basically, insurers are trying to protect themselves from owners who notice a condition, buy pet insurance, get treatment, and then cancel.

Lulu's foxtail removal cost $500 without pet insurance, but his mom would have saved $350 with pet health insurance. *

Pet Health Insurance Can Save You Thousands Of Dollars On Your Veterinary Bills

How to choose a plan.

Balancing Costs: You'll want to balance the monthly costs with the percentage that your pet insurance will reimburse. Higher reimbursement rates provide more coverage, but it also makes your monthly payment higher. Consider carefully what balance works best for you and your pet.

Caps or Limits: You also want to pay attention carefully to caps or limits. Major health issues, like cancer, can be exceedingly expensive, and you'll be thankful that your coverage didn't top out. Healthy Paws is the only pet insurance company that has no limits on payouts; no per-incident cap, no annual cap, and no lifetime caps.

Deductible: Is your deductible annual or per-incident? Typically, an annual deductible is recommended, as you usually meet your deductible amount faster and get reimbursed more. Also, consider how high your deductible is, because that's the money you'll be responsible before pet insurance kicks in. Annual deductibles usually run from $100 - $500.

Coverage: Look out for complicated exceptions and costly "add-on" options. Healthy Paws offers one simple plan that covers new accidents and illnesses, including hereditary and congenital conditions, and does not exclude conditions based on breeds.

Other Things to Look for: A policy that allows you to use any vet and reimburses you based on the actual vet bill, opposed to a benefit schedule that only reimburses you based on what is considered the "ordinary" cost of a procedure.

Also look for an easy claims process. Some companies still use paper claim forms, whereas others make it easy using a mobile app where you can simply snap a photo of the vet bill and upload it using your phone.

Most of all, you want to feel like you've selected an pet health insurance company that cares almost as much about your pet's health as you do.

It's all about customer service once the policy is purchased. When shopping around for pet insurance, check out review sites like CanineJournal.com, PetInsuranceQuotes.com, and ConsumersAdvocate.org to see how companies and providers compare, and what current customers are saying. Also, check out this recent Consumer Reports article: Is Pet Insurance Worth the Cost?

It's hard to put a price on your pet's health and quality of life. That's the true reason pet health insurance makes sense, because when unexpected accidents or illnesses happen suddenly, we don't want to have to worry about whether or not we can afford it. We don't want to focus on numbers and money. We only want the certainty of getting the best care possible for our loving pets.

Since pre-existing conditions are an across-the-board exception for all providers, it's recommended that you don't wait until your pet has an unexpected trip to the vet to consider pet insurance. By enrolling early, dogs and cats can be covered through life's (mis)adventures. Start by reading reviews and getting a free quote.

Polices are underwritten and issued by ACE American Insurance Company, Indemnity Insurance Company of North America, ACE Property & Casualty Insurance Company, Atlantic Employers Insurance Company, members of the Chubb Group.

*Reimbursement based on covered treatments using a 90 percent reimbursement level and $100 deductible.

Thank you Lucia, for speaking with us and sharing your record collection and your musical influences.