Is Pet Insurance Worth It?

by Justin Weinger on August 9, 2011

In a down economy, where so many people are unemployed and uninsured, this may seem like an unrealistic topic to cover.  That being said, even in down times, people still have pets and still spend lots of money on them, even when the (the pet owners) don’t have it.

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Can pet insurance really help in sutuations like this? (Aww, what a cute puppy!)

Essentially pet insurance works in roughly the same manor as many regular health insurance plans in the sense that you have a deductible, co-pay and an exhaustive list regarding what procedures the pet insurance will or will not cover.  The procedures covered by pet insurance range from routine vet visits to kidney transplants.

In 2009 Americans spent over $400 million on pet insurance, meanwhile, according to the United States Census Bureau, there are over 50 million Americans that currently do not have any health insurance.  That’s 16% of the population!  (I know that the last two sentences don’t REALLY go along with the pet insurance theme of this post, but I felt the need to interject.  I apologize.)

Anyway, according to research I’ve done online (yes, I know you can’t believe everything you read on the internet) the average person can expect to spend between $2,000 and $7,000 on pet insurance over the life of their furry friend, which is probably well over the cost you will probably shell out for any type of veterinary procedures for your pet.  Seems like this should be enough to make you wonder about whether or not pet insurance is worth it.

Now before you label me as a heartless animal hater, I would like to point out that I do have a cat and a dog and would be willing to spend large sums of money in order to take care of them.  However, I figure financially it is probably better to cross that bridge if I ever come to it and not act preemptively by purchasing pet insurance.  Plus, I can avoid the scenario below, which is detailed in an article on WiseBread, written by Paul Michael, entitled, “Is Pet Health Insurance Worth It?“:

So, armed with all of that knowledge, I figured we’d probably get at least 50 percent refunded to us. And $272 or less for treatment made the insurance worth it, even though we’d paid out more than that in monthly premiums.

I submitted the bill with the claim form and waited. I recently found out that we are receiving $135 of that $545.43.

That’s less than 25 percent! Far, far less than the examples shown on the website. As you can see, the main injury (the bite wound) was covered for just over 10 percent. Wow.

I downloaded the complex bill reimbursement forms (PDF) and they read like quantum physics. There are several categories of reimbursement for each line item, and even then you only get a percentage of what they say you’re covered for. Wait, what? So, if you’re covered for $100, you get $90. Well why not just cover you for $90? Seems odd.

As I tried to make any kind of sense of this, I realized something: I wasn’t supposed to make sense of it. This is made as complex as possible so average Joe’s like you and I don’t know what we’re expected to receive or how to fight it.

In this case we were lucky. 76 percent of $545 is something we can afford right now. But what if it was 76 percent of $7000? That would have been a lot more difficult to come up with. And the very reason we got pet health insurance in the first place was to avoid that dilemma.

To get more of the backstory, I suggest reading the entire article.  It’s worth your time, especially if you are seriously considering purchasing pet health insurance.

It seems to me that you’re probably better served trying to give your pet a happy and healthy life on your own without the aid of pet insurance which you may or may not ever need.  And, thankfully, you can do just that on the cheap.

Here are several inexpensive ways to make sure you’ll never need pet insurance and/or expensive veterinary procedures:

  • Don’t buy cheap food. Get the better quality, healthier food which will pay off with better health.
  • Keep your animals indoors, in a fenced in backyard or on a leash.  This will drastically reduce the risk for injury.
  • Don’t let your pets get fat.  While there’s more to love, you’ll probably have less time to do it and encounter more health problems along the way.
  • Don’t feel compelled to get your pet’s medication from your vet.  Feel free to check around with other vets or pet medication websites to try and find better deals.

Look, I understand that in the long run, you’re probably going to spend thousands of dollars on your pets during their lifetimes.  I’m not saying that’s a bad thing at all, especially considering what they give back is relatively priceless (awwww).  At the same time, I think things like pet insurance are a frivolous waste of money.

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{ 7 comments }

michael belk August 9, 2011 at 11:27 am

Well, I think you have to consider is having the pet worth it, if it is, a pet is more like a family member than a choice not to cover. If you had another child he would definitely be covered. I do not doubt you would take care of your pets, but isn’t that what insurance is for to prevent major cost.

Brian Carr August 9, 2011 at 11:34 am

Michael,

Thanks for the comment. Assuming the insurance actually covered the cost, yes, it would be worth it. However, as you can see in the article from WiseBread.com that I reference, this isn’t always the case. Unfortunately, I think people who take out these policies think that the insurance will cover the procedure(s), so they go ahead and pay for them out of pocket expecting to be reimbursed. If the policy holder is then reimbursed less than what they thought they would be — sometimes by a substantial amount — they could end up in a bad spot financially.

Yes, pets are part of the family, but if you end up putting your actual family in a bad financial position, is it really worth it?

Brian

Margaret Anderson August 9, 2011 at 11:31 am

Sorry but this is rubbish. Perhaps things are different where you are, but here in UK you can insure your pet for 100% coverage. I lost my dog last year and when I worked out what it had cost (two replacement hips, hysterectomy and countless other surgeries and medication she was on for 11 years) the insurance paid each month was nowhere near what was paid out. Think you need to shop around for pet insurance.

Brian Carr August 9, 2011 at 12:30 pm

Margaret,

Thanks for the comment and glad to hear your experience worked out for you (sorry to hear about your dog though). You’re right, if you think pet insurance is right for you, you need to shop around.

Brian

Meagan August 19, 2011 at 10:45 am

That may be true Margaret for the UK, but his article references families in the USA, where the insurance DOES NOT cover 100% of the cost. It is actually more cost effective to follow the tips provided, and instead of dumping the money to an insurance company it is more effective to dump the $20-$30 per month into an account to save up in case something does happen to your pet. Now, when I say this, I’m talking about the average household pet whom doesn’t have any health problems for the time being; in the case of your dog or people of the like, yeah insurance is more feasible.

Brian Carr August 19, 2011 at 11:32 am

Thanks for the comment, Meagan. Obviously, I’m in agreement with you that it’s probably much more cost effective to try and keep your pet happy and healthy than it is to pour money into pet insurance, especially considering you’re not likely to get 100% payment coverage.

Allysa Brown January 24, 2012 at 1:59 pm

Traditional pet insurance doesn’t pay much unless your cat or dog (or other pet) has serious medical ailments requiring regular treatment. I have found that veterinary discount plans are much better for typical trips to the vet and of course the monthly cost is significantly less. My advice to anyone looking to avoid outrageous emergency vet costs would be to start a rainy day fund and sign up for something like Pet Assure which gives an instant discount right at the time of payment. My sister uses them and likes the fact that there are no claim forms or reimbursement checks. They will also accommodate pre-existing conditions which is rare. Worth looking into!

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