“How much is that doggie in the window?” While the popular children’s song doesn’t provide the answer, pet parents know pets are expensive.
With a three-dog household, Army veteran and Coast Guard spouse Tammie Corbin estimates her pets’ healthcare costs total about $3,000 a year, a figure easily reached when semi-annual wellness checks, vaccinations, heartworm prevention, dental cleanings, supplements, and medications for two senior dogs are tallied.
“And, as anyone with dogs knows, there are always unexpected visits to the vet — my hound dog ate a bee, my old man got in a tussle with a dog at daycare and needed stitches, my other old man sprained his ACL/MCL, etc.,” Corbin explains.
That’s why two years ago Corbin decided to purchase comprehensive pet insurance policies to cover her pets’ routine wellness expenses like checkups, yearly vaccines, and preventative care in addition to veterinarian bills related to accidents and illnesses. By her calculations, Corbin says annual premiums ($800 per dog plus a $250 deductible) are “almost break even” with her known yearly expenses. Plus, the policies provide peace of mind that big ticket injuries or illnesses will be covered.
“I view pet insurance as I do any other insurance,” Corbin explained. “It comes with predictable costs to offset financial risk.”
Is pet insurance a smart choice for your family? Maybe.
Los Angeles veterinarian Dr. Jeff Werber, an Emmy-Award winning contributor to CNN and other news programs, calls the decision a “crapshoot.”
“Sometimes you’re going to win, and it’s great,” Werber said. “Clients that have had that big cancer scare or where the pet got hit by a car and insurance paid out $10,000, they won.”
But, he adds, other clients find they pay more in premiums each year than they receive in reimbursements.
About 20 companies offer pet insurance, including several such as Embrace (available through USAA) and Nationwide that offer military discounts. Types of plans range from wellness only, accident-only, and accident-illness to comprehensive accident-illness with wellness coverage. According to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHI), the average annual accident-and-illness premium for dogs in 2019 was $585.40 and for cats was $349.93. Premiums are based on a pet’s species, breed, age, sex, and location and policy parameters selected such as annual deductible, reimbursement limit, and reimbursement percentage.
When comparing insurance plans, ask:
Does the company offer a wellness plan or comprehensive policy?
Are exam fees covered?
Are alternative therapies covered?
Does the policy exclude all pre-existing conditions or only incurable conditions?
Can the policy be used overseas?
Does the company offer a medical history review to determine which conditions will be considered pre-existing?
To decide the amount of coverage needed, North American Pet Health Insurance Executive Director Kristen Lynch suggests pet owners research any health conditions associated with their breed of dog or cat and the cost to treat those potential problems.
“With pet insurance in particular, you get what you pay for,” Lynch said. “So, if you’re paying a higher premium, it’s very likely [because] you have more comprehensive coverage. If you know what coverage you need and how much of a benefit you need to be paid out, then you can compare apples to apples.”
Without pet insurance, veterinarian bills after an accident or illness, like cancer, can quickly hit four figures.
“No one would ever want to choose between their savings and the best care for their pet, but that’s the place many pet owners find themselves when an unexpected accident or illness costs thousands of dollars to treat,” Sara Radak, Embrace Pet Insurance communications director, said.
“Pet insurance provides peace of mind that you’ll always be able to do what’s best for your pet without worrying about how it will affect your bank account.”
Because some pet insurance companies are quick to reject claims due to “pre-existing conditions” or other technicalities, Werber suggests some pet owners instead may want to consider using monthly auto-debits to fund a separate savings account for their pet’s healthcare.
“Before you know it, when that rainy day comes and the dog is seven years old and gets cancer, you have $5,000 or $6,000 put away,” he said, adding a healthcare credit card such as CareCredit is another alternative.
“My recommendation is not to ignore doing something,” Werber said.