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The Broomfielder

Pet Insurance Provides a Safety Net for Pet Owners Facing Unplanned Veterinary Bills

Jul 02, 2019 04:01PM

By Kristen Beckman

When you add a new pet to your family, it’s easy to get caught up in their youthful energy and inevitable cuteness. What you may not be thinking about during this exciting time are the costs you may face down the road to keep your new pet healthy.

Chances are, at some point your pet will need veterinary care for an illness or injury. As they age, pets are increasingly likely to develop chronic illnesses, and injuries can affect pets of any age. When these situations occur, many pet owners find out the hard way that the price tag for treatment can be high. Often, pet owners are not prepared to absorb these costs, leaving them in the unfortunate position of having to make life or death decisions for their pet based on what they can afford rather than what the best treatment is. 

Pet insurance is an increasingly popular option to address veterinary costs. Like most insurance products, buying a policy isn’t necessarily about getting a dollar-for-dollar return on your investment but instead about buying peace of mind. TJ Houk, chief member experience officer at pet insurer Trupanion, said the lucky group of pets and owners are those who pay premiums for pet insurance they never need to use, but for those who do find themselves facing a large veterinary bill, pet insurance can provide a welcome safety net.

Trupanion, which pays out about 90,000 claims per month, tracks common conditions that lead to unexpected veterinary visits and their average costs. The largest driver of veterinary costs in puppies is vomiting and diarrhea, which may seem fairly simple but can end up costing hundreds of dollars to diagnose and treat. The second biggest driver of veterinary care for young dogs is ingestion of a foreign body, which can average $1,500 to treat. In older dogs, cranial cruciate ligament rupture is a common condition, and the cost to repair can range from $3,200 to $4,200. 

Cats are also prone to foreign body ingestion, especially when they are young, and the cost to treat can top $2,000. Later in life, cats are especially prone to urinary-related illnesses and kidney disease, which can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars to treat. 

“We want people be able to say ‘yes’ when a vet makes a treatment recommendation,” said Dr. Carol McConnell, DVM, vice president and chief veterinary officer for Nationwide, which has offered pet insurance since 1982. “We encourage pet owners to look into insurance when their pet is younger and healthy, because you don’t know what’s around the corner, especially bringing a pet into a new home. You don’t know their personality. You don’t know if they are going to bolt out the front door to chase a squirrel or eat something they shouldn’t eat.” 

Trupanion’s Houk echoed those thoughts. “You never know what’s going to happen,” he said. “The best thing you can do is have a plan. Maybe that plan means buying insurance if you don’t have money in the bank to pay for an unexpected veterinary bill. You want to be able to take money out of the equation when thinking about caring for this four-legged member of your family.”

Following are some considerations when shopping for pet insurance:

            •           Premiums for healthy puppies and kittens are typically lower than for older pets, and existing conditions are often excluded from coverage.

            •           Premiums can vary based on the age, gender, and breed of your pet as well as your geographic location. Cats tend to be less expensive to insure, while larger dogs tend to be more expensive.

            •           Some deductibles are per-incident, while other deductibles operate on an annual basis. Deductibles often may be raised or lowered to achieve a premium that fits your budget.

            •           Some insurance plans pay the veterinarian directly and some require you to pay the bill and submit a claim after treatment for reimbursement.

            •           Policies may include preventive care, usually at a higher premium, for pet owners who want broad coverage. Dental care also may be included in some policies.

            •           Some policies pay on a benefit schedule despite actual costs, and some limit claims.

            •           Ask your veterinarian as well as friends and family about their experience with pet insurance to get real-world advice about premiums, claims, and coverage.

Sample Costs

The cost to insure a one-year-old Labrador Retriever in Broomfield with Nationwide is about $91 per month for the company’s flagship policy that includes preventive care as well as unexpected events. For the company’s major medical plan for the same dog, Broomfield pet owners can expect to pay premiums of about $30 per month.

The cost to insure a one-year-old domestic short hair cat in Broomfield on Nationwide’s flagship product is $37 per month and $19 per month for its major medical plan. Nationwide also offers plans covering birds, reptiles, and ‘pocket pets’ including rabbits and hamsters.

Source: Nationwide

How Much for Pet Healthcare?

Most common claim conditions and average eligible per claim for dogs

            •           Vomiting and diarrhea            $200-$400

            •           Rupture of cranial cruciate ligament   $3,200-$4,200

            •           Mass   $300-$600

            •           Lameness & limping   $300-$400

            •           Foreign Body Ingestion          $400-$900

            •           Allergies          $100-$300

            •           Gastroenteritis          $300-$500

            •           Seizure            $400-$900

            •           Otitis (ear infection)    $100

            •           Medial Patellar Luxation        $500-$2,200

Most common claim conditions and average eligible per claim for cats

            •           Vomiting and diarrhea            $300-$500

            •           Kidney Disease           $500-$900

            •           Lymphoma      $1,800-$3,300

            •           Mass       $400-$800

            •           Diabetes          $900-$1,500

            •           Urinary tract infectious disease          $200-$400

            •           Foreign body ingestion           $700-$1,700

            •           Weight decrease          $300-600

            •           Urinary Obstruction    $1,800-$2,500

            •           Hyperthyroidism         $400-$700

Source: Trupanion