Friday, May 18, 2012

pet insurance

Being that I work as a health care provider in private practice in the United States, I have had more than my fair share of dealing with powerful insurance companies. The experience has been an extremely frustrating exercise in dealing with organizations which have fairly free reign to abuse both their powerless customers and their contracted providers. I could write pages and pages detailing these abuses but that's not what this post is about.

Instead of complaining about the evils of insurance companies, I'm going to sing some praise for one insurance company in particular. The catch is, you and I can't be insured by this company.

All of my cats are insured by Petplan USA. I made the decision to insure them chiefly based on my anxiety-driven, hypochondriac nature. When I notice something is off about a cat, I take them to the vet to get checked over. This means I have gotten to know the vet staff quite well as I see them often. Having insurance also protects me from having to make a heart wrenching life or death choice based solely on financials. My brother recently lost one of his dogs after being faced with an emergency situation that required him to make a choice of either shelling out significant money for a slight chance at saving his dog's life or helping her cross the bridge. I can't imagine having to make such a choice.

There are quite a few insurance companies that offer pet insurance. Before choosing which company to go with, I did a little research. A few of the things I liked about Petplan is that they cover hereditary and congenital conditions as well as chronic problems for the life of the animal. They also cover alternative and holistic therapies.

Like any insurance company, they do not cover pre-existing conditions, so it's important to sign up right away before anything develops. I learned this the hard way with Theo. I procrastinated signing him up thinking I would save a little money as he seemed quite healthy at the time. Then all of a sudden he was having problems and was diagnosed with his hyperthyroidism, which is now a pre-existing condition. Dang! Had I not delayed, this lifelong disease would have been forever covered for him.

Routine and preventative care is also not covered. Things like annual exams and vaccinations are not covered expenses. Of course, if an illness is discovered, then the visit becomes eligible based on that diagnosis.

When you sign up for Petplan insurance you get several options to choose from, each options makes a difference in the premium. The first choice is the yearly cap ($20,000, $12,000 or $8,000). The second choice is deductible ($50, $100 or $200), which is per-condition per year. Third is reimbursement amount (80%, 90% or 100%). Reimbursement for a veterinary specialist is always 80%.

Buddy is covered at $12,000, a $50 deductible and 100% reimbursement all for an annual premium of $475. The premium is so high because he's a senior kitty, the other cats are quite a bit cheaper. Buddy has had many trips to the vet in the 11 months we have had him. You might remember that Buddy was not wanting to eat for quite some time. The result was some expensive dental work.

Here's Buddy's medical history for the time he has been with us:

July 9, he goes to the vet and is diagnosed with Polydipsia after undergoing some diagnostic work. The charge: $340.95. I was reimbursed $290.95 (the charge minus the $50 deductible).

January 2 & 3, Buddy goes to the vet because he's not eating. He's diagnosed with Anorexia and he undergoes a bunch of diagnostic work. The charge: $410.42. I was reimbursed $360.42 (the charge minus the $50 deductible).

March 31, he goes to the vet and is diagnosed with Periodontal Disease. The charge: $165.40. I was reimbursed $115.40 (the charge minus the $50 deductible).

April 9, Buddy goes back to the vet for extensive dental surgery for his Periodontal Disease. The charge: $638.95. Since I had already paid my deductible for this condition, I was reimbursed the full $638.95.

To summarize, Buddy's total vet bills for the past 11 months: $1,555.72 which after reimbursement of $1,405.72, only cost me $150.00. Now, factor in the $474 annual premium, $475 + %150 = $625. So, including the annual premium, I've still paid less than half of what it would have cost me without the insurance and I get the peace of mind knowing I can afford to do all sorts of expensive diagnostic work and treatment options because it will only cost my $50 deductible.

Of course an insurance company couldn't stay in business if they routinely paid out more than they take in through their premiums. Nahum has been insured for most of the three years I have had him and he's rarely at the vet due to his excellent health. So, I pay his $233 annual premium and rarely file a claim on his policy. I personally, find that paying these yearly premiums greatly reduces my fear about being able to provide for their medical needs in a time of need. I also view it as amortizing their medical costs over the life of the animal rather than trying to suddenly absorb a crazy expensive vet bill.

Another amazing thing about Petplan is that they are actually pleasant to work with. I can't believe I am actually saying that about an insurance company! Also, claim processing is surprisingly quite speedy. More often than not, I get the reimbursement check in my hands before I get my credit card bill with the vet's charges on it.

I've been trying to come up with some negatives to balance my review, but I'm really struggling to find any. The only thing I think to complain about is that the process of filing a claim can be a bit of a hassle, but I'm guessing this is true of any pet insurance. To submit a claim, you have to print off an official claim form, complete the basic information and then give it to the vet office to complete the technical part. Once that's done it gets faxed off to Petplan. I always get an email letting me know the claim was received and is in review and then a week or so later the reimbursement check shows up in the mail.

After complaining to Laura about my own health insurance plan the other day, I realized that my cats have much better health insurance coverage than us humans! What's up with that?! Why can't there be options like Petplan for humans?!

I should disclose that Petplan has not provided me any compensation of any kind to provide this review. This review is purely based on my personal experience to date as a paying customer of Petplan USA. If I experience negatives in the future, I will be sure to write about those experiences at that time.

I would love to hear other's peoples experiences with pet insurance. Has it paid off well for you? Have you had any bad experiences with your pet insurance?


  1. None of my cats has had pet insurance, though I've thought about it. Actually, when I adopted Derry I was all set to sign up (the shelter provides a month or two of insurance) but then read the fine print that vaccinations had to be done. I think it's crucial to vaccinate kittens, but am really anti-vaccination after that, if the cat is an indoor cat. So I didn't sign. Of course, vaccination protocol has changed in recent years, with the standard being NOT more often than every three years, but I don't know if pet insurance companies are on board with that. I'd be curious to know what the fine print on your agreement is on that.

    1. Section VII.7 of the terms and conditions outlines the requirements of taking care of the pet. Subsection "a" stipulates: "In order for your policy to remain valid you must take care of your pet and arrange and pay for your pet to have the following:
      (1) An annual health check. (2) An annual dental exam. (3) Any treatment normally suggested by a primary vet to
      prevent illness or injury."

      Vaccines are discussed in subsection "c" of the same section: "To be afforded coverage for the diseases listed below, you must keep your pet vaccinated at your expense, as recommended by your primary vet. We will not pay any claims that result from or are related to any illness that is listed below that a vet- recommended vaccine would have prevented.
      (1) Rabies. (2) Feline viral rhinotracheitis. (3) Feline calicivirus. (4) Feline panleukopenia. (5) Feline leukemia virus."

      As I read that, the owner has a choice to vaccinate or not and if they choose not to and one of those illnesses occurs, it will not be covered. Seems fair to me.

    2. Hey Cat Guy, thank you for all the information you have given us about Petplan. I have also thought about getting my pets insured and then I talk myself out of dealing with the insurance companies and trying to figure out which is the best. It is always good to get feedback from someone else's experience, especially when it is positive. Thanks again for the review. It is very helpful.

  2. Petplan sounds like a really good pet insurance. In our country, unfortunately, pet insurance hasn't quite taken off. The first one that came in some years ago, only insured pedigrees (with certs) and only until 8 years of age. It fizzled out after a few years (for obvious reasons).
    Now, I heard, there's a new pet insurance which is close to being launched. Unfortunately, it's panel vet (the only one) is a vet hospital with a terrible track record (of overcharging, running unnecessary tests, bad vets). The details are still sketchy but it doesn't sound promising from what has been tabled out so far.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Very interesting and I will see if it's offered here. I too don't like some of the vaccinations when they are in adulthood. They have always made my cats very sick.

  5. Mine are always inside only cats..I should have stated that,

  6. great review! I've done the math a few times with policies that have come my way, and I've always seemed to come out ahead if I put the insurance premiums in a savings account and used that to pay the bills. Sounds like this one might be different

  7. My vet said my kitties were too old for pet insurance. In the future, I would consider it.

  8. I don't have pet insurance but might consider it. I have had Charlie 13 years and since he is indoor only I don't do vaccinations! I have had some expenses but so far none I couldn't handle. Still I think it is a good idea and may look into it. Thanks for the review of this company. Linda

  9. I must admit, I laughed at the vet when they tried to sell me pet insurance when my cat was only 8 weeks old but now that he is almost 11 years old, it sure makes you think! It's so sad when people have to choose between the money that it would cost and their beloved pet. But the fact is, pet health costs are expensive!!

    A very thought provoking post. Excellent!
    xo Catherine


Thanks for sending in your comments!