A Word or Two About Pet Health Insurance

A Word or Two About Pet Health Insurance

Pet Health Insurance is getting a lot of attention in the press and on the Internet, lately. I’m convinced that this is because we (the pet people) have started to think of our pets as simply other family members. If we have health insurance for the human kids, why not the furry ones, too?Purinacarehappymom

It’s a broad topic and now that Purina has launched PurinaCaretm Pet Health Insurance, I’d like to spend a few posts covering all the aspects of health insurance for pets. After all, it’s been around for over twenty years and still only  about 1% of pet owners in the US have coverage.

So, let’s start with what pet health insurance is, (or should be) and why you might want to consider purchasing a policy. We’ll cover other topics later on.


One of my pet peeves about health insurance for pets is how it’s sold in this country. As a veterinarian, I see advertising that makes me mad.


It seems to me that many of the existing companies market insurance as a way to save money. Or they market insurance as protection from “high” vet bills. For my money, both of these tactics are just plain wrong.

Think about it, do you buy health insurance for yourself so you can save money at the physician’s office? I sure don’t. We definitely wanted protection against going broke paying for our own health care, but that’s different than saving money. That’s insurance.

Chris and I just left the corporate fold last January and we had to buy coverage for ourselves for the first time in a long time. We wanted coverage that encouraged preventive care and we wanted to be in a position to receive the latest medical care in the event we needed it.

We were amazed at how much health insurance for us actually costs, without the good ole company kicking in their share. We spend five times as much per month on our own, as we did as employees of a large company. When I compare what I pay to what you will pay for your pet, today, the cost of pet health insurance seems cheap by comparison.

Chris and I opted for a policy that gives us an annual physical exam and protects us in case of a serious injury or illness. We pay a higher deductible to make it affordable — but we make sure we have the money in savings to cover deductibles and co-pays (the amount we have to pay after the deductible, usually around 20%).

In my opinion these are the same things you should think about when considering health insurance for  your pet. Basically you want insurance against ever having to let finances affect your decisions about health care for your four legged family members.

And that brings me to the other mistake I see in the marketing of pet health insurance. “Vet bills are too high and getting worse.” I see this as a scare tactic many of the existing companies use to get pet owners to buy insurance from them.

ARE vet bills really too high? I don’t think so. What I do think is that vets today have much more to offer to keep our pets healthy than they did in the past. Let me give you an example. You can now get a total hip replacement for your severely dysplastic, arthritic German Shepard. The total cost, according to an orthopedic specialist I know, is around four thousand dollars: To help your four legged family member walk again…

For comparison, in my last mountain bike race in 2005 I took a nasty fall and broke my hip in three places. I didn’t need total replacement but it had to be put back together with plates and screws. The total cost for this process was in excess of $35,000 (yes that’s thirty five thousand). That’s over seven times the cost of a similar veterinary procedure.

You can certainly argue that human health care in our country is a mess for a variety of reasons, but the argument that vet bills are too high doesn’t hold water with me. Veterinarians can now offer our pets virtually any procedure that your own physician can offer you and at a fraction of the cost. Remember – the veterinarian had to train and study and learn, just as hard and as effectively as the MD.

You may indeed want to consider health insurance to cover the cost of highly sophisticated medical care for your pet. If you had a good policy, that four thousand dollar fee for hip replacement might only cost you around $750, assuming a $250 deductible and 20% co-insurance. [there is no way around deductibles…they’re a fact of life we all have to live with.]

The issue is finding a good policy that you can understand and will actually pay what you expect. In the next post we’ll cover some questions you want to think about when shopping for pet insurance.

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