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December 31, 2007

I admit it. I’m frugal. I do enjoy shopping when I have the cash and the need, but I am not a fan of unnecessary monthly bills. So, I’m always looking for places to trim the budget, either to make room for something else or to eek out a bit more savings. For 2008, I’m seriously considering dropping Lilly’s health insurance. It’s less than $20 per month, but the more I look at our policy, the less useful it seems.

For example, routine care like exams and vaccinations are not covered. Dental work, unless it’s from an injury, is not covered. Any behavior-related care is not covered. And, there’s a pretty high deductible per incident (rather than an overall annual deductible).

So, essentially, it’s a major medical policy. If something BIG happened, some of it would be reimbursable. BUT, if you read the fine print, there are also relatively low limits to coverage.

I first researched and wrote about pet insurance back in the mid-1990s. It was a piece for a veterinary trade magazine, and at the time, the conclusion seemed to be that it wasn’t much help to your average pet owner and that it wasn’t necessarily doing much for veterinarians either.

I could switch to a different company. Apparently, the CO agility community banded together and got some kind of discounted rate from Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI). But, I don’t know much about the costs or coverage.

Lilly is the only dog of mine that’s had insurance. Until now, my “self-insured” plan was to break out the credit card when something big happened (like Ginko’s 2 blown knees).

So … what’s keeping me from canceling the policy? Superstition. I’m terrified that as soon as I cancel it Lilly will get sick or hurt or something, and I’ll go broke trying to pay for it.

But, I’m a little annoyed that this money gets sucked out of my account every month with little benefit so far (or possibly ever).

Help?! Weigh in. Do you or don’t you have insurance on your dogs? Has it helped in a real way? If so, what do you have and how much does it cost?

About the Author Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related.

I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

  1. I have Pet Insurance for 3 of my 4 fur kids (2 dogs and 1 cat) with Pet Plan Insurance. I’m not sure if it’s only a Canadian company or not but they do have a website. I pay around $30 a month for each dog and $20 for the cat. Ali has had a lot of issues – allergies, a back injury and mast cell cancer. Having pet insurance gives me peace of mind that when Ali has to have a tumor removed, I can afford the operation. Last year she had one removed from her front leg and it cost $500. Pet Plan reimbursed me for 80% of that (I had already paid my deductible for the year). With Ali’s back injury I was able to take her for physiotherapy and acupuncture and swim therapy plus the normal vet visits and medications and was reimbursed for 80% of everything. Totally worth the monthly premium. I have the standard plan with Pet Plan which has an annual coverage of $2,000 per accident or illness. So for Ali’s cancer, I can spend $2,000 a year on treatment. No, that won’t cover the cost of radiation but it does cover the operations and medications and for Ali’s type of cancer the chemo is actually prednisone so it will cover that. And I can sleep at night knowing I don’t have to make a treatment decision based on financial reasons. Plus with both of my dogs playing agility, I like being able to take them for physio and acupuncture and having it covered. Whether or not to have pet insurance is a very personal decision but, as I have said, I like the peace of mind I get knowing if something happens I don’t have to hesitate to go to the vet because I can’t afford it. That is priceless to me!


  2. See… that’s my concern. That somewhere in the fine print of my “lovely” 70-30 policy is some caveat that will screw me when I need help the most.

    Sorry to hear about the ID Theft. That’s so frustrating.

    I just made some changes to cut about $30 off my phone bill. If I dump the insurance too, then that’s about $50 a month I could sock away for health emergencies (mine or the dogs’).

    Something to think about for sure. My motto — Smart Girls Don’t Waste Money.

  3. I had insurance with VPI on two of my dogs for a few years but I canceled for several reasons:

    I realized that I would do better to just put the amount I was paying in premiums into an interest bearing savings account.

    I couldn’t insure my Doberman because of the clause in the premium that said they wouldn’t pay for conditions considered caused by hereditary factors. That seems to give them quite a bit of leeway for refusing all kinds of treatments such as for hd, torsion or bloat, any bleeding disorder, skin conditions or even some kinds of cancer.

    I also didn’t like the amount of time I had to take to file and send the claim for a fairly small pay out (the one time I did file a claim for a minor accident).

    And even though I had insured my BC for years without once making a claim, my premium went up.

    But the final straw was when I got a letter from the company saying that one of their employees had stolen several social security numbers and mine was one of them. And I don’t think they sent the letter out of the goodness of their hearts, I think it was because some federal regulation forced them to.

    Insurance has always ban a scam as far as I’m concerned, no matter if it’s for health, accident or whatever. I’ve yet to ever come out ahead for all the money I’ve put into paying premiums. And if I didn’t work for an employer who could afford good health benefits, I doubt I’d get much love from the insurance companies when it came to making claims on the medication that I rely on to keep me healthy every month.

  4. The $44 fee came directly off the VPI site. It was listed as the monthly fee for their ‘premium’ or most expensive program. My point was that this insurance does not pay out very well in the face of a catastrophic event. What’s $1200 in the face of a $10,000 bill for chemo/cancer? Or even $1475 in the face of a $5000 cruciate repair? Do those figures really instill that much peace of mind?

  5. Thanks, Brian, for you input. It seems you’re saying that I have insurance for “the wrong reasons.” That statement alone may make my final decision easier.

    I guess I would be OK with routine stuff not being covered, if the limits on my policy (with another company … not yours) didn’t seem so low. I can see how a per accident cap of $3K would work fine in most cases, but a $3K lifetime cap on cancer treatment, for example, doesn’t sound like enough to me.

    I’m willing to make a financial commitment to a company on Lilly’s behalf, if the company makes one to me. And, the more I read the fine print, the more I worry that’s NOT the case.

  6. To clarify, VPI Pet Insurance premiums vary, depending on the pet’s species, age, state of residence, and plan combination selected. The $44 a month Elayne provides I’m assuming is for her particular pet. For my year-and-a-half-old Min Pin, for example, I pay about $25 a month for her medical plan. I also guard her with the Pet WellCare Protection, which reimburses for the procedures that Rox was referring to in the original post (routine exams, vaccines, teeth cleanings, etc.). This add-on is ideal for pet owners who are diligent about routine care and are intent on seeing some return on their premium yearly.
    As for the medical coverage, I’m content if I’m not using it for Maya each term. That means that she’s standing in good health. In interviews with the media, I emphatically communicate that medical coverage for pets is a risk management tool designed to defray the costs of testing and treatment for unexpected accidents and illnesses. Those expecting to see a return on their premium with the medical coverage are enrolling for the wrong reason; the plans are meant for peace of mind in case the catastrophic or unexpected occurs.
    Sue hit the nail on the head when she mentions that the monthly premium seems reasonable for all that the plans protect against. Common maladies like foreign body ingestion, gastric torsion and even cancer can hit any pet at any age…and, we often see claims with significant payouts for these types of conditions. Those pet owners are in agreement that it’s better to be safe than sorry.
    With respect to group discounts, VPI typically honors a 20% discount for special group and/or association members that set up accounts with the company. That discount is off the base medical plan (not applicable to the routine care).
    Finally, in the case of a cruciate tear surgery, the $845 for a secondary diagnosis is for cases in which a second leg is diagnosed with an ACL tear at the same time the initial leg is diagnosed. The amount is toward the testing and treatment of the other inflicted leg. If the second leg suffers a cruciate tear on a separate occasion from the first, then it will be paid out as a ‘primary diagnosis’. I hope this makes sense.

    Brian Iannessa
    Veterinary Pet Insurance

  7. I think it was Clean Run that had a good article some time ago about pet insurance and in general the conclusion was that it wasn’t worth it, esp. for the policies that covered basic vet visits. But that article was several years ago and maybe things have changed so I took a quick look at the VPI site out of curiosity. If I’m reading things right it looks like their premium plan costs $44 a month and only covers chemo up to $1200 and a cruciate repair (surgical) up to $1475 (there’s an additional $845 allowance for ‘secondary diagnosis’ but I don’t understand what that means). I could be misunderstanding but it sure doesn’t sound like they pay out very well. I think some policies/companies have cancer riders as well.

    I’m not sure what discount the Colorado Agility list gets for VPI (maybe it was 25%?) but at a quick glance it doesn’t seem worth it to me.

  8. I see your dilemma. I know nothing about pet insurance, but I have had three horrible cancers hit my crew and one very long degenerative disease. The cost per illness for each was over $10k, one of them was almost $20k with surgeries, chemo, check ups, etc. I’ve also had 3 TPLO surgeries at about $5k per pop. I’m not sure if insurance would have covered any of those, but I’m grateful for credit cards!!

    $20/month seems quite reasonable if it does cover things like chemo, surgery for cancer to remove tumors, or some sort of orthopedic surgery.

    Lilly is so cute (unrelated but necessary comment) 🙂

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