Should You Buy Pet Insurance?

We here at Billshark love animals. Apparently, so do millennials: According to one survey, 75 percent of Americans in their 30s have dogs and 51 percent are—some say—owned by cats. In comparison, just 50 percent of the overall population are dog owners and 35 percent have cats.

Study after study has shown that having a pet in your life improves your mental and physical health.

But what about the impact on your financial health? Aside from the recurring costs of food, toys, litter, dog-walking services, boarding, and grooming, one huge cost involves veterinary care.

Routine vet care can average several hundred dollars annually, but in the case of an accident or illness, can run into the thousands. If you don’t have the money to treat a severely injured or ill pet, you’re left with only one heartbreaking option.

Controversial product

Because most pet owners are willing to do anything to save their animals’ lives, and due to the rising cost of veterinary care, pet insurance was created to help offset the cost. But few of the 200 million owners of pets take advantage of it. According to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association, only about 1.6 million animals in this country are insured.

The reasons for this vary, but mainly come down to two factors: cost and value.

Cost

Many people who own pets can’t afford the extra monthly premiums on top of minimal care costs like food. They love their animals, but are living paycheck to paycheck and extras like pet insurance are out of the question.

Value

This is the crucial reason why many people won’t buy the product. Just as with human health insurance, pet insurers are notorious for denying coverage for certain types of care, charging eye-popping co-pays, and raising rates significantly as pets age. They also deny coverage for preexisting conditions, and frequently won’t even sell coverage once a pet is past middle age.

How to decide

So where does this leave you? You never want to be in a position where cost is the deciding factor in whether to end the life of a beloved pet. But for a large number of Americans, that’s the reality they face. Insurance isn’t necessarily the answer, however.

As with any type of insurance, you’re gambling that you may need it someday, and this knowledge can bring peace of mind. On the other hand, you could pay thousands of dollars over the life of your pet only to have the animal remain relatively healthy until the very end. Or to have the coverage you desperately need denied on a technicality.

A great deal depends on:

  • the age of your pet(s)
  • their current health condition
  • your financial circumstances

With a healthy young animal, you can get a policy with a manageable monthly premium, as long as it doesn’t increase with the pet’s age (most policies do). Pet insurance coverage generally falls into one of three categories:

  • accident only
  • accident and illness
  • accident, illness, and wellness.

The accident-only policies tend to be much cheaper than the other two. 

If you do decide to buy insurance, find out:

  • what services are covered
  • what the limits are on what they’ll pay for
  • whether they pay the vet directly or reimburse you for expenses
  • whether you can use any veterinarian or you’re restricted to their provider list
  • what is defined as a pre-existing condition
  • whether premiums rise with the pet’s age
  • whether any breeds are excluded

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recommends pet insurance, but Consumers’ Checkbook doesn’t. The publication surveyed the plans of nine insurers and decided the cost outweighed the benefits.

“We found that, overall, because the cost of insurance is so high, not all care is covered, and policyholders must contribute co-pays and deductibles, most pet owners will pay more out of pocket over the course of their pets’ lives with insurance than without it,” Kevin Brasler, Checkbook’s executive editor, told The Washington Post.

Alternatives

If you opt against insurance, there are other ways to pay for your pet’s veterinary care.

Savings

If you’re disciplined enough not to touch it, you could open an interest-bearing savings account and set aside what you would have paid in premiums. Be aware, though, that emergency or long-term care can run into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Financial assistance

Most vets offer a payment plan. You apply the same way you would for a loan, and if approved, can spread out payments for emergency care over a certain period. ScratchPay, for example, promises no hidden fees, no prepayment penalty, and no deferred interest.

CareCredit for pets is a health care credit card that can also be used for human health care. It offers the option of paying off veterinary services over a certain period with no interest charges. Be sure to check with your vet to see if CareCredit is accepted there.

If you need extra cash to cover vet bills or anything else, be sure to let Billshark’s professional negotiators review your bills. If we can’t save you money, you pay nothing.

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