Monday, June 5, 2017

Pet Insurance: Is it worth it?

Back in 2012, I read an op/ed piece in Wall Street's MarketWatch written by contributing author Jeanette Pavini that suggested pet insurance was a waste of money.

I wrote an article with an opposing opinion and was recently asked to update it. This is the 2017 version of the original Monday Medical post.

First, despite Ms. Pavini's 2012 claims that per insurance isn't worth your hard-earned cash, there are an increasing number of affordable plans that begin as low as $4.56/month in the U.S. That coverage was estimated based on a 3 year old male cat with no preexisting conditions.

I also discovered something encouraging: that plan increased just 48¢/month since 2012, but the 2017 value is much higher.

In 2012, it only covered accidents. Today's policy covers accidents, illnesses, cancer, hereditary conditions, emergency visits, surgeries and prescription drugs.

Of course, with a policy that reasonable, you can expect high deductibles and a 30% copay. For this policy the deductible is $1,000, which translates to more of a catastrophic policy than an annual-use one. Still, when disaster hits, it's better to have a $1,000 bill than a $5,000 one.

Pet insurance helps Maxie hold onto his lone, last fang.

$4.56 a month.

That's less than half the price of a movie ticket these days. Have you seen what's playing on the big screen lately? Let's talk "waste of money," Ms. Pavini.

The 2012 Wall Street article also included a statement that inaccurately describes the coverage provided by most pet insurance companies. Here is the statement in question: "...with most plans, the premiums rise and coverage declines as your pet gets older—when they are more likely to need costly procedures."

This seems highly counter-intuitive. If that were truly the case, what person in their right mind would purchase it? In 2012, I accused Ms. Pavini of irresponsible journalism. Perhaps that was a bit harsh in today's politically-charged climate, so I'll just say that I wish she had done just ten minutes of research to back her claim before making that statement.

A bit of time spent searching several well-known U.S. insurance sites provided absolutely no evidence that coverage shrinks as a pet ages. So for this 2017 reboot, I revisited three of the top pet insurance companies in the U.S. to find if they had changed their positions since 2012.


Pet insurance: protection that helps you weather the storm

Here's VPI's position: "Our coverage does not decline as a pet ages. As long as your pet is enrolled before age 10 and you keep your policy continually in force (translation: don't let it lapse or expire), we promise not to drop your pet."

Trupanion allows you to enroll your pet any time before your pet’s 14th birthday. Here is Trupanion's response to my query about the Wall street article when I contacted them in 2012: "Trupanion coverage does not decline as the pet ages. Perhaps they meant to say that coverage options (pre-enrollment only) decline?"

Quite possibly that's what the author meant. Because it is true that the cost to insure a pet increases as the pet ages. And the older the pet, the more potential exclusions there will be if you opt into coverage at a late date. It's the same with human insurance, as well. But if that's what the Wall Street article intended to failed. The article certainly didn't leave one with that impression.

I also spoke with Laura Bennett, CEO of Embrace Pet Insurance, back in 2012, and her response is still valid 5 years later:
“I was really disappointed that the author of the article, Jeanette Pavini, based her opinion of pet insurance on one friend’s experience with one company.

"Regarding the example she provided, it is true that a few pet insurers exclude hereditary conditions and given a Bernese Mountain Dog is prone to hip dysplasia amongst other conditions, that might have been the surgery she mentioned that was not covered; however, there are a number of pet insurers that do cover hereditary conditions (Embrace and Petplan being two of them) and even some of those that have not covered them in the past are adding optional coverage for breed-specific issues now (such as VPI and ASPCA).

"I would love to discuss pet insurance with Ms Pavini just to show that pet insurance is not all the same and a high deductible policy to protect against large unexpected vet bills, just like her friend would have wished for, is worth getting.” 

Finally, I personally believe Ms. Pavini's logic is flawed. She recommended that, instead of pet insurance, a person would be better off starting a pet emergency savings account. While technically there is truth in her statement, a 2016 GO Banking Rates report stated that 69% of Americans have less than $1,000 in their savings accounts.

I fear the sticker shock of a veterinary emergency room bill may negatively impact the decision to seek care for the pet. Again, Laura Bennett:
"Budgeting is for predictable expenses; insurance is for unpredictable and financially impactful veterinary costs. Unless you are very wealthy, budgeting can never replace insurance if you would do whatever it takes to help the health of your pet in a veterinary health decision."
Having pet insurance may mean the difference between several more years of companionship or making that painful decision to euthanize. And call me crazy, but I see pet insurance as another way to cut down on the number of deaths at animal shelters in the U.S. annually.

Yes, some people, upon discovering their "beloved pet" has an expensive disease, will simply abandon it. I have seen it firsthand.

One of my previous cats, Ryker, was insured. A few months after he passed away, I went through 13 years of medical bills and insurance invoices. In the end, we came out ahead. Not by much, but we did end up spending less on our vet bills with insurance than we would have without.

All three of the Tonk's Tale cats are insured, and they will remain so. The peace of mind, if nothing else, is worth it.

And no, I was not compensated in any way for this post. I simply happen to believe that pet insurance is worth it.

Postscript: Interestingly enough, there has been only one other article on pet insurance in Wall Street's MarketWatch since 2012. 

It was another op/ed piece, published in April of this year. This time, the author's opinion was favorable.



  1. I completely agree with you. My medical expenses for Angel Tara were astronomical. I'd do it again in a heartbeat and am very thankful that I could, but I know she most likely would have been abandoned or euthanized had she been with most other people. On the night I lost Truffles within 2 hours my cat was gone and my wallet was $1,000 lighter. I insured Mudpie within the first few months of adopting her. (Of course, just my luck, after her asthma was diagnosed.) The peace of mind is priceless.

  2. mom wishes she had signed us up as we joined the family. it is certainly something she needs to look into for the "younger" crew

  3. We never considered pet insurance for Angel and Chuck when they were younger. However, your post makes me think that any new member to our family should be insured right away! Thanks!

  4. I have considered insurance several times over the past couple of decades.. I first became aware of it when I worked at a veterinary clinic and saw a few people with dogs be able to pay for very expensive surgeries because they had insurance. I priced out the cost of the insurance vs the payout for known issues I had with my pets, and I found in every case (and every time I look it up I run into the same thing) I would be better off if I started a savings account, so that is what I did. Now Jack has tested that theory and beaten me over the head with it with his being hyper and then hypo thyroid and the number of times I have taken him in for urinary issues, but even when I price those out I have found that it wouldn't have helped all that much due to deductibles and partial payments.

    I am not saying insurance isn't a life saver for some (dogs especially, who tend to have even more complicated and expensive issues) and if it gives you peace of mind it is invaluable.

  5. I have checked into several insurance policies for the boys. I'm ashamed to say that I haven't got them covered yet.

  6. We dogs are all insured and Mom says that policies have gotten better with each dog. Most of the time we break even or come close. As with all insurance, the basis is usually for catastrophes like cancer, getting hit by a car, etc. If your pet is never ill, you may never break even, but it is piece of mind. Think about the cost of car or home insurance that most hopefully never need. We are supporters of insurance for pets.

  7. GUYZ....manee thanx two your mom for thiz post; we lurned a lot ....while we due knot haz insurance; lotz oh R ole catster buddies did & they were grate full food gurlz gonna knead ta re think thiz az tuna ternz 11 next yeer...THANX !!!!! ♥♥

  8. Thanks for the update! My human is still trying to decide whether to buy insurance for me, or to set aside money in a separate account for me. Binga and Boodie are both over 14, so they don't really have any options.

  9. That was great information and a lot to think about!

  10. We agree with you. We both have an insurance since we are 3 months old. When Angel Loupi was hit by a car, the vet costs were huge, and Claire was thankful for having an insurance. One accident or one disease happening in a cat's life is worth having an insurance. Purrs

  11. I have Trupanion policies for my cats, and I'll never be without pet insurance again. Trupanion's coverage does not decline as a pet ages. Some pet insurance companies will cover less of the cost or refuse to cover certain conditions as the pet ages, but with Trupanion, the person who makes changes to your coverage is the pet owner themselves, and they can do that by raising or lowering their deductible. But Trupanion never changes your deductible for you for any reason.

    Trupanion's not the cheapest, but I worked for Trupanion for two years and know the policy very well. If I didn't believe in the coverage, I certainly wouldn't have kept my cats on it.

    1. I recently adopted a young cat. Approx 1-2 years old. I have been looking into purchasing Trupanion. How do I know the best deductible option to choose? I have not yet gotten price quotes. Thanks.

    2. Gina, we three don't have Trupanion so we can't speak specifically to this, but in general, we think it depends on how much you are willing to spend on deductible and how much an annual wellness exam + dental cleaning your vet charges you. You could add up the premiums for a year plus your vet bill and see if it makes sense to lower your deductible. Make sense?

      We added dental in there because we are kitties with teeth issues, and prefer to err on the side of prevention.

    3. I've had Trupanion on the girls since the day they came to live with me. I've chosen no deductible because I wanted to get reimbursed as much as possible. My premiums are a little higher, but no deductible helped with large vet bills. I like that you can choose your deductible, the percentage insurance will pay, and the type of insurance you will have. I've researched several companies and I always come back to Trupanion. JaneA should be able to give you more information.

    4. Hi, Gina. The lower the deductible, the higher the premium is going to be. i generally recommend going with a lower deductible when cats are young, because they tend to get into more mischief, and then raising the deductible when the cat is older and more likely to have a chronic condition rather than getting into trouble with young-cat things.

      Also, keep in mind that Trupanion's deductibles are not annual, they are per incident or condition. To give an example of what that means: My cat, Thomas, has kidney disease. I've met his deductible for that condition, so I never have to pay it again (as long as I don't raise my deductible, that is). But if he fell out of the cat tree and broke his leg, I'd pay another deductible for that.

      Dental coverage is tricky with any pet insurance. With Trupanion, dental cleanings are not covered as they are considered routine prophylactic care. However, if your cat needs extractions, Trupanion may cover those as long as there's no evidence of dental disease that existed prior to the policy.

    5. Thank you all for the informative replies. My plan is to get quotes after his wellness exam next week. He has already been treated for a few things while still under the rescue in my foster care. A URI, ear infection and a canine tooth pulled. Hoping nothing will be considered a pre-existing condition. @Maxwell Faraday Richman, I agree with weighing anticipated costs vs. premiums and deductibles. @Sweet Purrfections and @JaneA Kelley,I have had several people recommend Trupanion and been happy with claims being paid. It's been years since I've had a young cat. The last few years it's been dealing with a senior with kidney and thyroid issues until her passing in January. I have never purchased an insurance plan for my cats.

  12. I have thought about insurance, but can't afford it for all so I feel bad just getting it for some. I will charge my life away though for whatever care my cats need.

  13. We unnerstand your view on pet insurance. Medical costs can exceed personal resources. But TBT assures us that we are self-insured, so we don't need to pay the insurance companies.

  14. After what I went through with Wally these past 8 months, I definitely will look into getting pet insurance for any of my future cats. ~Island Cat Mom

  15. Interesting information. Years ago I read an article by a vet who reviewed some of his clients' records to see if pet insurance was worth the cost. The conclusion was that it just depends on what happens with your pet. Hopefully the people who purchase insurance won't need it, but if they do, I hope it adequately covers their pet's medical bills.

  16. We thought we'd commented on this article, but maybe it was on FB.

    I've had Trupanion pet insurance for the girls since the day they came to live with me. I also had Trupanion on Praline the last 4 years of her life. My premiums are a little higher because I've chosen to have no co-pay so I can be reimbursed as much as possible.

    Trupanion doesn't cover wellness exams (I've purchased a separate plan with my vet that covers two vet visits and a year of flea protection along with other benefits), but it's been a God Send when Praline had cancer and Truffle or Brulee had to be rushed to the emergency vet. Trupanion is very quick with reimbursement and customer service is excellent. My vet's office will not file directly with Trupanion for payment, so I do have a CareCredit account to pay upfront and when I receive the reimbursement (usually within the week), I can pay it on the account.

    I wouldn't be without pet insurance for my girls.

  17. Trupanion is wonderful! I had a different pet insurance with Praline and quickly changed it when they considered almost everything preexisting or wouldn't cover something.

  18. Interesting post. I'm not insured but if TW ever gets another cat, she will be. It's gotten to be a lot more important than just another monthly bill to pay. We're not sure of my age so we're not sure is I can still get insurance.

  19. Right now we don't have insurance...but fur sure would consider it in the future for any new members of the furry kind added to our furmily.


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