|Mercy Animal Hospital
Dr. Thomas B. McMillen
1395 New London Avenue
Cranston, Rhode Island 02920
We at Mercy Animal Hospital have always been leery of the prospect of the widespread use of pet insurance. We do not look forward to the day when there is one standard of care for those with insurance, and a much lower standard for those without, as often happens in the dental and human health professions.
Despite those reservations the rapid increase in the prices for many veterinary procedures, particularly for specialist and emergency services, has made pet insurance a serious consideration. Should your dog swallow a rubber ball, or your cat get urinary tract obstruction, and end up at an emergency clinic for surgery, you could easily have to deal with a bill in the $1500-$3000 range. Should you go to Tufts or Angell Memorial for top end specialty care, fees of well over $5000 are commonplace. Bringing that fee down into an affordable range can make all the difference.
There are now a wide variety of pet insurance companies to choose from. Some of the larger and more prominent companies being Nationwide,(formerly VPI), Trupanion, Healthy Paws, and Embrace. We have to be circumspect here, as there is a law, (which we admittedly don't quite understand), which says that we can not recommend any specific policy offered by any company as that would make us an 'unregistered agent'. However it is difficult to offer counsel to our clients without making direct reference to what is offered. For the purposes of our discussion we will be using the Embrace mode;, as it seems simple and offers flexibility without a lot of confusion. They also were the most helpful and responsive to our enquiries, which is always a major consideration when dealing with insurance matters. It should be pointed out that Healthy Paws uses a very similar model - indeed the chart for choosing premiums is almost identical - and we have not made any price comparisons between companies.
When trying to decide if pet insurance is right for you there are four main parameters to be considered - 1) Premium cost, 2) Maximum coverage, (we would think that $5000 is probably sufficient in this area, but premiums up to $10,000 are available), 3) Annual deductible, and 4) Percent reimbursement (that is co-pay). Some companies have very little flexibility, and basically offer a 'one size fits all'. Plug in the breed and age and you are done. Others offer a mind numbing complexity of options for those who are into that sort of thing. The choice is yours.
So as for our chosen example if we go to the Embrace website and plug in our technician Jodie's dog Jagger - a 2 year old neutered Boston terrier, we see a choice of three suggested plans come up, with sliders for further customization shown just below. The four key parameters we have discussed can be easily adjusted and price compared. For Jagger, a 'high end ' policy of $10,000 maximum, $300 deductible, 80% reimbursement, and optional Rx coverage would be $51 a month, or $600 a year. A more conservative $5000 maximum, $500 deductible, also 80% reimbursement would cost $28 a month, or about $360 a year.
For comparison, if we plug in our technician Lisette's 8 month old Goldendoodle Arya, she would be only $37 for the first plan and $21 a month, or $240 a year, for the second. (Note the significant breed differential! This is actually something a prospective pet owner might use to consider which breed to use.)
Obviously these quotes were from the specific day we checked and are just meant as representative samples. They could change at any time.
So let us see how this would work in real life. Probably the most common big-ticket item is ACL, (or cruciate), surgery, which in our area tends to run in the $2100 to $2500 range. With a $500 deductible and 20% co-pay insurance would cover about $1500 of the $2500 for the surgery. That would be for a premium of perhaps $400 a year, which would also be covering other less significant medical issues for the year.
The numbers do seem to make sense. Insurance companies are in the business of making money, and if a premium seems remarkably small for a great benefit there are probably loopholes. As we all know, if an offer seems too good to be true, it generally isn't. As with most insurance, most years you will come out behind, but if you have a catastrophe you will come out very much ahead. And for the 'middle ticket' items in the $2000 dollar range a procedure, which might have been simply outside, the budget can become feasible. There are many procedures; such as cruciate repairs or cataract removals that may not be 'necessary' but which can greatly improve your pet's quality of life.
These plans also offer a "Wellness' option for routine procedures. Use your own judgement, however our impression after some study is that these will generate a lot of paperwork for little, if any, real benefit, and frankly, perhaps being a tad self serving, we would not encourage them.
Hopefully this analysis will be helpful to our clients in deciding whether to buy pet insurance. We do not think it is for everyone, but it is worth investigating by dropping by the websites of Embrace or one of the other companies and checking it out for yourself.
- Dr. Mac