Like most people, my husband and I consider our pets an important part of our family. This includes providing them with everything they need, including health care. However, looking back over the past few years, I cannot imagine how much more difficult it would have been to provide the care they need without the help of animal insurance.
A Rover.com survey found that the average cost of caring for a dog ranges from $480 to $3,470 per year. The actual amount spent depends on several factors, including:
- Owner preference regarding things like toys and training
- Animal health
- The regularity with which the owner follows routine veterinary care
Which brings us to the worst things about not having pet insurance:
1. Personal expenses
Unless you have a reserve in a savings account, it can be difficult to meet disbursements as they arise. Pet insurance is a way to plan for these expenses in advance and avoid having to dip into your bank account as veterinary bills pile up.
Here’s how it works: When you buy pet insurance for your beloved dog, cat, bird, snake or other pet, you choose the plan that best suits your monthly budget. To find a policy that works for you, check three things:
- Franchise : This is the amount you will pay for animal care before the insurance takes effect. So if your deductible is $500 and a vet bill is $1,500, you will pay the first $500 and the insurance company will pay the remaining $1,000. Some insurers require you to pay a “per incident” deductible, while others offer a single annual deductible.
- Reimbursement level: You will also choose the reimbursement level that suits you best. Most pet insurers offer levels of 70%, 80% and 90%. Let’s say your pet is seriously injured and needs surgery that amounts to $10,000. If you choose a reimbursement level of 70%, you will pay $3,000 and the insurer will cover the remaining $7,000. If you opt for a reimbursement level of 90%, you will pay the first $1,000 and the insurance company will cover $9,000. Personally, we went with a 90% refund level for a reason I’ll share in a moment.
- Payment limits: While some pet insurers don’t have a cap on how much they’ll pay for your pet’s care, most do. Find a plan with a payment level that makes you feel like you can afford to pay anything above that amount.
Important to note: The lower the deductible you choose and the higher the payment limit, the more monthly premiums you will pay. If your monthly budget is tight right now, you’ll save on monthly premiums by choosing a higher deductible and choosing a plan with lower payment limits.
2. Health care decisions based on the financial plan
For many years we had three big dogs. They traveled with us everywhere, including leaving the United States. Shortly after we left, we dropped our pet insurance because no international vet accepted coverage. Letting that cover expire led to a series of events that were hard to shake.
A strange virus has swept through our city’s dog population. The dogs became seriously ill and died within 48 hours. Honestly, to this day, I don’t know what virus it was. We kept our dogs pretty isolated so we don’t know how our average caught the virus, but she did.
I took her to a vet we trusted and he thought he “might” be able to save her, but it was going to be very expensive. There was a good chance that she would die after the treatment. I figured I didn’t want to put him through a bunch of treatments that probably wouldn’t work and that was the truth – in part. The reality is that I was also worried about racking up a huge bill for medical procedures that probably wouldn’t have helped. I chose to allow it to pass naturally.
15 years later, and it’s still one of my most raw and shameful memories. Something has changed in me, however. I swore I would never be in the position of making a pet healthcare decision based (even in part) on cost. I may decide not to treat a pet if it will cause him more pain or if it is unlikely to improve his quality of life. But I never want money to be a factor in the decision.
3. Additional Worry
Today, our pets are fully covered. We know the maximum amount we will have to pay out if something big happens. This money is placed in a special savings account which we hope never to touch – but it is there if we need it.
One of the worst things about not having pet insurance is worrying about what “could” happen. For example, my husband and I regularly plan trips with several other couples. A pet sitter comes to watch the puppies. Among the things we leave to the babysitter is a folder containing animal insurance information, where to take the dogs if one is injured or who to call if they have a medical question. That way, if one of the dogs eats something they shouldn’t (I’m looking at you, Harlow), the sitter can ask for help without worrying about our approval.
I realize that pet insurance sounds like a luxury – and a silly luxury to some. But even if the policy you can afford right now is pretty basic, it could still save you some money. It’s not a guarantee that nothing will happen, but it will give you peace of mind knowing that you are doing everything you can.
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