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Pet Insurance: To buy or not to buy?
GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn.– Pet owners across the nation will spend an estimated $15.73 billion dollars on veterinary care by the end of 2015, according to the American Pet Products Association.
The number of pet insurance companies competing for a piece of that business has grown from just a handful to dozens. But is it worth the cost? Which policy should you go with? Do you really need it?
Dog owner Angela Reker of Golden Valley swears by it. Reker purchased pet insurance for Boss, her English bulldog when he was a puppy. She pays $57 a month for coverage from VPI, a product of Nationwide. It came in handy this summer when Boss, now four-years-old, got sick.
“We went to the ER at 12:30 at night because he was crying. He was lying in bed and just making these terrible noises and he couldn’t get comfortable. He kept re-adjusting himself and it was just so scary,” Reker said.
Boss ate something he wasn’t supposed. Two doctor visits and $800 later he was okay and so was Angela’s bank account.
“I think I ended up spending $100 of my own. I was reimbursed the rest of the amount through his insurance thankfully,” she said.
Dr. Donnell Hansen with Blue Pearl Veterinary used to be a skeptic but says coverage has gotten better. Now she even has it for her pets and she has seen more and more clients choose it. She says having insurance often makes hard decisions easier.
“It’s the worst when we have an economic euthanasia. When it’s something that we can fix and because of finances now we don’t get to,” Hansen said.
Premiums can run anywhere from $19 to more than $90. Some plans even cover basics like yearly checkups and vaccines. It’s up to each owner to do their research and compare plans, according to Hansen.
“Just think about your breed and your lifestyle,” she said.
But pet insurance isn’t affordable for everyone. That’s where Mission Animal Hospital and Dr. Susan Miller come in. Miller founded Mission after working at a clinic where she had to turn away clients who couldn’t pay.
“All you want to do is help a pet and alleviate pain and maintain that bond that the owner has and it’s very emotionally draining to have to say I can’t help you,” Miller said.
Miller warned that pet insurance doesn’t always help either.
“If a pet breaks a leg and they repair it the insured dog might be dropped because they will think it is let out too often or lives in a too high traffic area,” she said.
Miller has also heard clients say premiums go up frequently. Instead of insurance Miller suggests her clients keep up with yearly check-ups. To bridge the affordability gap Mission offers regular pricing and discounted pricing for those that qualify through the Mission program, which is about 20 percent lower. Mission also offers a payment plan.
“We will take that brunt of that initial out of pocket expense…make sure the pet can get care, allow the client to pay just part of it up front and then extend those payments over two or three months,” Miller said.
By the end of this year Mission will have served nearly 10,000 pets and the need keeps growing. In fact, Mission is crowdfunding money to help expand to a bigger facility next year.
While Mission helps keep costs down Reker hopes her insurance continues to help her keep Boss healthy. She knows English bulldogs are prone to health problems and she wants to avoid the pain she saw her parents go through with their dog.
“He ended up getting cancer and I watched my parents spend thousands of dollars trying to get him well and trying to heal him and I said when I have my own dog I want to make sure that I’m never making decisions based on finance,” Reker said.