Invisible Voices

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Daily Archives: April 7, 2007

“Pet” Insurance, Part 4 (reviews)

tempest on patio

There is an unfortunate lack of reviews of pet insurance, despite the fact that there are at least 1 million animals covered by pet insurance! I will actually start with a review of a discount program (Pet Assure) and move on to the reviews I was able to find on the US insurances.

The review for Pet Assure is 7 years old, but I see no reason why anything would have changed. They bring up an excellent point about people with anything other than dogs and cats. I said in “Part 3″ that your only option was VPI if you wanted something other than a cat or dog covered, and that is true for actual insurance, but Pet Assure is another option, because it is a simple discount program. If your vet accepts it, you get 25% of the bill, period. Here is part of the review:

I love this service because it’s so easy to use. I pay for the service for my pets and I am ready to go!

The best aspects of the company are that I can walk into the vet clinic and show my card. I automatically get 25 percent off my bill with the exception of food or flea products. It’s that simple! No forms, no hassles, no pre-existing conditions to worry about like some of the other companies! They accept any type of pet as long as the clinic seeing them accepts Pet Assure, so it’s not just for dogs and cats. It can also be used at many groomers, pet shops and other pet friendly places for selected discounts. It’s worth every nickel spent on the policy.

The worst aspects are that not every clinic is accepting it yet. So, while your regular vet might take it, the emergency clinic might not. Also, if you change vets, you would need to change to a clinic that carried it. Be sure to check this out before paying if you are worried about this. While some of the other more well known companies are accepted by just about any clinic, Pet Assure still isn’t accepted widespread.

Who would I recommend it to? Anyone with pets provided their clinic of choice uses it. It covers any animal, even the exotics like reptiles, equine, rabbits, pot bellied pigs, birds, whatever, as long as your clinic accepts it. Be aware though that using the 25 percent discount usually means that it’s the ONLY discount you get. So, no senior discounts or “dental month” discount, etc. This is up to the individual clinic to decide the policy for themselves. You will usually get whichever discount is greater, but can’t combine them. (so if they offer a 10 percent multi-pet discount, you don’t get 35 percent off, just 25 percent)

Since this service costs $99/year for dogs or horses, $69 for cats/rodents/reptiles, and “family plans” for up to 4 animals is $149 ($20 for each additional beyond that), it is an inexpensive way to save on normal costs as well as an automatic savings on the unpredicted big costs…as long as your vet or a vet you like is part of their “network.” Keep in mind that this might not include an emergency clinic.

Some of the reviews for the insurances, I have to warn you, speak more to people not understanding how their insurance works. One person was upset that her insurance didn’t go down, since she didn’t use it. It isn’t like car insurance, though. Rates will go up as the cost of care goes up. You don’t get lower rates for not using it – it is a lot closer to human health care than car insurance.

So, read these with a critical eye, but there are several reviews of Pet Care Insurance. Most of the reviews go back years, and some of the negative reviews are more or less ignorance on the part of the people reviewing – there is a waiting period of at least 2 days for every company, and I can’t see why we should expect any different. If we were allowed to sign up at the time of an accident or illness, and have everything covered, the insurance companies would all be out of business, because everyone would sign up when the animals got sick, and cancel in between. And frankly, as much as that would please us, that isn’t the point of insuring against future need! But, two reviews follow:

Feb ’05:

I’ve had my one dog insured through PetCare since he was six. It’s been a positive experience for me. They have covered everything they said, even covered three root canals for teeth that were sheared off by chewing on hard items (covered them under “accident”). They did exercise their right to increase my premiums (now are at just under $40/month Canadian), but they have still paid out significantly more than what I put in. It will be interesting to see if my positive experience continues as my guy starts to get more of the gerentological conditions like arthritis, cysts, etc.

October ’03:

I have had a very negative experience with PetCare Pet Insurance. I have nothing good to say about this company that provides insurance for pet owners in both Canada and the U.S. They refused to pay when my Pomeranian was stricken with cancer which a covered disease. I filed complaints with the local Attorney General’s Office and the Better Business Bureau and the Insurance Commission. They wouldn’t budge. They kept changing their reasons for refusing to pay, initially they claimed it was a pre-existing disease because it was initially thought to be heart problems. They later said that if it was diagnosed they would pay, well guess what, they never paid the nearly $1,000 that they owed me and they were very rude in the process. Yet they gladly collected my premiums. I would not recommend this company to anyone. Stay away from Petcare Pet Insurance, you are better off not insuring your pet.

Neither review at review center was positive.

VPI, the biggest and oldest pet insurance company, had a lot more reviews. 35 total on epinions, though again many of these reviews are at least 7 years old. A disturbing review regarding the payout of claims going back only one year (April 2006):

Initially I signed up with Veterinary Pet Insurance, Brea, Calif. because we had adopted a rather old dog and I felt considering his age we would most likely run into health problems.

About 6 months or so after we had him enrolled he developed Cancer. We were devastated and took him to not only a veterinarian but a Veterinary Oncologist for treatment. Despite numerous letters explaining the time frame of his illness coverage was denied.

Despite this we enrolled our other two dogs with the company. We felt we understood the hesitancy of the company to cover him since the Cancer could have been pre-existing and we just weren’t aware of it. We did have the Vet send letters explaining all this to no avail however, we were too devastated to continue to fight the issue.

Several months later we got another Chi. He later took a fall. We had an emergency visit to the Veterinarian, nothing was broken. He was put on pain medication and at the time they also pointed out that he had a luxating patella (knee joint that dislocate). This is a genetic problem Chihuahuas are prone to. It had nothing to do with the fall but the company refused to cover this as well, again despite numerous letters from our Veterinarian explaining that there was no connection.

Our third Chi developed an abscess-again, visits to the Vet. Again, no coverage.

I called the company and gave them the whole story and cancelled the insurance. This company doesn’t back up any of its claimed services. I would avoid them like the plague. They offer a horrifying lack of support just when you need them the most.

Two more reviews, more than 6 years old, but within a couple months of each other, and both dealing with customer service and claims responses. The first is negative, the second glowingly positive.

I bought pet insurance from Veterinary Pet Insurance [VPI] for my current Beagle after a previous Beagle had medical problems that cost me over $2,500 before he passed away from his conditions [lupus and diabetes] at the age of only four years . It has always been a problem to do what you’re supposed to do for VPI’s requirements… they won’t accept the normal detailed Vet bills, they always want something special before they’ll consider payment. And although their literature and reps say they process claims within a week, it typically takes *two to three months* to get payments from them. These are small inconveniences. Their service has cost about $320 per year for my 3-year old male Beagle, and I have gotten about $100 total back in payments over the years after my deductibles [$40 per incident deductible]. I have their “best” plan, the Advantage Plus Plan. I also have had the “hard sell” and high pressure tactics applied by customer reps when at renewal time I wanted to switch from their most expensive plan to the next plan down. The pressure on the phone was unrelenting and worse than a car salesman’s whining and dire warnings. I eventually caved in and kept the higher-priced service. My most recent experience [Saturday, September 9, 2000]: I recently got a female Beagle from a rescue organization to be a companion to my male. To make a long story short, almost immediately they got into a real fight and before I could separate them, two of the female’s lower front teeth were almost pulled out. I rushed her to an emergency Vet clinic [not my normal Vet, who was closed, after 6PM] and they did surgery on her mouth to try to save the teeth, although they made no guarantees that the teeth would “take.” It cost me $423, and I hadn’t had her but a few days, so I hadn’t yet applied for pet insurance through VPI. I just called Veterinary Pet Insurance and went through their voicemail system and finally got to talk to a representative. Here’s how the conversation went: Me: “Hi, my little female Beagle just had to have surgery to try to save two of her front teeth after a dog fight and the charges were $423. I’d like to find out how much your insurance would have reimbursed me for her care.” VPI Insurance Rep: “I’m sorry, we don’t do that. We’d have to see the bill and all the charges…” Me: “I can fax it to you, I have a fax machine.” VPI Rep [snappishly]: “We don’t have time for that. We don’t *waste our time* on that.” Me: “[long pause] …Well, I guess if you don’t have time to help me, I don’t have time to buy your insurance. Thank you.” And I hung up. These are just my experiences, but I have to say that consistently, their customer service is extremely poor, rude, and pushy. Take this into account when deciding which company to buy pet insurance from.

My husband and I rescue dogs in the streets. Some we find homes for, some adopt our home. Sometimes we also find the dogs’ owners. About a year ago, I found this little dog in the street and took him in. He didn’t have any tags and even after posting signs, publishing ads and alerting shelters, no one claimed him. Turns out he was around 10 years old and had some medical problems. In a matter of days, he became a special pooch to us.

We had Veterinary Pet Insurance on our two others dogs and had always been happy with the company and how great their customer service department is. Claims got paid really fast and that meant a lot to me because I didn’t always have the cash when emergencies occurred.

About 7 months after I found Alley, he stopped eating. This wasn’t like him since he just loved to eat even though he was a little guy. He ended up in the hospital for 5 days with kidney problems. We were able to bring him home and even thought he might be okay for a few more years. Maybe we were deluding ourselves – but about 7 weeks later, it all happened again and we had to rush him back to the emergency hospital. He was there for about a week when he had to decide if it was time.

We cried and cried and cried … but his vital signs were going down and we didn’t want him to suffer. At least we didn’t have to make our decision based on money. The insurance made it so we just thought about our Alley and not if we could afford the treatments. We tried some things that really didn’t help but at least when the time came and we had to say good-bye to the little guy who stole our hearts, we didn’t feel guilty.

A few days later we buried Alley with our other dogs at a local pet cemetery. So, we had all these medical expenses from his second hospitalization and the cemetery was about $500 all together. A few days later VPI sent us our reimbursement check and between the two emergency hospitalizations we got back over 70%. I was astounded and that’s when I started to tell everyone I know with pets to get Veterinary Pet Insurance.

As you can see, within a few months of each other, drastically different opinions on the same company. I believe you’ll always see more negative opinions posted than positive, as well, so the fact that VPI is rated only 2.5 out of 5.0 should be taken with a grain of salt. However this next review is something that worries me about VPI, especially with the extremely detailed (micro-managed, in my opinion) Benefit Schedules:

Benefit schedule is waaay outdated
by kodabra ,Oct 29 ’06
Pros: Timely and hassle free payments
Cons: Veterinary costs could easily exceed the maximum payments…
My dog had this insurance since he was a puppy. A few months ago he was diagnosed with epilepsy: the maximum amount VPI pays for this disease is ~300 (200 for testing and 100 for treatment), so far we have already spent ~2000 in 6 months on treatment… (3 hospitalizations @ 400-550 each plus numerous tests)…

The insurance covered only tiny part of it :-(

And this hits another worry that I have regarding the “per incident” or “per system” limits – VPI maxes out on epilepsy at $300, even though the max yearly overall might be in the thousands under the plan this person has. Yet they can’t see the benefit of that, because the benefit schedule is micro-managed.

Two reviews for VPI as of January ’07 complained about the slowness of the claims processing as well as the low amounts covered. Personally I care more about how much is eventually covered now that I know about Care Credit, which would allow me to cover the large bills at low cost until the reimbursement from the insurance came in. However, if the insurance isn’t covering enough, that’s a problem.

No positive reviews of VPI in the 12 at review center.

Pets Best had no reviews on epinions, and only one on review center, which was not based on experience with a claim payout. Embrace, the newest insurance having been around for about a year now, had no reviews listed anywhere that I could find.

The bottom-line, I believe, is to read the fine print, and perhaps track down how much each company would have paid for past illnesses or accidents. That would give you an idea of the payout as well as the customer service.

Many of the reviewers seemed to want the everyday vet visits covered. There certainly are companies who offer that, but personally I am more interested in having the big costs covered. The unexpected illnesses, accidents, emergencies. I would also want to know that if my cat develops diabetes, for example, her ongoing care for that would be covered. I know that Embrace has a specific “continuing care” option. I did not see anything listed for the other companies that gave me an idea of where their policy stood for that, though Embrace’s comparison page (comparing against both the Standard and Superior plans of VPI’s) did imply that ongoing coverage was covered on both of VPI’s plans.

The question as to what looks good on paper and what would be most beneficial in reality is something that is still difficult to determine. Pets Best insurance has a comparison page that shows actual claims and actual payouts, and compares the cost of their plan as well as their actual payout to the assumed VPI payout and plan cost. It is illuminating, but it is provided by Pets Best – they naturally will put their own company in the best light, so it is up to you how far you would trust that information.

My overall feeling: I don’t trust VPI’s Benefits Schedule to cover what I would need to cover (it hasn’t been updated for five years!). Every company I could find reviews on had both positive and negative when it came to claims processing, and I like the simplicity of Embrace’s “UCR” philosophy as opposed to the Benefits Schedules that the other companies have. My final decision hasn’t been made yet. If I figure out what additional information I need to help make the decision, I might post about it, but for now I think I’ve finished the Pet Insurance series. Good luck with your own choices!

tempest looking out window

“Pet” Insurance, Part 3 (companies and options)

freckles

Having done a general overview of the insurance and a limited examination of the cost benefit, it is time to look at the companies themselves and the options they offer. Not all allow you to chose the copay or the deductible. Not all allow you to have routine vet visits covered. Not all will insure pre-existing conditions, and the companies also differ on the maximum age of initial enrollment. Some give discounts for microchipping and spaying, others don’t.

If you are convinced that insurance would be a good thing, there is still alot to think about and research in terms of which options fit your needs or preferences, and which companies offer the insurance that would fit you best. Hopefully this post will help make that easier. I will do my best to track down information on the claims paid out as well, but that will have to be for another post another day! I should also mention that some of the companies I’ll talk about cover both the US and Canada. Some cover your dog or cat when you travel to certain other countries. I’m going to be comparing them from a US perspective, only. There are a lot more companies in the UK, and there are companies all over the world. I’ll refer you to Embrace’s blog for what looks like a comprehensive list of these companies.

didi wild lookThe companies I will be looking at are: Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI), Pet’s Best Insurance, Pet Care Insurance, Shelter Care, Quick Care Pet Insurance , and Embrace Pet Insurance. I will do my best to dig down and get to the fine print, but as a disclaimer – don’t take my word for anything. Use it as a jumping off point and do your own research to make sure you know exactly what you are getting!

I’m going to make it easy for anyone who is looking to cover anything other than a dog or a cat – you have one option, and that is VPI. For anyone who wants routine visits covered, VPI and Pets Best are the two offering optional coverage for that, but remember you also have Pet Assure (mentioned in Part 2) as another possibility. If you don’t want to deal with somewhat complicated per incident or per system benefit schedules, Embrace is the company you want. Read Embrace’s description of the difference to better understand what “Usual, Customary, Reasonable” vs. Benefit Schedule means.

What all of these insurance companies have in common:

  • coverage at any vet in the US, even emergency and specialists (though the policy can’t always be purchased in your state of residence, depending on the company)
  • pay the vet first, then submit claim for reimbursement
  • once an animal is enrolled, they can remain enrolled the rest of their lives, the enrollment age does not apply to them

Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI) is available in all 50 states and DC. It offers coverage to dogs and cats, as well as birds and other “exotics”. (They are the only ones to cover anything other than cats an dogs.) They offer a “routine care” option, for $99/year, no deductible, with set limits for each specific type of care covered. Spaying and Neutering is included in routine care. They base their reimbursements on a Benefit Schedule, which to me looked quite complicated. They have 3 coverage types: Superior, Standard, and Exotic. They all have a $50 deductible, after which 90% of the Benefit Schedule or vet bill (whichever is lower) will be covered, with different max benefits. Superior: max per incident or illness = $4,500, and max per policy term = $14,000. Standard: max per incident or illness = $2,500, max per policy term = $9,000. Exotic: max per incident or illness = $2,000, and max per policy term = $7,000. Under Standard there was this “benefits coverage renews each year. No lifetime cap.” What wasn’t clear to me is whether this applied to Standard and Exotic as well, and whether this meant that if my cat broke her leg this year and another next year, whether that specific “incident benefit” max was renewed, or whether the incident max is for her lifetime. (or as long as she is covered by their insurance) That is something I’d need clarified. There are some group discounts for some associations and employers, and a 5-10% discount for more than one animal. The cost, based on my cat’s species, breed, age, and zip (I am assuming these are taken into account, but I am not 100% sure) would be: $23.42/month for the Superior ($281 annual), or $12.25/month for the Standard ($147/year). Either can have the Routine Care added for $99/year, and included in both is a $12 “Lost and Found Registration”, which I didn’t look into at all. When I looked at their Benefit Schedule, each illness and specific treatment was detailed with max dollar amounts. This could make your covered amount far less than the maximum incident amount listed. Look carefully at the pdf file on their site.

Pet’s Best Insurance is not available in all states. It is not available in mine, or several neighboring states (on the east coast), but it is available in California. I didn’t try others, and I didn’t get a comprehensive list of which states are covered. They offer 2 Illness and Accident plans, an Accident only plan, and a Routine Care option. “Holistic care (except supplements)” is included in the Accident and Illness plans, they all cover 80% of the bill after the deductible and up to the limits, and all plans offer some coverage of burials or cremations and humane-reason-only euthanasia. The “Pets First Plan” has a $75 deductible, with a $7,000 per incident limit and $99,750 lifetime limit. The “Pets Basic” plan has a $200 deductible, $2,500 per incident limit, and a $42,500 lifetime limit. These plans start at $24.00/month for cats and $30.92/month for dogs. The “Pets Accident Plan” has a $75 deductible, and the coverage depends on the specific injury. The cost is $7.42/month for cats, and $9.92/month for dogs. The “Pets Wellness” is the routine care option: no deductible, quarterly benefit maximums, and the previous quarter’s benefits will carry over into the next if they are not utilized. The cost for dogs is $21.42/month with a $134/quarter benefit. For cats the cost is $26.00/month with a $163/quarter benefit.

Pet Care Insurance, Shelter Care, Quick Care Pet Insurance are all related – if not in actuality (I didn’t research this), at least in the surface look at their benefits and costs. Shelter care has all of the same program options as Pet Care, with one addition. Quick Care has all of the same programs as Pet Care except “Quick Care Intermediate”, “Tenant Care” and “Emergency Care”. One thing I want to point out right away is that the “Emergency Care” listed referred only to emergency care needed when your cat (I only looked at cat programs) is lost. I don’t know, and would have to verify, whether emergency clinics are covered normally.

This is by far the most complicated company (or set of companies). Pet Care has 9 program options, and they all have different costs, limits, deductibles, etc. Expect it to be confusing. If you like having a lot of options, it might very well be your company, but do spend time on their website looking at the detailed information there. The programs:

  • Quick Care Gold: all accidents, $2,500 per incident, unlimited lifetime; all illnesses, including hereditary, $30,000 lifetime max; choice of 70%, 90%, or 100% covered, after $100 per incident deductible, enrollment age is 8 weeks to 10 years. Additional benefits for accidental death reimburses up to $500 of original purchase price (yuck), and if you end up in the hospital for more than 48 hours, pet boarding or home care is covered up to $25/day with a $250 total max; recovery benefits up to $150, and euthanasia up to $100. These additional benefits have no deductible. Cost is from $18.95/month to $26.95/month, depending on percent covered.
  • Quick Care Preferred: all accidents, $5,000 per incident, no lifetime max; all illnesses, including hereditary, $60,000 lifetime max. 70% is paid, up to max, after $100 per incident deductible, enrollment age is 8 weeks – 10 years. Additional benefits (no deductible) include accidental death, your hospitalization/boarding benefits, recovery and euthanasia (coverage amounts the same as for the “Gold” program). Cost = $21.95/month
  • Quick Care Intermediate: select accidents (see site for specifics on which, and extent of coverage), first time illness ($1,500 max, limits on how many illnesses per year), 90% paid after the $100 per incident deductible, enrollment age is 8 weeks to 6 years. Additional benefits (no deductible) for recovery and euthanasia, same max amounts as listed in “Gold” program. Cost is $13.95/month.
  • Quick Care Indoor Cats: select accidents, select illnesses (see site for specifics on which, and extent of coverage), 100% paid after the $200 deductible, enrollment age is 8 weeks, no upper age limit. Additional benefits for euthanasia, no deductible, as outlined in “Gold” Program. Cost is $10.95/month.
  • Quick Care Plus: select accidents, and select illnesses (6 categories), see site for specifics; $75 deductible and 100% coverage for each, though the illnesses are covered only 80% after age 8; enrollment age is 8 weeks to 10 years. Additional (no deductible) benefits for euthanasia and accidental death, as described in “Gold” Program. Cost is $13.95/month
  • Quick Care (accident only): 100% coverage with a 50% deductible for select injuries (see site for specifics; Additional (no deductible) benefit for accidental death as described in “Gold” Program. Enrollment age is 8 weeks with no upper limit. Cost is $9.95/month.
  • Quick Care Senior: specific accidents (see site for details) have a $50 deductible and 100% coverage (up to max); select illnesses (see site for details) that were not pre-existing in the 36 months prior to enrollment have a $200 deductible, and 100% coverage up to max. Enrollment age is 8 weeks with no upper limit. Additional (no deductible) benefits include boarding at a kennel, trip cancellation, recovery, owner bequest, euthanasia, and accidental death. The details vary slightly from “Gold”. Cost is $21.95/month.
  • Tenant Care, for pet owners living in rentals: first time illness only, with a $75 deductible and $500 per illness coverage; select accidents have $75 deductible and 100% coverage up to max. There is an additional no deductible property damage ($500 – $700) benefit, as well as recovery. The cost is $15.95/month.
  • The emergency care is available for cats microchipped with 24PetWatch only; vet fees while lost are covered up to $3000, and $250 recovery benefit. Note: this is only for times when your cat is lost!
  • Shelter Care Intro (available only through Shelter Care): selected accidents, unlimited number, no pre-existing conditions, $100 deductible (may vary by state: see site for specifics on all details) and then 100% coverage up to max; 1st time illness, $100 deductible, $500 max; enrollment age is 8 weeks to 6 years. Additional no deductible benefits include recovery ($150 max) and euthanasia ($100 max). Cost is $12.95/month.

PetCare is available everywhere except Alaska; I didn’t check for Shelter Care or Quick Care. There is no option for maintenance or routine vet visits, but there are some things like prescription foods covered (25% for first 6 months) and holistic medicine if prescribed by a licensed vet.

Embrace Pet Insurance is the final insurance, and thankfully, they’re quite simple. They are the only company to have a “Usual, Customary, and Reasonable” reimbursement method rather than a benefit schedule; this will depend on the area you live in (costs vary). They have only one limit: the annual maximum. They imply that emergency vet clinic care is covered, but I would need to contact them to verify. The enrollment ages are: for cats – mixed breeds, 8 weeks to 10 years; pure breeds 8 weeks to 8 years. For dogs: mixed breeds, 8 weeks to 8 years; pure breeds, 8 weeks to 6 years. Accident only can be enrolled in at any age. Their insurance plan is customizable, rather than a variety of set plans. The customizable aspects are as follows:

  • Annual max: $2,000 / $5,000 / $10,000
  • Annual deductible: $100 / $200 / $500
  • Co-pay: 10% / 20% / 35%
  • prescription drug and dental illness options
  • continuing care options

They have a slight difference in terminology when it comes to copay. The other companies list how much they pay; embrace gives you the option of how much you pay. “Co-Pay” and “Coverage” are essentially the same thing, in opposite. I could not find information on whether they are offered in every state, but they do cover you and your “pet” if you are traveling with them in Canada and Mexico. I believe some other companies cover this as well, but I didn’t see anything specifying. You get discounts for having had your cat or dog microchipped and spayed or neutered. You also get discounts for paying annually instead of monthly. Some companies also give pet insurance benefits, which would give you an additional discount. The costs are more difficult to give because rather than set plans, they have a customizable philosophy. However when you select your options and get an instant quote, it shows the range for your particular animal’s species, age, breed, and your zip code. So you instantly know the possibilities. For example, my cat (8 year old, female, american shorthair cat, spayed) has a range of $15.18 – $73.23 in my area.

There are a lot of options, a wide range in cost and coverages, and for most companies a lot of fine print to examine to determine what exactly you would be getting for your money. Hopefully this helped to give an overview of what each company offers. Remember that this is a snapshot view; I have no control over the prices changing, and have no idea when they might! So verify everything for yourself, and examine the fine print for the company or companies you are most interested in. Also, except where I explicitly gave the cost for dogs as well as cats, all of the info is for cats only. Dogs have a higher premium, as a rule, but the cat cost comparison should give a general idea of what the companies are like, what they offer, and what their relative costs are.

I will look for reviews of all the companies for the next post and attempt to get an idea of what is actually paid out for the various claims at the various companies.

nymph sleeping in teepee

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