Invisible Voices

a voice for the voiceless

Pet Insurance – post series, research and links

6/14/07

It started with a question by a friend, “does anyone know of a good health insurance for pets in the states?”

I started researching, interested in the issues, and soon realized that it is a huge topic. So it became a series of blog posts. As time goes on, that series has gotten a lot of hits from people searching for more info on the subject. Not a lot has been written by bloggers – it isn’t sexy, it is tedious – with a notable exception of Laura Bennett, who started Embrace Pet Insurance about a year ago, as of this writing.

Now, you have to assume that she’s going to do her best to sell her product while she’s providing what is an amazing amount of information, yet I was very impressed with how straightforward the information was, how she made sure not to bad mouth the other companies. Sure, she had some pointed remarks about aspects of the pet insurance business, and in the end she really does need to sell her product, doesn’t she? So take it all with a grain or ten of salt – she is still the only pet insurance company trying to educate us, the consumers and the care givers, on the ins and outs of the insurance.

I started with her blog, and found it very helpful in learning the basics, so I could then go look at several insurance companies and analyze them. Laura also has commented several times on my blog posts, both in encouragement and with answers to questions that have sometimes popped up in the comments.

It has been in my head for a while to do a few more posts in the series. The initial posts have sparked conversations with friends, and Mo has shared in the comments some of her own experiences over the years, her frustrations, what she’s looking for, and what she’s found in her research. So finally, I’m adding to the original series. And since it isn’t always easy to find the older posts, here is where I’ll collect the posts, and edit this post as I write more in the series.

Best of luck in your research, and feel free to ask me questions, as I am almost always up for doing more research. Also, any experience anyone can share, either general or specific, good or bad, is always good.

Posts:
“Pet” Insurance, Part 1
“Pet” Insurance, Part 2 – Money
“Pet” Insurance, Part 3 – Companies and Options
“Pet” Insurance, Part 4 – Reviews
“Pet” Insurance, Part 5 – two additional companies, overview

7/12/07

I got a comment linking in a review site: http://www.petinsurancereview.com

I admit I was skeptical when I first looked a the reviews. They were too positive, in my opinion, and unless you’re a brand new company, there’s always going to be someone who wasn’t happy. But then I read VPI’s reviews, and they were much the same as what I’d read elsewhere, so that gives me some confidence in the reviews.

As always, take everything with a grain of salt. I am not endorsing any one product or guaranteeing that any of the reviews are accurate!

9/12/07

Mo provided a wonderful How-To guide on getting the most out of our insurance policies. Thanks Mo!

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34 responses to “Pet Insurance – post series, research and links

  1. Laura Bennett July 11, 2007 at 9:04 pm

    Hey Deb.

    I know that my position as the CEO of a pet insurance company puts me in a precarious place while answering questions on other people’s blog so I appreciate that you allow me to do so.

    Yes you got me. I do want people to know about pet insurance and Embrace Pet Insurance in particular. I’ve been working on Embrace for nearly 5 years now (and blogging for over 2 years even though our doors have only been open since last year 2006) and I want to change the flighty image of pet insurance in the US. It’s a bit of an uphill battle but someone’s got to do it! It’s hard to believe from our perspective in the US, but nearly 20% of cats and dogs are insured in the UK and Brits think it’s quite normal to have pet insurance over there. Here in the US where less than 0.5% of cats and dogs are insured, we’ve a ways to go.

    Anyway I digress. Thanks for collecting the entries on pet insurance in one place. I’m just writing up my own blog entry on your blog entries (woa, I’m getting dizzy!) and count my blessings for this easy to find reference – excellent!

    Cheers!

    Laura

  2. Deb July 11, 2007 at 9:22 pm

    Laura,
    I’ve been very impressed with how neutral you’ve been. Impressed enough that I had to make sure to mention a couple of times that you really do need to sell your product, so I would make it clear that I was trying to and am encouraging others to remain analytical about it all!

    Glad the easy to find reference is a help! 🙂

  3. petrealtynetwork July 12, 2007 at 12:23 pm

    Hello! I am enjoying your Blog, and your series on Pet Insurance. We featured your series in our Pet Product Review Blog today. http://petproductreviews.wordpress.com/ Thanks so much for sharing this information with us, and it is so helpful to pet owners everywhere.
    Thanks,
    Molly

  4. Mo July 12, 2007 at 2:03 pm

    Molly, I’d never heard of the the types of carriers mentioned in your blog (Admitted and Surplus Lines). Interesting (and maybe frightening in some cases)! I’ll have to look into that further. I’ll also check out your site further. Thanks!

    Deb, I think this would be of interest to you too.

  5. Deb July 12, 2007 at 5:48 pm

    Molly, thanks for featuring my pet insurance series!

    And yes, Mo, definitely of interest. I hadn’t heard of the different types of insurance carriers either. I’ll have to look into it!

  6. Laura Bennett July 12, 2007 at 10:39 pm

    I thought I’d pop in after my night of work before heading off to bed. Seems like your blog is getting featured all over the place these days Deb! Good to see.

    Molly is part of the Pet Realty Network that sprung out of Pet Protect, a pet insurance company that is now closed to new business, so she is well up on her insurance nuances.

    To start the discussion on the admitted/surplus lines aspect, Embrace is part surplus, part admitted. I’ll go into it more tomorrow as I’m pretty burned out tonight but it’s not so scary as it might sound. Most bloodstock insurance is run this way for example.

    Night!

  7. Deb July 13, 2007 at 2:37 pm

    Laura, too funny because I was confused until I saw your blog post, thinking that Molly’s blog was what you meant when you said you were going to talk about my series on your blog! What were the coincidences of 2 different blogs linking to mine in one day? lol.

    Thanks for the head start on the admitted/surplus lines aspect. I’ll try to get something done this weekend!

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  10. NPH October 2, 2007 at 4:28 pm

    I am a living example that every owner should have pet insurance. I am going through a second dog requiring surgery and it is going to cost me about $3,500 when everything is said and done – the last one was about $4,500. I am over my head in debt and cant pay my bills – all because of the animals I love.

    http://roxyssurgery.blogspot.com/

  11. Mo October 2, 2007 at 6:28 pm

    I feel your pain, NPH, and hope your dogs are okay…. I’d much rather spend the money on the animals I love rather than a car or anything inanimate, but I’ve spent a very large amount of money on vet bills ON TOP OF old vet insurance I had. For several years I bought my groceries on credit cards because I didn’t earn a very good salary at the time and had a diabetic cat (and no insurance). That’s why these improvements in pet insurance are so important (in the financial sense…there are other very big ways they’re important too). Now I buy an insurance policy within 24 hours of adopting now.

    Good luck with your dog…I hope things go well.

  12. Deb October 2, 2007 at 9:08 pm

    I hope things go well with your pup, NPH. Those surgeries are definitely good reasons to have insurance.

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  14. Kim Fields January 19, 2008 at 2:16 pm

    does anyone know where I can get pet insurance for a cat who is diabetic? From what I see, there are no policies that cover pre-existing conditions

  15. Deb January 19, 2008 at 3:22 pm

    Kim, unfortunately there is no pet insurance that will cover pre-existing conditions. (It is a bit like trying to get home owners insurance after your house has burned down!) It might still be worth getting insurance, however, because your cat could still break a leg or get sick unrelated to the diabetes.

    Laura, who started Embrace, has her own pet insurance blog, and often pops over here to comment, has an article about what we can do about big vet bills for which we have no insurance. It gives several options, which hopefully can help you for any future vet bills.

    http://embracepetinsurance.typepad.com/blog/2006/01/what_do_i_do_if.html

    I hope this helps!

  16. Kim Fields January 20, 2008 at 4:52 pm

    thank you

  17. Whitney February 26, 2008 at 12:53 pm

    Thanks so much for pulling all this information into once place and actually speaking in terms that the average person can understand.

  18. Deb February 26, 2008 at 7:56 pm

    Whitney, no problem! I’m glad it is helpful. 🙂

  19. Doug April 23, 2008 at 5:28 pm

    Hi Deb,

    I just ran across your post series about pet insurance and found it helpful.

    I’m actually working on a project to help pet owners learn about pet insurance. The intent of the web page is present information in an objective view. This way pet owners can learn some of the basics about what to look for in a pet insurance policy as well as things to avoid.

    I thought I would mention the site and if you feel it is worthwhile perhaps you would mention it on your site sometime.

    Best wishes,
    Doug

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  21. Kelsey March 1, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    I want to add my thanks, too – this blog has been a big help to me in making a decision about pet health insurance for my two new kittens. Many thanks to Deb and Mo for all the time and effort put into these posts!

    Kelsey

  22. Deb March 2, 2009 at 8:36 pm

    Glad it was helpful Kelsey! And have fun with your kittens. 🙂

  23. b October 31, 2009 at 9:12 am

    Hey Deb,

    I listened to an episode of This American Life a few weeks ago that includes a segment on pet insurance. It’s really illuminating, in part because it talks about how pet insurance is already starting to resemble some of the negative parts of American health insurance. Specifically, when people and animals have health insurance, it’s more likely they will end up paying for more procedures and care that, over time, become more expensive for everyone as a result. It’s a complex story that I won’t do justice here, but I encourage everyone to listen as pet insurance continues to evolve. I’d hate to think that by buying pet insurance (which I’ve never done), I’d be making veterinary visits for people without insurance even more expensive.

    Link to the show: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/Radio_Episode.aspx?sched=1320

    Really love this series, and hope you’ll consider updating it in the future! How tacky am I to come and make demands on your blog? 😛

    xo b

  24. Deb October 31, 2009 at 2:23 pm

    I’ll have to give that a listen, because to be honest, it is far from clear how they can compare the two (they’re opposites) or how they’d come to that conclusion.

    The vet doesn’t necessarily know whether we have insurance, that’s not how things work. We pay for procedures in full before we walk out the door with our pets (as normal), and then we send the info to the pet insurance company and get a reimbursement from the pet insurance company, if eligible, minus whatever deductible, etc. From the perspective of the vet office, they get paid the full amount regardless of whether we are covered. We might have to fight with the pet insurance companies to get our due (and you can read Mo’s post on how to do that for more info and her experiences), but still…doesn’t impact the vet hospital itself, the profits they see, etc. And so, it makes me wonder how are they making the leap to that process driving up the cost of the procedures? Doesn’t make much sense to me.

    Or are they saying that simply because someone with pet insurance would be more likely to have a procedure done (or so the argument would go) that this procedure would therefore become more expensive? I’d actually think the opposite, as the tools and training would become more common and thus cheaper.

    In human health, it works pretty much the opposite. The hospitals and doctors have to fight with the health insurance companies to get things covered, while we pay our $10 copay and have no idea what gets covered by insurance. So I can definitely see the hospitals driving up the cost reported so that they can get more paid for.

    I think a lot of people hear “pet insurance” and assume that it is like health insurance. But it is actually closer to auto insurance. I’ll have to give the show a listen, but it sounds like an odd conclusion to make.

    As for more pet insurance posts, I’m just not sure. When I started this series, there was very little information out there. Now there are many sites, and bloggers who focus strictly on this topic, from what I can tell. I haven’t kept up with it at all! People still seem to find these posts useful, as outdated as they have become, but I sort of feel like there are others who are far more expert than I am at this point, and those are probably the better resources for people doing research.

    But maybe I’ll update them at some point. No current plans!

  25. Deb November 2, 2009 at 10:17 am

    b – I either listened to the wrong show, or I missed when they talked about pet insurance. But the show outline didn’t mention pet insurance either, so I’m thinking the link took me to the wrong show.

    Nevertheless, in their hour long discussion on health care, I think I see where they might misunderstand if they think that pet insurance is resembling health insurance.

    See, when we have pet insurance, we can opt to get whatever procedures we think we should, but the pet insurance companies only cover (i.e., reimburse us for) those that are actually necessary. And on top of that, they are only going to cover an amount based on their determination on the areas costs. So if you go to your favorite vet, who charges 30% more than the other local vets, you’re going to be covering that extra 30% out of your own pocket.

    Also, pet insurance doesn’t cover routine care. So if you choose to go to a vet that charges 30% extra, it’s because you really really really love that vet. The 30% extra will be for the routine care, and that’s what you see the bill for most of the time. Most people will get read reviews on line, and choose a different vet that doesn’t have a reputation for being overly expensive.

    So while the vet might charge extra, and some vets do, it isn’t because they think a lot of people have insurance on their pets, since the routine care wouldn’t be touched by insurance anyway. (And I think less than 5% of the pets are covered in this country.) And while there are more people willing to do whatever it takes for their pets, including paying for unnecessary procedures, the reality is much more grim for most animals, and the vets are painfully aware that an awful lot of people will just put a pet to sleep if there’s something wrong that needs expensive treatment.

    Still, I didn’t hear them actually talk about pet insurance, so I could be missing the point they were making.

  26. b November 3, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    Oh girl, I totally linked to the wrong one! That was the part one show. This is part two, the one about pet insurance. I’m such a fool. Sorry about that!

    http://www.thisamericanlife.org/Radio_Episode.aspx?sched=1321

    But yes, I understand what you’re saying. I forget that pet insurance doesn’t cover routine visits, and that does make it significantly different from the jump. Lemme know what you think after you listen. I haven’t kept up with this very much over the years, but at some point, I suspect I’ll want to make an informed decision about it in the US. Abroad, there don’t seem to be as many options, and I don’t know if there are plans that cover pets across borders! 😛

  27. Deb November 3, 2009 at 7:37 pm

    @b – listened to the pet insurance part, which for anyone else wanting to skip the rest starts at 31 minutes, and I found it to be misleading in several places.

    First, yes, someone with pet insurance might pay for more procedures. Or, rather, agree to having more procedures done. That is, after all, one of the points of it. If someone won’t pay more than $500 to save the life of their pet, then having insurance that will cover an additional $500 (just for the sake of round numbers) means more might be done. That’s true. But as to that driving up the costs of those procedures? They claimed it would, but never actually explained how that would happen. I don’t think it would. And this goes back to the fact that the insurance companies don’t blindly pay out, and they don’t pay the vet hospitals at all. We still have to do that ourselves. If we fill out the pre-forms (whatever they are called), the pet insurance companies will tell us ahead of time what will or won’t be covered. “A thyroid test to diagnose a torn ACL?” They’d question something like that and deny covering it. (That was a strange example, but it’s the best I can come up with!) And if a hospital is charging extra just because they can, the insurance doesn’t cover that.

    The way it generally works, is that you have a deductible, after which you pay a certain percentage of what the insurance covers, and there is also an upper cap that the insurance covers depending on the plans and the insurance company. Could be x amount per year, or for the lifetime, or per illness. There are very real limits to what the insurance will pay for, and after that it is all us.

    Second, they implied that pet insurance is like an HMO. It isn’t, not even close, and I’m annoyed that they uttered those three letters, because to me it is just laziness on their part. Or bias. Hard to tell which. Either way it paints an inaccurate picture, and it’s likely the only thing people will remember from the show. The pet insurance companies don’t dictate to the vets what procedures can be done. We, as the pet owners, dictate that.

    Third, the woman with the hedgehog who *has* insurance but apparently doesn’t pay much attention to what it covers, said that cat and dog owners might get some experimental vaccine because, hey, they’re not paying for it. But that’s completely wrong, because they *would* be paying for it! Vaccines are just routine care, and that’s not what the insurance is about.

    The economist at the end was the only one who seemed to have actually researched the issue!

    So, I guess I didn’t think much of that show, overall. It would be misleading for anyone who didn’t already know a lot about pet insurance. I’d bet they left 95% of their listeners with the impression that pet insurance is like an HMO. Oh well!

  28. Laura November 3, 2009 at 11:38 pm

    I haven’t listened to the show but I loved the article and comments over at the Dolittler blog written by Dr. Patty Khuly. If you are interested, it’s a good way to pull together the reviews on the show.

    http://www.dolittler.com/2009/10/27/Pet.health.insurance.This.American.Life.weighs.in.html

  29. Deb November 4, 2009 at 8:51 pm

    Thanks Laura! That was a pretty good article (though she had a much more positive impression from the show than I did!); I didn’t read the comments, but she brought up some great points in her article. She even did the math, to come up with only 29% of the hedgehog’s costs covered, which was interesting, because the way it was presented in the show, it sounded like more!

    It’s clear that Dr. Patty Khuly has a lot more pertinent information to give perspective, too. I found this really interesting:

    But this isn’t really about Harriet or her owners, much though This American Life finds it humorous to hold her out as an example of our pet-devoted human ways. Rather, for me, it’s more to do with how veterinary medicine’s fee-for-service, lower-waste ways manage to keep costs under control.

    Sure, that TPLO might not seem like a bargain, but it’s one hell of a lot cheaper than the human ACL-tear scenario (about a tenth or less). In this respect I do agree that veterinary medicine has a lot to teach human health. That’s because when vets and clients know how much everything costs, and when everyone’s a stakeholder in the cost conservation game, smarter decisions get made.

  30. b November 5, 2009 at 3:40 am

    It’s really interesting that so many people heard so many different things on this one. My partner heard it in a much more positive light than I did, and I wonder if that isn’t because he’s never personally (only a bit through me) dealt with the American healthcare system. He didn’t know what an HMO was at first, so after we discussed it, my view is probably even more distorted on this than it already was! 🙂

    I like TAL, but public radio doesn’t have an awesome track record for sensitively dealing with animal issues. I think I’ll go back and listen to this again and see if I don’t hear more weird inconsistencies that I didn’t catch the first time. Again, I’m still learning a lot about this, so I didn’t mean to imply that some radio program had all the answers. Was just interesting that right after I listened to that, I found this batch of posts from Deb 😀

  31. Deb November 5, 2009 at 7:17 pm

    @b – In one of the first posts in this series, I linked to the Embrace blog. If the links still work (it has been quite a while!) it should bring you to a bunch of great information on pet insurance in general. I found it really helpful to go through her posts when I first started researching, so I could understand the basics of it. Then you’re prepared to go and read up on all the other pet insurances, and you have a core of understanding that you can use to evaluate.

    I think the most important thing for people to have in mind with pet insurance is that it is a safety net, not a discount money-saving solution. What we want is to have some assurance that we’re not going to suddenly be faced with a 10k bill, and that it is worth paying $300 or whatever per year to have that assurance.

    I meant to touch on the issue of insurance in other countries, which you’d brought up earlier. I don’t know much about it, certainly not in any kind of detail, but the US is certainly not the only country to have pet insurance. I know the UK does, in fact it’s so common there I think they sell it in supermarkets. And Canada does for certain (I had a primarily canadian pet insurance company that was starting up in the US spam my blog!). I’m not sure about the rest of Europe, or anywhere else though. Might be worth looking into, just so you know what the options are. (Or aren’t!)

  32. Sammie November 12, 2010 at 5:06 pm

    After years of coverage and multiple policies for our 4 pups with the AKC Pet Partners Insurance the time came for me to have utilized it for our adored pup. He was sick – no question about that. I had insurance – or so I thought. Our sweet boy was hospitalized, required an MRI of the brain which indicated some sort of a lesion, then developed nephritis, later he came down with aspiration pneumonia and also had an emergency hospital visit as well. It ended much to my heart break with the loss of this sweet boy when I was told that it was medically necessary to euthanize him. I had thought I had credible coverage through the AKC Pet Insurance. WRONG! On the Wellness Plan (most enriched plan and very expensive) through the AKC they AKC denied medications, MRI, further diagnostics, medical treatment and hospitalizations.

    So consumers BEWARE of such an organization. These were unrelated situations that the akc denied.

    I had registered our pups with the AKC when they made the offer of this insurance upon AKC registration of our puppy years back – how could I go wrong with the AKC? In EVERYWAY!! I have dropped the insurance with this deplorable coverage offered through the AKC. I now have them insured with an honorable insurance provider that does not have the gimmicks the AKC Pet Insurance has to get out of paying claims.

    CONSUMERS please check out www petinsurancereview com and see how many of us that patronized the AKC have shared similar experiences. This is a wonderful sight – they offer you information on ALL insurance providers.

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