Modern advances in veterinary medical technology and procedures such as dialysis, interventional cardiology, chemotherapy, CT scans and MRI studies, among others, have lead to an increase in the medical care cost for pets. The expectation that the cost of these sophisticated procedures and equipment should be less than in human medicine because “they’re just animals” is unrealistic. With the increase in the sophistication of veterinary medicine also comes an increase in the success of treatments and in the life expectancy of our pets. On the other hand, the cost of preventive care such as annual exams, vaccines and intestinal parasite evaluation is an affordable and fixed cost that can be planned for ahead of time.
What can be difficult to afford are the unexpected medical conditions that pets develop over their lifetimes, such as bone fractures, chronic renal disease, pancreatitis, cancer, and many others. This is when pet health insurance should be considered; for unexpected catastrophic medical conditions only. Pet health insurance is not designed to save money for routine preventive care as many pet owners might think, since in that case you may find yourself investing in premiums that are higher than the financial return you are getting from the insurance.
Pet health insurance plans are great. They have many advantages when compared to health insurance for humans. Pet owners can choose any veterinary clinician or board certified specialist anywhere in the country. They are not limited to a provider network. In addition, the insurance company does not dictate the medical treatments a clinician should follow for each specific patient. Claims are paid much quicker as well. When ready to choose a pet insurance you should do some homework though. Do not make the mistake of just choosing the insurance based on the amount of monthly premium to be paid. The cost of these premiums depend partially on factors you cannot control (breed/age of the pet and the geographical area where you live), and on some factors that you can control such as the amount of coverage you want, and the deductible you are interested in. Choose a pet insurance plan taking into consideration your pet’s potential medical needs in the future: for example the cost of an emergency gastrostomy if your dog or cat is known to swallow foreign bodies frequently, or the cost for orthopedic surgery to repair a fractured bone if your pet tends to escape under the fence and is hit by a car. Always request the list of conditions not covered by the insurance plan that you are looking into. Finally, do not confuse a “wellness plan” offered by a veterinary facility with an insurance plan. These wellness plans are for routine preventive care, and they obligate you to get all the medical services within that particular facility or corporate hospital. Another disadvantage of the wellness plans is that they offer a preventive care schedule that is standard for every animal, without taking into consideration the specific needs required by each individual pet.
If you are able to pay out of pocket for the management of your pet’s unexpected medical conditions, then a pet insurance plan is not for you. However, if you are like most pet owners, and require financial assistance to afford 21st century medical care for your pet, then an insurance plan adequate for your pet needs is a must. If the commitment to pay a monthly pet health plan premium is difficult for you, then consider other options. Now you can finance the cost of treatment for a specific health condition through veterinary-specific financing programs, or may be a basic savings plan for your pet’s unexpected medical conditions might be what is best for you. Left behind are the days when a beloved pet had to be euthanized due to an inability to afford treatment for a medical condition that can be successfully managed. As soon as you welcome a new pet to your life, consider acquiring a pet insurance plan, while your pet is healthy and there are no pre existing medical conditions; you will be glad you did.
Dr Marta Sanchez-Emden is the founder of the Animal Health and Rehab Center in South Miami. She has been practicing Veterinary Medicine in Miami for over 20 years. As a Certified Veterinary Journalist, she is the resident veterinarian for various national TV shows. She authored the book “CHIHUAHUAS: How to Be Your Dog’s Best Friend,” available on Amazon. Follow her at youtube.com/ahrcvet, Facebook.com/dr.sanchezemden, Twitter @DrMartavet, and www.animalhealthrehab.com.