Is There A Better Alternative To Pet Insurance?

If your home is like 72.9 million others in the U.S., it is home to at least one pet. According to the 2011-2012 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, 62 percent of households in the U.S. have at least one pet. It’s not hard to imagine why. Pets, whether furred, hoofed or winged, bring so much to our lives. But, along with unconditional love and unquestioning devotion, they can also bring significant vet bills. In fact, the APPA (American Pet Products Association) estimates that U.S. pet owners will spend $14.1 billion on veterinary care in 2011.

Some pet owners opt for pet insurance as a method of reducing the costs of routine and emergency vet visits. However, Consumer Reports recently published a review of several pet insurance plans. The review was not favorable. Their basic conclusion: “Pet insurance is rarely worth the price… Only in uncommon cases, when a pet required very expensive care, would the coverage have more than paid for itself.”

Here are a couple of reasons why a pet insurance plan may not be your best option to save on your pet’s healthcare costs.

1. Lack of Coverage

Most pet insurance companies promise to cover 70 to 90 percent of your pet’s veterinary costs. However, these companies have adopted much of the fine print that the large human health insurers use: cumbersome claims processing, deductibles, per-visit reimbursement limits and per-incident limits. They may also deny coverage for many common conditions, including those deemed “inherent to the breed” and “pre-existing” conditions. As a result, their insurance rarely covers more than 50 percent of a pet’s annual medical costs. And since they charge $400-$1100 for a policy, the insurance typically costs the average pet owner far more than it saves.

2. Poor Return on Investment

In the aforementioned Consumer Reports review, they analyzed the lifetime vet bills of Roxy, a 10-year-old beagle in Dobbs Ferry, NY. Costs were totaled for nine different pet insurance policies, calculating how much would be paid out in reimbursements. Over Roxy’s 10 years, none of the policies Consumer Reports evaluated would have paid out more than the cost of the plan. Even when treatments for several hypothetical serious ailments were added in, the average policy would only have saved Roxy’s family $65 over her lifetime.

Consumer Reports concludes: “We believe most pet owners will be better off passing up pet insurance.”

So what should pet owners do to help cover rising vet costs? Here are a few alternatives to help:

1. Financial Assistance

There are a number of financial assistance programs financed by grants and private donations. While each one has different guidelines and requirements, your local shelter is a good place to start. Many shelters have updated listings and information on financing opportunities.

2. Veterinary Discount Plans

Veterinary discount plans provide discounts on services at participating veterinarians, immediately reducing the amount you have to spend on routine and emergency care. In Consumer Reports hypothetical case of Roxy, the largest veterinary discount plan showed Roxy’s family saving almost $2,500.

3. Start a Pet Savings Plan

Open a savings account with a high interest yield that you can use an emergency fund. If you put away just $25 a month for 4-5 years, the compounded sum will cover almost any procedure.

Be creative! Mix a Pet Savings Plan with a Veterinary Discount Plan and Financial Assistance plan. Now that’s something to crow (meow, bark or chirp) about!

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