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Consumer

Research Pays When Buying Pet Insurance

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(credit: CBS) Esme Murphy
Esme Murphy, a reporter and Sunday morning anchor for WCCO-TV, h...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – We all love our pets, but when our animals get sick the price tag can be overwhelming. That’s why more Americans are considering, and purchasing, pet health insurance.

But what you get for your money varies greatly, and some owners are finding themselves out money and without the coverage they thought they were paying for.

At Minneapolis Westgate Pet Clinic, Dr. Bennett Porter has seen clients like Shelagh MaCleod struggle with vet bills. Last year, MacLeod’s Dalmation, Becci, suddenly had trouble walking.

“We discovered that she had a slipped disk, and she went straight to surgery,” MacLeod said. “The cost of the surgery alone was just around about the $5,000 mark.”

MacLeod does not have pet insurance, so she paid out of pocked.

With Vet bills for both routine and emergency care rising, Porter began looking into pet insurance policies.

“I felt a need to educate my clients,” he said. “I see them struggling with their bills.”

He conducts pet insurance seminars for both veterinarians and pet owners. He says the plans are all different, and that some are confusing.

One resource for pet owners he recommends is petinsurancereview.com, an independent website that offers consumer reviews of the benefits and drawbacks of different plans.

One of the biggest problems with major policies is that often times hereditary conditions are not covered.

Peggy McCarthy, the owner of a Golden Retriever named Libby, said she bought pet insurance because her last dog died during an operation.

“I bought pet insurance because my previous Golden Retriever was operated on and died on the operating table, and I had to pay $5,000 dollars,” she said.

McCarthy bought insurance with the American Kennel Club. Her purchase, however, didn’t cover some conditions.

“At four months, [Libby] was diagnosed with elbow dysplasia in both of her elbows,” McCarthy said. “When I put in a claim with a doctor note, because it was a predisposed condition they weren’t paying for anything.”

Libby’s claim was denied because hip and elbow dysplasia — abnormal joint conditions — are considered hereditary and breed specific conditions for Golden Retrievers.

“I was shocked,” McCarthy said. “I thought going through the AKC that, you know, every medical bill would be paid.”

But Libby’s AKC policy specifically excluded hereditary conditions. McCarthy paid $2,000 out of pocket for Libby to have surgery.

Porter says five of the most common policies have full hereditary coverage, but other common policies do not.

If buyers don’t read the details, they may miss very important information, he said.

The nuances of a pre-existing condition in both dogs and cats can be tricky, he says. Some cancers in Golden Retrievers are considered hereditary, while others are not.

Pet insurance premiums on average range from $20-$75 a month, depending on the age of the pet and what’s covered. Deductibles vary greatly.

“What I see people doing is they try to compare the plans based on price, but really price is the last thing you should look at,” Porter said. “You should look at the features you need for your particular pet.”

He says almost all pet insurance policies will not cover pre-existing conditions. And those insurance companies will go back and investigate a pet’s medical history once a claim is submitted.

“They won’t investigate at all up front, because they’re happy and excited that you’re considering pet insurance,” Porter said.

More clinics are offering consumers pet wellness plans. These wellness plans generally cover only preventative care. Porter says these plans may not be worth the money.

“If you’re not going to do everything that’s recommended, then the wellness plan will not end up saving you money,” he said.

In his seminars, Porter recommends three pet insurance plans to his patients: Petplan, PurinaCare and Trupanion. But he says consumers need to do their own homework — a recommendation endorsed by McCarthy and Libby.

“I think you really have to read it and maybe talk to someone on the phone regarding what they’re actually insuring,” McCarthy said.

Note: Porter has no ties to any company that offers pet Insurance.

For information on everything pet-insurance related, click on the links below:

Reviews & Opinions From Customers

Amazon: Guide To Pet Health Insurance

Pet Insurance Tool Kit

YouTube Video: Pet Insurance Co. Comparison Worksheet | Policy Selection Worksheet

List of breed-related health problems: Pet Health Problems | Genetic Conditions

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