This is the second installment of guest posts by readers of this blog detailing their journey of researching and finding a pet insurance company and policy for their pet. In this story, Merrick decided to switch companies when his dog was 10 years old. This can present some challenges especially when considering the presence of pre-existing conditions. I greatly appreciated his willingness to share his thoughts during the research process and even now. The opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the author. Every pet owner's situation is different and may have differing opinions and/or reach different conclusions. However, this story can provide valuable insight into the process of researching pet insurance companies and policies.
Here is what he wrote:
You and I have been conversing back and forth via e-mail for several months now, so I think it's time to tell my "pet health insurance story."
It's also an appropriate time to do so given that just last month I cancelled my 10yo Lab/Chow mix's policy I had with another company (one that uses a rate schedule) that we had since 2004 -- a full seven years! She hasn't had any major problems since then, thank heavens, because I obviously want her to be as healthy as possible throughout her life.
But let's jump back to last fall (2010) when I was carrying our old policy, knowing it wasn't the greatest, but giving me at least a sliver of peace of mind, given that I was not aware of any other pet health insurance plans.
Then my friend who lived in Canada for many years moved back to the States and told me she was transferring her Trupanion policy from Canada to the U.S. "Tru-what..?!" I asked. "Never heard of them." For the two of us who are such big animal lovers, it's funny that we hadn't discussed pet health insurance before. I went straightaway to Trupanion and was stunned to discover not only the ease in how they paid out claims, but how much they paid out in comparison to my then-current plan, and did so using the doctor's bill to figure out the reimbursement rather than a rate schedule. I had no idea such pet health insurance existed.
But it was there on Trupanion's site where they have a page that I consider to be their own blessing and curse. They are the only site I'm aware of that lists all of their competitors. They do it to show that, on every possible point of their competitors' plans, Trupanion is better. It's a great page, though not consistently updated when their competitors make changes to their plans. Yet I appreciate still that they have that comparison, and what caught my attention the most was the array of competitors! I had no idea. I like to think of myself as a pretty good "Googler," but for some reason it had never occurred to me to look up "pet health insurance," where I would have found a wealth of information. So I have to thank Trupanion for really opening up my mind to the new world of pet health insurance.
So, I studied Trupanion, I got a copy of their policy, but, because of that comparison page, I needed to take a look at some of the others such as Petplan, Embrace, Purinacare, and Healthy Paws, and decide for myself.
And I needed more information. Were there any review sites? Were there comparison sites? Were there any experts, such as veterinarians, who were chiming in on this topic?
First of all, I found PetInsuranceReviews.com, a wonderful site and one that can give you a nice broad sampling of reviews from policyholders of all the insurance companies. But all of that information is coming strictly from policyholders and, for the most part, they're saying "we like them!" or "we don't like them!" While that is extremely useful, it's not quite enough for me, someone who has got to research thoroughly before I buy something with such long-term benefits -- and consequences -- as an insurance plan, even for my dog (or especially that it's my dog).
I was heartened to find not one, but two veterinarians who have created websites to study pet health insurance. Now, that is actually a strange thing. Why? Because in all of the vet offices I've been to (and I've been to quite a few in the last few years due to moving around for work), the vet almost has nothing to do with pet health insurance.
The first one was Pet Insurance University by the delightful Dr. Frances Wilkerson. She has taken all of the pet health insurance plans, stripped out all the pieces equally, and laid them out nicely and neatly on their own individual pages so that you can go on each page and compare the merits (or downfalls) of each item: what's covered, exclusions, deductibles, copays and more -- and even the insurance company's A.M. Best Rating for financial stability.
The second one, of course, is this site, run by the wonderful Dr. Doug Kenney. I have had the good fortune to have what is akin to several conversations via e-mail with Dr. Doug over the past few months -- and it was his guidance, the final piece, that helped me to decide which insurance company, and which of their plans, to go with. We have gone through the ups and downs, pluses and minuses, backwards and forwards of policy terms, companies, things I might not have considered, deductibles, copays, premiums, exclusions, and so much more. He has been invaluable.
Dr. Kenney not only has his wonderful blog, , but also a Pet Insurance Toolkit that not only compare one pet insurance company to another, but also compare the several plans offered within each company. Therefore, if you've narrowed your decision down to one company, there is still the decision as to which of their plans is best for you. Dr. Kenney helps to make that decision easy.
So, I must come back to what I actually decided -- which pet insurance company to go with. While this whole thing started out with Trupanion, I ended up not going with them. Through three months of research on this -- as I indicated above, I like to be very well informed when I make a decision like this, especially switching out of a plan I've had a very long time -- I ended up going with Petplan. Coming to that conclusion was not easy. It was a long process of weighing out, point for point, the pros and cons of each. And not just on a pure factual level (e.g., what the policy does and doesn't cover, how much the premiums are, copays, deductibles, etc.) but also on a, for lack of a better word, "feeling" level. How did I perceive this company in terms of not only its approach to the animals but to us, the owners? How is the customer service? How "empathetic," if you will, is their plan towards the needs and feelings of the human owner when your pet is having health issues? What are other people saying about them? What is their history with claims? On many levels, I simply felt better, deep down, after all this research, with the folks at Petplan.
I feel they are the most welcoming of any of the companies towards senior pets. They will enroll pets at any age. And they cover for hip dysplasia, as long as there is no pre-existing condition on it, for any new enrollees. Yup, if somehow, some way, your 12yo dog is enrolled with no signs of hip dysplasia, but then ends up showing signs of it, it's covered. Petplan also covers alternative therapies like hydrotherapy -- whereas some companies don't. And there are other reasons, as well.
That being said, I was very, very close to going with Trupanion -- after all, that was the company my friend swore by, and the testimonial of a good friend is worth its weight in gold. But this is not like a recommendation for a movie or a restaurant or even a doctor. There are a lot of factors involved with insurance that are much more complicated and you really need to do the research on your own and put factor against factor between the companies.
I do think if we had gone with Trupanion, we would have been fine. And my major gripe about Petplan is they only pay 80% coinsurance when you go to a specialist, even though you may have a plan with a 100% coinsurance for when you visit your regular vet. I'm not sure any other company lowers the reimbursement when you go to a specialist. Again, I felt that, weighing out the pros and the cons, even with the 80% coinsurance for specialist coverage, Petplan's plans came out better in the wash, so to speak.
I also did several test calls with the the customer service teams of both Trupanion and Petplan. I have found rushed or disinterested reps at both places, and very pleasant and knowledgeable reps at both places. However, pound for pound, the approach on the phone that Petplan has taken has been superior. Even the head of the call center takes calls and I had the good fortune to speak with him a few times and he is patient, thorough and extremely knowledgeable -- and put up very well with the likes of me.
I have fortunately not had the need to submit a single claim to Petplan yet in the 6 months we've been on the plan, I'm happy to say. But that also means I'm only able now to share the research, sales and enrollment processes. There likely will be a day when I will have to submit some kind of claim and I will then share more of that experience.
But that takes me back again to Dr. Kenney and this wonderful website. If I lived where Dr. Kenney practiced, there is no doubt he would be my dog's vet. A vet that has spent this much time and effort on the subject of pet health insurance clearly demonstrates that he is COMPLETELY interested in the well-being and long life of your pet because, if you have health insurance, then it is a no-brainer if an expensive life-saving procedure can proceed or not.
Stay tuned because Merrick will soon post the process he went through during the application process to determine what pre-existing conditions would be excluded from coverage -- especially considering he has a 10 year old dog.
***The views and opinions expressed by guest bloggers are their own and not necessarily shared by the author of this blog. This blog does not endorse any particular insurance company, but does seek to help pet owners in their quest to find the right company and policy for their pet.