Today’s article is a guest post by Donna Baker, the Education and Community Awareness Manager for the Delaware Valley Golden Retriever Rescue (DVGRR). She is a subscriber to my blog and has adopted several older Golden Retrievers who were surrendered to their organization. She shares why she ultimately decided to purchase pet insurance and why she enthusiastically recommends pet insurance to all the new owners of pets adopted from DVGRR.
With the continued economic downturn, DVGRR (like many other rescue groups) has seen an increase in dogs surrendered because they developed an expensive medical problem that their original families couldn’t afford to treat. It’s heartbreaking to see a family give up a beloved pet due to financial constraints.
I’ve learned the hard way myself how costly veterinary care can be. I ran up some hefty bills for my first two adopted Goldens, both senior dogs, back in the late 1990s. I was still paying off the cost of holistic treatments (acupuncture, Chinese herbs, etc.) for both of them when I adopted Tyler in 2001. She was an 8-year-old in reasonably good health and it never crossed my mind to get insurance for her. Bad move! My sweet Tyler girl lived to the age of 14.5, and over those 6 years she and I dealt with bladder problems, hip dysplasia, arthritis, severe inflammatory bowel disease, megaesophagus secondary to myasthenia gravis, a cancerous tumor on her leg and thrombocytopenia (a dangerously low platelet count). She was hospitalized in critical care at least three times, needed extensive diagnostic testing over the years, had surgery twice – you get the picture.
With the help of a wonderful vet and my ever-present VISA card, Tyler pulled through everything but the thrombocytopenia, which was ultimately more than she could fight. I adopted her, loved her very much and would have done anything she needed. Fortunately, I am single with no human dependents and no one to squabble with about financial priorities, so I just kept handing over my credit card and going into big-time debt. Several months after Tyler passed away in 2007, I sold my condominium in West Chester and moved to Lancaster County and paid off her medical bills with proceeds from the sale. In that respect, I was lucky. Had I been foresighted enough to get pet insurance on Tyler when I first adopted her, I would have probably saved about $12,000.
I adopted Morgan, age 9.5, a week after I lost Tyler. I had no emotional reservations about adopting another older dog, but I sure had financial reservations! I told him he was not going to set foot in a vet clinic until I had pet insurance on him, and I kept my word. I researched available policies (not all companies will insure an older pet), decided to go with Pets Best and signed him up immediately. Because of his age, his premiums were higher than average (about $60 a month), but it gave me tremendous peace of mind to know he was covered.
I submitted several claims over the next three years and received back 80% of the covered expenses. Just a few months after signing him up, I received back $500 for costs related to a badly infected ear hematoma that required multiple vet visits including one to an emergency clinic. Most importantly, I knew that if Morgan should develop an acute or very serious medical problem requiring expensive care (which did happen later in his life), I would be in a far better position to get him what he needed without running up that awful, anxiety-provoking debt again.
Purchasing insurance for Morgan was one of the best decisions I could have made for him, and it truly helped me ensure that his medical care was never compromised. When he too passed away a few years ago, I adopted another senior Golden and simply switched my Pets Best policy to cover her instead. Continued peace of mind!
My premiums have increased only slightly over the past five years, and for me, it is money well spent. Here’s how I think of it: If I pay $60.00 a month, that’s $720.00 per year. Anyone who has ever dealt with a canine medical crisis will agree with me that it’s very easy to spend that amount (often much more) in just ONE vet visit for diagnostic procedures or treatment. And again, for younger pets, the premiums are nearly always much lower.
From my own experience and from seeing more and more Goldens given up because of high-priced medical problems, I’ve become a strong advocate of pet insurance and I personally will never have an uncovered pet again. In my opinion, it is well worth it to know your pet is covered in an emergency. But, you must do your homework and be sure you purchase from a reputable, well-run company that will meet your needs.
When I started looking in 2007, general consumer information about pet insurance was not as available online as it is today. Instead, I first talked to several family members and friends who already had insurance to get their input, then studied the websites of the companies I was considering very carefully. Pets Best was quite new at the time (only two years old), so while in some respects I would have preferred a company with a longer track record, I liked their straightforward approach to reimbursement, the extensive experience of their founder, and the clarity of the information on their site. I also liked having options with regard to the amount of coverage available. For both Morgan and Alli (my current Golden), I chose the Pets First plan with a $100 deductible. That gives me a per incident limit of $7,000 and a maximum benefit of $100,000 – both certainly adequate for my needs.
Feedback from my sister, who was using a plan with a benefit schedule and had been disappointed in the level of reimbursement received, was also helpful in steering me towards Pets Best. If I were researching companies today, I would also look carefully at the user reviews posted on various pet insurance sites to see how my fellow pet owners had fared and what experiences they shared to help those like me just starting out.
In addition, I would certainly make very good use of the Pet Insurance Toolkit developed by Dr. Kenney, as well as review his blog posts and podcasts, which are filled with key tips and recommendations for making sure you choose wisely. All of these resources have been extremely helpful to me in talking with adopters, friends, and the general public about why I feel pet insurance is so important!
I want to thank Donna for sharing her story. Most of the time, you can adopt an older pet and still get pet insurance to help pay for their healthcare expenses. As Donna stated, insurance premiums for an older pet tend to be higher, but an older pet generally experiences more health problems especially those that are chronic in nature and the expense for treating them are ongoing. To lower your premium, buy a policy with a higher deductible and/or copay, but with a high annual maximum. Avoid policies with low per-incident maximums.
Donna was kind enough to provide several Explanation of Benefit forms she received with her reimbursement from Pets Best. I thought you might be interested in what these look like and also see the amounts of her reimbursements.
As you can see from this 2nd reimbursement, the $100 per-incident deductible was met in a previous claim filed for the ear hematoma. So, all she had to pay out-of-pocket was the 20% copay.
Here are some previous post that deal with buying pet insurance for an older pet: