Three years ago, Elizabeth Newsom-Stewart’s cat Fawkes got badly sick because of a lily plant leaf. Newsom-Stewart, as then a veterinary student at Cornell University, was completely aware of the serious situation, took her cat and rushed immediately to an animal hospital.
“Some lily plants are toxic to cats” says Elizabeth, and may cause kidney failure. “Symptoms can take 12 to 24 hours to show. By the time kidney failure occurs, it’s almost always fatal.”
Three days in emergency treatment intensive care, medication, tests, and lots of IV fluids, cost Elizabeth $1,783. Fortionately, just three months before, Newsom-Stewart bought pet insurance which covered $1,327 of the bill. And Fawkes, now 5, made a full recovery.
How Pet Insurance Plans Work
Just like people, pet insurance plans come with a variety of deductibles, co-payments, and premiums. They only differ little bit from people coverage, in that pet plans insurance requires you to pay the vet bills in full and wait for reimbursement, with the exception of Trupanion which disburse payments directly to vets on the day of service.
The cost of pet insurance coverage can increase depending on your pet’s breed (purebreds cost more), age(elder pets usually cost more), the rising cost of veterinary care, and the coverage plans and options you choose.
Almost all insurance policies exclude pre-existing conditions and may exclude breed-specific conditions (or charge you more to cover them).
What Do Pet Insurance Plans Cover?
You can pick a plan that insures costs due to accidents (such as injuries caused by motor vehicles), or accidents and illness (including arthritis, cancer, and colitis). Some providers also offer wellness coverage for certain routine care, like annual exams, flea and tick treatments, and vaccinations. Eighty-one percent of pet insurance policies are accident and illness plans for dogs; 14.6 percent provide the same kind of coverage for cats and other pets. Only about 4 percent of the market is made up of accident-only and wellness coverage.
The insurance trade group says that accident and illness coverage per year averaged $473 for dogs and $285 for cats in 2014. Accident-only policies ran $158 and $132, respectively.
To compare costs, we asked four providers—Embrace, Healthy Paws, Nationwide, and Trupanion—whose parent companies comprise roughly 75 percent of the market, to estimate what their accident and illness policies would cover for a specific dog and cat. After initially agreeing, Nationwide decided it would only provide data for its policy that had accident, illness, and wellness coverage, so we didn’t include the company in our analysis.
We used the vet bills of Guinness, an almost 12-year-old Labrador mix from Westchester
County, N.Y., and Freddie, a mixed-breed cat from Fairfield County, Conn., who’s almost 9.
Guinness had few health problems over the years until he was diagnosed with skin cancer last fall. Treating him required two costly surgeries and expensive follow-up care.
Freddie has been relatively healthy; he had one pricey dental cleaning under anesthesia, and has been prescribed cat food and medication to treat infections. We did our analysis assuming that their owners had signed them up for coverage when they were just a few weeks old, and we adjusted each medical-care charge into present-day dollars to judge how their expenses would have been covered.