Health Insurance

Every month, it seems like my health insurance is really expensive.  It has many exceptions and I’ll never hit the deductible unless I have a hospital or ER visit.

At the same time, I have no problem paying for Gambit’s health insurance bill every month.  In fact, I’m happy to do so.

I’ve encountered a lot of people who think I’m nuts to insure my dog.  Not our vets, of course – we are in a college town in a fairly low cost of living area, and the local vets seem to try and keep costs down so their clients can afford adequate care.  Prime example: tapeworm treatment cost about $7 for Gambit, while in PA, the number for Nellie’s tapeworm treatment was in the triple digit range.  Unfortunately for Nellie, intestinal worms are an exclusion.

With exceptions for things like tapeworms, why am I so willing to pay for Gambit’s insurance?

As a child, I watched my parents deal with a number of health problems with our wonderful 7-year-old lab.  Specialist visits were involved, and I’m sure it set them back quite a bit.

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Later on, my aunts young, fun and gigantic German Shepherd/Lab mix got into some things she wasn’t supposed to and needed to have her stomach pumped at the emergency vet… more than once.  Emergency vet visits aren’t exactly small change and puppies can easily ingest something while your back is turned for 30 seconds.

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As my sweet Daisy May got older, she developed food and plant allergies, and got hypothyroidism, hip dysplasia, and arthritis.  She needed expensive food – the girl feasted on duck and potato kibble – along with several pills and allergy shots.  To top things off, she switched vets and started going to a VCA hospital.  While the staff was great and she received excellent care, they do have to push and/or require a lot of “extras” and have high prices since they are a corporation.  Yet again, definitely not a small chunk of change to keep my dear dog happy and comfortable.

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By the time we got Gambit, I had a pretty good idea of what vet bills were like.  Not too bad if your dog is 2-6 years old and healthy, but they can quickly spiral out of control in the blink of an eye. Not to mention the amount of trouble a puppy can stir up or the expenses related to an aging dog.

Unlike human hospitals that have payment plans and sometimes have to eat the cost of ER bills for those who just don’t pay, emergency vets generally need payment up front – if people skip out on a delayed bill or can’t handle a payment plan, they can’t afford to stay open.

Knowing these things and realizing that I was fresh out of grad school, married to a graduate student, and frankly just didn’t have several thousand dollars to spend on vet care without really feeling it, getting pet insurance for Gambit was a no-brainer.

Might he go for years without a big vet bill? Maybe.

But if I was suddenly hit with a $1000 or $5000 bill, what then?  If you ask my immediate family, my aunts and my cousins, I guarantee we would all say that we consider our dogs to be part of the family. They’re not “just” pets, they’re not disposable, and we miss them greatly after they leave us.  If flying isn’t involved, the family dogs typically join in on vacations.

I definitely didn’t want to be forced to rehome, surrender or put down my beloved boy because I couldn’t afford his care, have to turn to my family for help, go into debt for years, or forgo medical care for a treatable illness or injury  – and I’m sure a lot of pet owners know those scenarios much too well.

Some prefer to put money aside in case something happens, but if the dog has extremely high bills before that fund has been built up sufficiently, that plan has the possibility of backfiring.

Since Gambit is a mixed breed whose policy started a couple weeks after we adopted him as a puppy, his insurance costs less than basic DSL, going out to a nice dinner, or feeding him a premium dog food – and it’s much less than a smartphone plan.

While his plan does still have exceptions, the exceptions are reasonable.  Pre-existing conditions, routine wellness visits, intestinal worms, and a handful of other things are not covered.  Our insurance does cover hereditary conditions as long as they are not pre-existing.

We do still pay out of pocket at the vet, but that amount doesn’t leave our bank account forever or stay on a credit card being payed off slowly.  The animal hospital fills out a form, submits the doctor’s notes, and a couple weeks later we receive a check.

Considering how inexpensive the premium is, our low deductible of $50 per incident or illness per year, 100% coverage after deductible (80% for specialists or non-life saving emergency vet visits), and reimbursements up to $12k annually, I’ve found Gambit’s insurance to be well worth the cost.  Oh, and they even send us their own little magazine each month filled with tips on animal health, dog recipes, and more.

In fact, in our first year with Gambit, a staph infection that turned into a tricky-to-diagnose case of generalized demodex mange resulted in some costly vet bills.  With just that illness, the plan paid for itself for 2.5 years.

The only negative we’ve run into is that directions on how to file an appeal for a denied claim are elusive.  Fortunately, both our primary vet and a specialist were more than willing to do whatever they could to help out Gambit when a clerical error resulted in a claim being denied.  The error was in the date the illness began, resulting in it being considered a pre-existing condition.  Thankfully, they were able to submit corrections and our appeal was granted.

Our insurance company of choice is PetPlan USA, although there are a number of companies out there.  I should note that I did not get paid for this review, PetPlan does reward their customers for referrals and if anyone is interested in getting a plan I’d be happy to refer you.

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So, since the only other dog in my life with insurance is Nellie, I have a question.

Am I the only crazy out here in the online dog and dog rescue community with pet insurance, or is this totally normal of me?

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2 Responses to Health Insurance

  1. All I can say is that my pets all best stay healthy. We also get pet insurance here but, at the moment, there’s no money for such luxuries. Healthy is their only option.

  2. We definitely have Pet Insurance and I even tell people about it when they first get their dogs. I”m with you…even if there are exclusions, I want to be prepared if something big and expensive does happen. Miss M has the insurance which doesn’t cover a lot, but we have been reimbursed for a wart removal, and some tumor checks. Mr. B has really good insurance (Trupanion), but luckily, he never gets sick. Again, we would rather have this then a big, expensive surprise.

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