When faced with an emergency injury or unexpected illness with their pet, insurance can be an invaluable resource.
“However, only approximately 1% of the pet population is covered,” says Ann Selander, administrator for WestVet Emergency & Specialty Center in Garden City. “I think it stands to reason that pet insurance is lower on the list of priorities given the recent economic situation we are all working through. It is hard to promote it to folks that can’t afford their own health insurance let alone that for their pet.”
Selander helps educate clients who come into the hospital about the differences between insurance and well plans, as well as different insurers in the market.
“Often, what you pay in premiums is essentially equivalent to paying outright for the care at the time of service,” she says. “That being said, there are many choices available.”
The pet insurance industry grew 10-fold in 15 years, as it went from a single pet insurance company in 1997 to 11 companies to date. With pet owners spending at least $650 on veterinary bills last year, pet insurance agencies offer families plans from $15 to $75 a month to help budget for pet health emergencies, according to USA Today.
In 2011, Americans spent an estimated $50.8 billion on their pets, and more than a quarter of those expenses — $14.1 billion — came in the form of vet bills, according to the American Pet Products Association. Pet insurance policy sales increased between 8% and 10% annually at different companies, the North American Pet Association reports. Boise-based Pets Best Insurance, for instance, has had 20% yearly sales increases since it started in 2005.
Pets Best spokesman Chris Middleton says it’s important to compare pet insurance options to be sure you’re getting what’s best for you and your pet. Pets Best Insurance has no networks – you choose any veterinarian anywhere in the world.
“Making clients aware of pet health insurance can be a smart business decision — one that may help to allow you to practice better medicine and help to lead to healthier pets and happier pet owners, who have up to five times the spending power of non-insured clients,” he says. ‘Many pet owners don’t even realize that pet insurance is available and affordable, so they will appreciate hearing learning about its benefits.”
Pet insurance plans generally cover treatment for animal illnesses or injuries. These plans require monthly premiums and cover a large part of the cost of diagnosis and treatment for emergency situations; however, there may be exclusions as well as caps on your claims.
But, it’s not without failings. Only recently, PurinaCare, which entered the market three years after Pets Best, sold its 12,000 pet insurance policies to Toronto, Canada-based PetHealth Inc.
“The transaction will not have a negative impact to the industry,” Jack L. Stephens, DVM, founder and president of Pets Best, told Veterinary Practice News. PurinaCare’s disappearance in May 2013 was a blip on the pet health insurance screen, he added.