That's my puppy, Ruby. She's an adorable little mutt I got at Animal Haven, a shelter in New York City. Like many pet owners, I dote on this little rascal. I enrolled her in puppy kindergarten class. I have dozens of photos and videos of her on my phone. I spend way too much time thinking about her poop schedule. And, unlike most pet owners, I bought pet insurance for her.
When I mention this to my friends with pets, I get a lot of the same responses:
"Isn't pet insurance a waste of money?"
"Oh, I had pet insurance before, but it didn't pay for anything."
Mind you, these are the types of pet owners who would, and have, spent a lot of money on vet expenses because they consider their pets a part of the family. And when I explain to them what pet insurance actually is, and how it works, I get a lot of this response:
"I wish I had known that before!"
So here's what I tell them, and what all pet owners should know.
Pet insurance is a safety net you hope you never have to use
Pet insurance is simply health insurance for your pet. If your pet gets sick, or is injured, and you have to take them to the vet for care, pet insurance will cover a portion of those expenses. Most pet owners understand that part. But then they'll do this calculation:
If I pay $30 per month for pet insurance, that's $360 per year. If I don't get at least $360 back in benefits, then pet insurance is a waste of money.
And that is entirely the wrong way to think about pet insurance. In fact, it's entirely the wrong way to think about any insurance. Insurance is not a savings plan or an investment product where you put in money with the expectation that you'll eventually get more in return. Do you think about car insurance that way? Or homeowners insurance? Of course you don't! If you're a car owner or homeowner, you get insurance as a safety net for a bad scenario that would cost you a lot of money. If you're hoping for a return, or at least a break-even, on your homeowners insurance or car insurance, then that means you're hoping for something bad to happen: an accident, a theft, a loss. It's the same with pet insurance. If you're hoping for a return, or at least a break-even, on your pet insurance, then that means you're hoping for something bad to happen to your pet...because that means you're getting money back. Twisted, isn't it?
But of course pet owners who've thought that way about pet insurance aren't hoping that something bad happens to their pet. It's just implied if you take that line of thought to its weird conclusion. I blame a few things for this illogical thinking about pet insurance:
A bad Consumer Reports article from a few years ago. This article featured a cost-benefit analysis of pet insurance plans and declared that pet insurance isn't "worth it." If you've ever researched pet insurance, you've probably seen this article. I respect Consumer Reports and what they do for other products, but frankly, that article is garbage. You don't do a cost-benefit analysis of insurance, for the reasons I've already mentioned. Interestingly enough, they haven't done that analysis for any other type of insurance. That's because it doesn't make sense!
Older versions of pet insurance that weren't very good. Ten years ago if you bought pet insurance, there was basically just one plan on the market. The reimbursement rates on that plan were low and difficult to understand. I should know: I had that plan for my two dogs (Rommel and Ike, who've since passed). I was an early adopter of pet insurance. I'd always thought that the plan wasn't great - but it was the only option available. And, to me, something was better than nothing in case of a worst case scenario. But, I can see how a bad experience with that plan would have negatively affected peoples' perception of pet insurance. The good news is: pet insurance has dramatically improved. There are a lot of great plans on market, which cover much more than that old plan used to.
The expectation that pet insurance covers all vet expenses. Pet insurance is intended to cover unexpected and large vet bills. It's a safety net in case your pet needs emergency surgery or gets cancer - lifesaving treatments for which could easily run thousands of dollars. It's not intended to cover predictable vet expenses, like spaying/neutering or annual vaccinations. On many pet insurance plans, you can add optional coverage for those types of expenses (usually called the "wellness" option), for an additional cost. However, those are expenses that you can, and should, budget for as a responsible pet owner if you want to keep your insurance cost lower.
So, now that we've clarified those things, here's why I bought pet insurance for Ruby: because I don't want to ever face the decision of lifesaving care for her versus my bank account. I want to make medical decisions for her based solely on her quality of life, rather than my ability to pay for it. I know other people who've made that trade-off, and it's a heartbreaking one. Having a sick or injured pet is hard enough, without having to do the awful mental calculation of: "Is saving my beloved pet worth X thousand dollars?" Pet insurance will make that situation easier and let me make the best possible decision for her. That's why I insured Ruby. And if you have a pet in your life, and can afford to spend around $15-$30 a month for pet insurance, I encourage you to do the same. In fact, we're running a special campaign. We've called it "Pawbamacare." It's a playful parody of Obamacare, but the objective is important: to promote awareness and enrollment in pet insurance. We believe that pets get better care when they have pet insurance. Check out the Pawbamacare site and browse pet insurance plans. Or check out our guide to pet insurance to learn more. And let us know if you have any questions about pet insurance!