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Pet Health Insurance
Don't Dog-Parent Without It!
I know what you're thinking.
Health insurance?? For my DOG?! That's a scam.
I assure you . . . IT. IS. NOT.
Yes, just like human health insurance, pet health insurance companies make money when people give them money every month and then end up never needing their services. And yes, there are people out there who pay for health insurance and never use it.
I wish I were one of those people.
Chance was a perfectly healthy four-month-old puppy when I adopted him. I had no reason to believe I would be spending anything but the bare minimum on medical care for him.
Within TWO YEARS, he had been diagnosed with severe allergies that needed to be treated with expensive daily medication, a torn ligament in his knee that required bone surgery, and a bone chip in his elbow that required surgery to remove.
In the first two years of owning Chance, my vet bills totaled $14,730.94.
But I signed up for Healthy Paws insurance as soon as I brought him home. So how much money did I actually shell out on his medical expenses, including those monthly insurance premiums?
Let that sink in for a second.
Do you realize how much money I saved just by signing up for Healthy Paws insurance?
This isn't a hypothetical situation. This is what actually happened to me. And my dog hasn't been hit by a car, or gotten cancer, or eaten a sock that got stuck in his gut!
I honestly don't know what I would have done if I had had to come up with an extra TEN GRAND somewhere. Please please please don't put yourself in the position of having to weigh your best friend's life or quality of care against your bank account. It's not worth it.
And in case you think the scam kicks in when your monthly premium goes up after you've made claims?
My premium started out at $37/month. Even after $10,000+ in claims (covered by Healthy Paws at 90%, by the way), my premium only went up to $41/month! And after the second surgery, and another $5,000 in claims? My premium went up to a whopping $43.17.
I can't promise you that NO insurance companies are scams. I'm sure there are some out there.
But Healthy Paws? Not a scam. Not in the slightest. It's actually one of the best companies I've ever had the pleasure of doing business with, and I'm literally delighted to pay my premium every month. DELIGHTED, I say!
I signed up for Healthy Paws specifically because I compared a few plans and theirs was the best, and I had a friend who used it for his two dogs and he was also really happy with them (they offer discounts for multiple dogs but I'm not familiar with them...yet). There are other options out there so definitely do your research, but I am so glad I chose Healthy Paws! And if you sign up for them using any of these links on this page, you'll qualify for a 10% lifetime referral discount (that means it won't get taken away after the first month) and I get a referral bonus! Which I only discovered was possible after I'd written basically a love-letter to Healthy Paws and thought, "Hey I should really get something for all this free advertising!!" But I swear I would be recommending them even if I got zilch out of it.
What You Need to Know About Pet Health Insurance:
OK, I'm going to talk about specifically Healthy Paws coverage because that's what I know, but these are questions you should ask of ANY insurance company. NO TWO COMPANIES ARE THE SAME, so pleeeeease remember that the specifics below apply ONLY to Healthy Paws!
Say you sign up for Healthy Paws on January 1st. Your policy becomes "effective" at 12:01am on January 2nd. Then you enter the 15-day waiting period. If your dog is younger than 6 and has visited the vet in the past 12 months, you don't need to do anything but wait. If you just got your dog, or you don't remember when your last visit was and you don't have the records, you need to take your dog to the vet for a qualifying standard physical exam. Anything diagnosed AFTER those first 15 days and qualifying exam will be covered by Healthy Paws!
There's a special secondary waiting period for hip dysplasia. If your dog is younger than 6, there is a 12-month waiting period after you enroll for hip dysplasia coverage. If he's diagnosed with dysplasia AFTER the waiting period, it will be covered at no extra cost!
All this "waiting periods" business is designed to find out if your dog has "pre-existing conditions." A pre-existing condition is something that was diagnosed in your dog BEFORE you signed up for insurance--and no insurance will cover pre-existing conditions. That means you can't wait until you NEED insurance because your dog broke his leg--that broken leg will be considered a pre-existing condition and won't be covered by insurance.
THIS IS WHY I SAY GET INSURANCE AS SOON AS YOU GET YOUR DOG, BEFORE ANYTHING GOES WRONG WITH HIM OR HER!!
Hip dysplasia can take a while to reveal itself, which is why there is a longer waiting period for that. The idea is that if your dog doesn't get diagnosed with hip dysplasia within the first year of being enrolled in insurance, he probably didn't have it when you signed up.
Stuff That Isn't Covered
So pre-existing conditions aren't covered. What else isn't?
The veterinarian's exam fee, spay/neuter procedures, preventative care, and some other random stuff like experimental treatments and costs associated with breeding your dog. The list can get very specific, so you should check out pages 2-3 of this sample policy for the full story.
Very few insurance companies cover the visit fee itself (and if they do, they compensate by offering less coverage elsewhere). The preventative care NOT covered can add up--for example, Chance's monthly flea/tick/heartworm medication is pretty expensive. However, you can get pretty good deals online, and in my opinion it's not a reason to NOT get insurance.
The only other thing I've ever had Healthy Paws not cover was a plasma-replacement treatment he got during his TPLO surgery--it was considered "experimental."
Co-Pays and Deductibles
Healthy Paws is very simple when it comes to picking a plan--you have three "reimbursement levels" and three "annual deductibles" to choose from (start a free quote to see how changing these levels affects your monthly premium).
If you select a 90% reimbursement level (like I did), your "co-pay" or "co-insurance" is 10%. Your "deductible" is the amount you have to cover yourself before insurance starts reimbursing.
Confused? Hang in there...
Say you enrolled your dog on January 1st. He made it through the waiting period without getting sick, but on January 20th, he broke his leg, so you rushed him to the vet.
The bill might look like this:
- Vet Visit Fee $50
- Leg Surgery $3,000
- Post-surgery medication $100
The total bill is $3,150. Say you've signed up for 90% coverage and a $100 deductible (that's the plan I have). You haven't hit the deductible yet since you just enrolled. So you're responsible for the visit fee (because that's never covered), 10% of the remaining bill (your co-pay), and the first $100 of what Healthy Paws is covering (your deductible).
You would have to pay $460, and Healthy Paws will pay $2,690! For the rest of the year, because you've fulfilled your $100 deductible, Healthy Paws will pay a full 90% of covered costs.
Coverage Caps and Limits
One of the best features of Healthy Paws insurance is that there are NO coverage caps or limits of ANY KIND. Other insurance companies will only pay up to a certain amount per year--this is called an "annual limit," and if something terrible (like cancer) happens, once you hit the annual limit, you are responsible for paying 100% of the rest (until the next year)!
Other companies have what are called "per incident" limits. This would have really screwed me with Chance's allergies, because we HAD to try a lot of different things to see if anything worked, before ultimately deciding he needs to be on daily medication for the rest of his life. If there was an "incident" cap on his allergies, after the company covered a certain amount of allergy-related costs, they would NEVER PAY ANOTHER CENT for anything related to his allergies! And his allergies are never going away.
And finally, avoid any company with a "lifetime limit." This means that once the company pays up to the lifetime limit, they don't need to cover another cent. Ever. For the rest of your pet's life. And because of the whole "pre-existing conditions" thing, YOU CAN'T SWITCH TO A DIFFERENT INSURANCE COMPANY!
Companies with these sorts of caps and limits are what give insurance companies in general a bad name. But Healthy Paws is very, very clear. From their website:
In rare instances, if the cost of care is really high, apparently you can call Healthy Paws before your dog gets treatment and they'll pre-authorize the costs (and I assume send you a check ahead of time). But most of the time, you pay the costs upfront and submit an invoice and Healthy Paws will send you a check in the mail.
Submitting claims to Healthy Paws is as easy as posting a status update on Facebook. Not exaggerating. They have an app, and you take a photo of the invoice your vet gives you, and click submit. A check will appear in your mailbox in about a week.
Here's what it looks like:
For Chance's most recent surgery, the claim was processed LESS THAN 12 HOURS AFTER I SUBMITTED IT. I got the check in the mail almost exactly a week after surgery. And THEN, I got an email from a customer service rep asking how Chance was recovering after his major surgery!!
Choosing a Veterinarian
Finally, maybe the best part of Healthy Paws is that you can choose your own vet. ANY vet. Some pet insurance companies function like human insurance companies, and you can only go to vets and/or hospitals within "the network." Not Healthy Paws! When Chance tore his CCL, and I wanted a second opinion from the best canine orthopedic surgeon I could find, Healthy Paws didn't stop me--and now Dr. Alan Schulman is the only vet I'll take Chance to!
I hope this has convinced you to sign up for pet health insurance. Besides food, water, and shelter, this is the most important thing you can do for your dog--and your bank account. Be sure to check out the FAQ on the Healthy Paws website, and if you have further questions about insurance head over to the Facebook Group to start a discussion!