Pet insurance wasn’t worth it – until my cat needed $3,000 surgery – NBC10 Philadelphia

My wife and I never gave pet insurance much thought – until we were told that our cat Wally needed surgery that would cost nearly $3,000.

Until then, we had dismissed a pet insurance policy as an unnecessary expense since the premiums and deductibles exceeded the typical annual vet costs we paid out of pocket.

Apparently, we weren’t alone in that opinion, as only about 25% of pet owners have pet insurance, according to a recent NerdWallet survey.

Our cat Wally.

Our cat Wally.

And yet, when it came down to it, there was no question we’d spend more than $3,000 if it meant keeping our fat cat healthy and alive.

In the 10 years since we adopted our extremely lazy and self-possessed tabby, he has become our muse, the subject of endless chats, social media posts and at least one professionally painted portrait that appears on our wall.

And as someone who had never owned a cat before, I was surprised by the strength of our bond over the years, especially after spending every day together during the pandemic.

But in 2023, during a zoomie attack, Wally jumped out of our bed and landed with a thud on the floor. We think that’s when the lameness started. After taking x-rays at the vet, they said he had torn a ligament in his leg.

Wali under some sheets.
Mike Winters

Wali under some sheets.

Without treatment, he would likely develop osteoarthritis, which would only make his pain worse. However, the associated vet bills, including X-rays, cost over $3,500. We paid for the surgery with savings and Wally has been on the mend ever since.

Right after the surgery, we signed up for pet insurance through my wife’s employer. The decision for us was a no-brainer: We got burned once by unexpected expenses and our cat wasn’t getting any younger. Plus, we got a reasonable fee of about $30 a month.

But more than that, we want to avoid hard decisions down the road.

What you get with pet insurance

Typically, pet insurance covers accidents, illnesses and wellness, which pays for routine care like annual exams. Accident and sickness coverage is usually bundled together as a “comprehensive” plan, while wellness is usually an optional extra.

Comprehensive pet insurance policies that include accident and illness cost an average of $53 a month for dogs and $32 a month for cats, according to personal finance website ValuePenguin. Adding wellness coverage increases the cost to $95 per month for dogs and $51 per month for cats.

These rates assume a fairly common annual deductible of $500, which is the amount you have to pay out of pocket before coverage kicks in. These rates are also based on policies that provide 80% coverage for vet bills, up to a maximum coverage of $5,000 per policy year.

Wally takes it easy.
Mike Winters

Wally takes it easy.

You can find plans with lower deductibles, higher maximums and 100% coverage, but these factors will likely increase your monthly premiums.

Most importantly, pet insurance does not cover pre-existing conditions, which are based on medical records from prior vet visits. With Wally, periodontitis is a prerequisite, which means we will have to pay for the teeth to be extracted, if necessary.

Is pet insurance worth it? The answer is not clear

I can understand why most people don’t sign up for pet insurance. To many, it may not seem worth the cost. And in some cases, it isn’t.

Routine vet visits, including checkups, heartworm tests and vaccinations, typically cost less than $300, according to estimates from the health care financing company CareCredit. If that’s all your pet needs for a given year, you probably won’t pass up a $500 deductible and will save more money by simply paying for these services out of pocket.

But there is also a downside to this approach. My wife and I learned the hard way that emergency or life-saving procedures such as hospitalization or surgeries can cost more than $3,000, which many people cannot easily afford.

Wally recovers from surgery.
Mike Winters

Wally recovers from surgery.

These expenses are often unexpected and can put pet owners in the difficult position of choosing whether a necessary procedure is worth the cost, especially if they have a sick or elderly pet.

In our case, we are not thinking about pet insurance as a way to save money. Instead, it’s a way to soften the blow of unexpected costs when they arise. We know some procedures won’t be covered, but it’s a risk we’re willing to take.

How to know if pet insurance is right for you

Financial planners who spoke to CNBC Make It were divided on whether pet insurance is worth the cost.

That’s because the value for any given pet insurance policy depends on several factors, including your pet’s overall health, whether your pet is genetically predisposed to specific diseases, or your pet’s pre-existing conditions and lifestyle. The cost of your plan and what it covers will also be big factors.

“Insurance is never a slam-dunk purchase,” says Rikin Shah, an insurance agent and founder of insurance broker GetSure.

Wally after his surgery.

Wally after his surgery.

To help you decide if pet insurance is right for you, he suggests “crunching the numbers” by comparing the annual cost of insurance to your vet bills in the past year. If the numbers are somewhat close, then you’ll likely feel better about buying a policy, he says.

“I would recommend weighing the risks qualitatively,” says Shah. “If your pet is young, healthy and stays at home mostly, an emergency fund may make more sense. However, if your pet has no significant pre-existing conditions and is older or is a problem-prone breed health, insurance may be the safest bet.”

Another option is to skip insurance in favor of a pet emergency fund that includes several thousand dollars for pet costs.

“Because of the high cost, limitations and fine print in many policies, and the possibility of not needing service, the risk of pet care should be managed through planning, not insurance,” says Carol Fabbri, a planner certified financial. based in Denver.

Of course, whether you choose pet insurance is a personal decision that isn’t entirely based on saving money – that’s what makes it a difficult decision.

Wally on the couch.

Wally on the couch.

“I’ve never recommended pet insurance per se, but I have it for my cat and have suggested people look into it,” says Nicole Sullivan, a CFP in Libertyville, Illinois. “To me, peace of mind is reason enough to have pet insurance, but of course it can vary from family to family.”

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