Insuring pets stay healthy

Policies enable veterinarians to be most thorough

Pat Howard, of North Augusta, has pet insurance for both of her Dachshunds, Rasmus the Redd and Zebidiah.

"For me, it was important to have something so that if one of them were ill and we had to go to a specialist or have a specialized surgery that would be thousands, I would have something to fall back on. It helps you to be able to do more for your pet. It's terrible to give up a pet that could be saved because you can't afford it," Howard said.

A few years ago, another dog, Rupert, who is now deceased, had cataract surgery and lens implants. Through the surgery, veterinarians were able to restore his sight. Her son's dog had cancer, and pet insurance assisted with radiation treatments, which saved his life, she said.

"The field of veterinary medicine can do so much more to prolong a dog's comfort and life, but it's expensive. I think pet insurance will become more and more popular as people are able to keep their pets longer and longer," Howard, the office manager at Aidmore Animal Clinic, said.

She recommends for owners to study the plans so they won't be disappointed when they need to use them. Some plans don't cover pre-existing conditions that are considered hereditary, and younger animals can get cheaper insurance, she said.

Pet insurance doesn't work the same as health insurance for humans. In most cases, owners must pay the veterinary office and then they're reimbursed by the insurance company, said Dr. Phil Iverson of the Highland Animal Hospital.

Only 2 percent of his clients have pet insurance, but it has its advantages, he said.

"Strictly speaking from a medical standpoint, it's great because it allows us to really work up cases more thoroughly. We really do a better job, especially in an emergency. You're not as worried about how much everything is going to cost, so you can do a more thorough job in general on pets," he said.

Pet insurance is beneficial in unexpected illnesses and traumas. It can cost from $500 to $1,000 when a pet has a major health issue. In these instances, pet insurance "pays for itself," Iverson said.

Though pet insurance is a great tool for veterinarians to provide care for animals, Dr. George Rennels of Augusta Animal Emergency said, "It is a business."

"Insurance companies intend to make more money on premiums than they do in payout. In general, if it is financially feasible for the client, it's better to self-insure," Rennels said.

He recommends owners set up a debit account for their pet's needs and put money into the account every month.

Banfield The Pet Hospital gives its clients an alternative -- wellness plans. These are packages that offer preventive services such as unlimited office visits, annual vaccines and screenings such as fecal and heartworm tests, said office manager Michelle Strickland.

The plans don't cover illnesses but if a pet becomes ill, Banfield and some other veterinary offices give owners the option to apply for Care Credit, a medical payment account based on credit history, she said.

Need pet insurance?

Here are some companies that offer pet health insurance:

- Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI)

- Embrace Pet Insurance

- Petshealth Care Plan

- ASPCA (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals)

- PurinaCare

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