The Changing Landscape of Pet Health Insurance

Flipping through the September 1st edition of Time Magazine, I came across a full-page ad featuring an attractive, 20 to 30 year old, blond haired woman planting a kiss on the jowl of a lovely looking Bernese Mountain Dog. The caption accompanying the photo read, “In the Nation, what’s precious to you is precious to us.” The advertiser, Nationwide Pet Insurance, is part of the same Nationwide company who, for years has imprinted our brains with, “Nationwide is on your side.”

This ad surprised me on several levels. To begin with, I’d never heard of Nationwide pet health insurance. So, I called the number in the ad and was greeted with, “Thank you for calling Nationwide, formerly Veterinary Pet Insurance.” Ah, so this made sense. Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI) has been around for as long as I can remember. Apparently, Nationwide has been their underwriter for some time now, but the official name change from VPI to Nationwide occurred just a few weeks ago. The Nationwide representative I spoke with told me that, in part, the purpose behind the new branding was to entice people to qualify for multi-policy discounts- accomplished by insuring pets along with home and/or vehicles. Pretty clever marketing if you ask me.

Perhaps the bigger surprise for me was finding a pet product ad of any sort in Time, and within the first dozen pages of the magazine, no less. I’ve been a reader of Time for years, and never before have I seen an ad even remotely related to pets. Nationwide must have spent a pretty penny for their full-page advertisement, suggesting that they must believe there’s big money to be made in the pet health insurance business.

The current state of pet health insurance

It appears that the pet insurance industry is rapidly and rather dramatically evolving. The North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA) confirms this. NAPHIA represents more than 20 different pet insurance brands currently marketed across the United States and Canada. According to their research, the pet health insurance industry is achieving record growth. Total North American premiums in 2014 hit $660.5 million with 1.4 million pets insured. This represents a 12.8 percent hike in premiums and a 10.6 percent increase in the number of pets insured compared to 2013.

Dennis Rushovich, president of NAPHIA believes that, thanks to the human/animal bond, pet health insurance is increasingly becoming an integral part of responsible pet ownership. He stated, “Pets have moved from the barnyard to the backyard to the bedroom. As a result, this industry’s growth continues to outpace most other insurance categories.”

What’s your take on pet health insurance?

Have you contemplated health insurance for your pets? Deciding whether or not to purchase health insurance for your pet can be a confusing task. Stay tuned as my next blog post will help you walk through the decision making process.

Do you have a health insurance policy for your pet? If so I would love to hear your impressions.

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

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29 Comments on “The Changing Landscape of Pet Health Insurance

  1. 5 of my dogs have pet insurance and I was lucky I signed them up when I did. One of them tore both of her ACLs and needed surgeries and then one leg she had complications and needed 2 more surgeries. A year later her brother tore his ACL and also needed TPLO surgery. Another brother broke a canine tooth and had a root canal. There have been numerous other claims, our insurance still pays for the pain meds and supplements for my dogs who had injuries. Yes I pay a lot in premiums and still have the deductibles and co-payments and over the lives of each dog it may even out, but I feel a lot better knowing I don’t have to worry about vet bills and won’t have to make a decision based on money. I recommend pet insurance to anybody who can’t easily come up with a lot of money in sudden veterinary expenses.

  2. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer–what a surprise. I think premiums I pay for JD and Cookie are ridiculously high. But their insurance covers everything and the kitchen sink. We’ve tried the savings account route and it back-fired on us badly; we’re still trying to consolidate the debt we got in.

    I don’t even want to have to make medical decisions for my dogs based on the state of my wallet. So I have both guys fully insured and will continue to do so. As long as I can afford the premiums …

  3. When I got my last dog, nearly 12 years ago, I asked the breeder whether he thought pet insurance made sense. He said that I had just paid a lot for a quality dog, that what I was thinking about would be unnecessary. Well, that held true for 1 month. Next, she started with continuous ear infections. Then she got bitten by 4 copperheads and showed allergies that have continued to be very expensive. Then there were all sorts of other difficulties that resulted from her prolonged treatment with steroids. Then and then… She has been the most expensive dog medically that I have ever had. So many times I have wished that I had followed my first inclination rather than the breeder’s opinion. I would strongly advise anyone to get pet insurance.

  4. I’m a big proponent of pet health insurance and have been since I paid out (well, charged on my credit card) over $23,000 for one of my adopted dogs who had multiple major health issues over the six years she was with me. I never regretted spending that much on her but vowed that my next dog would not set foot in a vet’s office until I had insurance on him and I kept that vow. As some others have stated, I never want to be in the position of having to forgo available treatments or surgery because of the cost and I can’t afford to run up huge credit card bills again. To me, pet insurance is no different than car insurance or human health insurance in that you pay the premiums for peace of mind and hope you don’t ever have to use the benefit. I do realize that for people with multiple pets, the monthly premium cost can be prohibitive and I don’t have a solution for that. I have used Pets Best in the past and was pleased with their claims reimbursement and customer service. I was not happy that my premiums for a senior dog jumped up quite dramatically one year, but I handled it by going to a higher deductible and that kept my premiums at the same level. When I lost that dog three months ago, Pets Best covered the cost of in-home euthanasia, which I wasn’t sure they would do. I may or may not use them again for future pets but I will most certainly maintain insurance on any pet I bring into my home. For me, it makes the most sense and gives me the highest level of comfort that I’m able to care for my dogs the way I want to.

  5. We carry pet insurance on our two senior Labs with Healthy Paws. Maggie was recently diagnosed with osteosarcoma a few months ago. Our vet recommended Stereotactic Radiosurgery for her followed by chemotherapy. I’m happy to say, she is doing GREAT…but at the end of the day, all of this would probably cost us $30,000 – but our insurance has covered 90% of everything. A real life saver for us. We wrote about it on our blog: http://slimdoggy.com/the-real-reason-for-pet-insurance/

  6. I just lost my Lab after a 2 1/2 year battle with spinal cancer. The CTscans, MRI’s, eventual surgery and monthly medication cost me over $14,000, all out-of-pocket. I would never consider not having insurance with my next dog.

  7. I have PC Financial Pet Insurance in Canada for my 2 small dogs. Have been paying into the policy for 5 years and there’s been very little increase in premiums over the years. A nice bonus, besides accident and illness coverage, is that we can go for alternative treatments like acupuncture, Chinese medicine, chiropractic, and homeopathy as long as treatments are done by a veterinarian. I’m not sure that we’d go for these alternative treatments if I didn’t have insurance.

  8. W don’t believe in it. We might when vet health care catches up with human health car.

  9. Health insurance for humans and pets is big business. Pet health insurance companies don’t provide coverage unless they KNOW they are making great profit in the sector. VETS don’t promote pet health insurance unless they know they are making more money over the long term and throughout their entire client population than they would if they went only with private pay clients. I am a retired private insurance and Medicare approved (human) health care provider. As such, I understand what this health insurance “business” is all about. THE BIg problem with pet insurance is that there is no Medicare review com. to set the limits on the charges, nor a quality review com. of service providers. On a personal note, our family has chose to open a health care savings account for our pets instead of insurance. More importantly, before we buy a dog we research the breeder(s) and the health clearances behind their dogs before sending in a deposit for a wonderful TT.

  10. I have too many animals to be able to afford pet insurance; I have three cats and a dog. I put aside $50 every month into a separate account for vet expenses and have been doing this for the past 20 years. Generally the vet expenses account has always been able to cover bills for my crew.

  11. I started my girl with VPI (the premium coverage) back in 2001. For us it was a pretty good thing. My Gracie had two TPLO’S and VPI covered about 1/3 of each. She also had a MCT which the Cancer Rider covered quite well. I was happy to have it. Pet Insurance coverage has changed quite a bit since then with many new players throwing their hats into the ring….. it’s mind boggling and a bit overwhelming.
    I’m interested in your take on how to decide which is best for an individuals situation……

  12. I have had pet insurance on all my dogs since 2008. I did not then and lost a dog to bloat and had to pay the $12,000 bill. It is worth the peace of mind as I don’t worry about my dogs getting sick. I have had Pets Best after a short stint of VPI. VPI was very difficult to collect from and on a $3000 surgery bill with a $250 deductible they paid $750. Pets Best doesn’t discount the bills, they pay promptly and per the policy. Yes it is pricey especially as the dogs age, but they paid policy limits when one of dogs had lymphoma and have always paid promptly.

  13. I did not have pet insurance when my German Shepherd, Lola, became sick with MRSA, and that’s when I decided it’s a necessity. I insured her through Best Friends insurance (not sure if they still exist) after that and the coverage helped me quite a bit when she became sick with Ehrlichiosis.

    I now have Healthy Paws pet insurance and am very happy with their policies and service. They insure older pets and seem to cover everything except pre-existing conditions. No annual or lifetime caps. They are incredibly organized, follow up with vets, etc. without any prompting. They are highly computerized and provide detailed breakdowns of each claim, services, deductibles and co-pays. Claims can also be submitted through a mobile App – sending a photo of the receipt(s) directly to them. No claim forms to complete for insured or the vet.

    The monthly premiums are an expense I could do without, but what I pay in annual premiums is very little compared to the potential expense for a serious illness or injury. It gives me peace of mind to know that I do not have to sacrifice my pet’s care based on limited finances.

  14. I had VPI insurance with my previous dog, and was extremely dissatisfied with it. The reimbursements were arbitrary and pitifully small, and the rate increases after she had several claims were enormous. So, I dropped the insurance when she was about 3 years old, and paid out of pocket (paid a LOT out of pocket) for her rest of her life.

    With my current dog, I’ve signed up with Embrace pet insurance, and so far I’m very pleased. The reimbursements are totally predictable (you choose the percent of the bill to be paid, based on your premium level and annual deductible), and they promise not to increase rates based on any claims that you make. That doesn’t mean rates won’t ever increase… they do allow for increases based on age of the dog and inflation… but it does mean that if my dog has 3 claims in a year, her premium rate won’t double or triple at the next renewal, like they did with VPI. So far I’m very happy with Embrace, and anticipate staying with them for the life of my dog.

  15. Interesting article about pet insurance in The Whole Dog Journal this month and I will certainly look forward to reading you next blog Dr. Nancy. Current
    Y have a year and a half a Golden a Retriever with severe bilateral hip dyladia but have been told by a couple folks that Insurance won’t cover pre existing conditions.

  16. My husband and I are Scottish terrier owners, now sharing our lives with our sixth and seventh Scotties, both rescues. When we purchased our first Scots–both from reputable breeders–in 1999, we had no idea what we were in for. At the time, VPI was just about the only pet health insurer around, and we did not give a thought to purchasing policies on our dogs, who were mere puppies when we got them and who were, as they say, very well bred. Within six months, one of our puppies became extremely ill, and he suffered with numerous maladies all his life, finally succumbing to TCC (bladder cancer, the Scottie scourge) at the ripe old age of twelve. We took exceedingly good care of this boy, as we did all our Scotties, but doing so was very, very costly. By the time our fifth Scottie died (liver failure), we knew all too much about the breed’s health problems, and we were bleeding money. So when we brought our current pair under our roof two years ago, we purchased an accident and illness policy with a high deductible from Embrace. We needed an insurer that would cover hereditary illnesses and one that was hospitable to rescues. So far we have not had too many serious problems (our dogs are still relatively young), and Embrace has come through for us. We did see a modest premium increase this year, but that is to be expected. After all our trials, I am happy to pay for peace of mind.

  17. I had pet insurance on both of my dogs. My older one had been with VPI since he was 12 weeks old, and the younger of the two, whom I got as a 6 year old, had Trupanion. I had a health policy with VPI, so his exams, vaccinations, etc. were mostly covered. But because they bill by medical codes, getting reimbursement for emergencies, etc. was a long, drawn out process. I basically had to fight for every penny I got back. Trupanion, on the other hand, is an emergency insurance and while I had to provide complete documentation of everything Lillie had done, they did reimburse me for almost 90% for her emergency splenectomy in Jan. When Ronan bloated on his 13th birthday, VPI barely covered the hospitalization. Unfortunately I lost both of them within 2 months of each other this summer, and VPI did pay for cremation. I will never go without insurance, though, for any future dogs, even though I work for my vet!

    I tell our clients to go online and compare the policies before deciding. And to figure out if they want routine coverage or just emergency.

  18. I purchased Petplan for my Bichon when she was a puppy. One reason being that they cover hereditary diseases, which fortunately have not been a problem. They also accept the full charges of vets on any recommended procedures without any set allowed amounts. There is no lifetime cap. We have had rapid reimbursements and their employees give wonderful customer service. Our Bichon is turning 8 in November and I do expect a rate increase. I have had just three small increases in the last seven years. But I have the option of decreasing maximum annual coverage or amount of copayment or both. Our dog has had a recurrent bladder condition that required surgery for stones as well as a tooth extraction and a few other minor conditions. Overall, I think my reimbursements have covered much of the cost of my premiums. It gives me great peace of mind to know I can take her to the vet anytime without worrying about the cost.

  19. Mixed feelings here as well. I have carried insurance with ASPCA for years and would echo other comments here regarding the alarming increase in premiums. The increases seem more dramatic for senior pets. Maintaining high deductibles helps. The processing of claims has been hassle free and prompt. The same can certainly not be said for our health insurance. No such thing as a preferred list of docs. My policy allows for treatment from any licensed vet. This is great for those of us who travel with our pets. Additionally, my dog is an amputee and will likely suffer from orthopedic ailments as she gets older. This is not considered a pre-existing condition under my policy which is certainly a good thing for us. One of my dogs passed away recently and I received a call from ASPCA expressing sympathy for the loss. Nice touch.

  20. We didn’t have pet insurance on our first pup, who was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. Sorry pup, no chemo, can’t afford that but we could afford the amputation and follow-up care. My husband and I agreed that we would never be without pet insurance again. So for our second pup, Wyatt, we have pet insurance for accidents & illness only (including cancer). Along with a $500 annual (not “per incident”) deductible, that keeps our premiums down.

    We’ve had three major claims with Wyatt, and Pet’s Best covered them all without hesitation, they’re great. As Wyatt ages his premiums are going up but so is his risk for all sorts of things, so that’s to be expected. If it wasn’t for the insurance I know we would have second guessed our ability to cover the cost of his most recent impacted object surgery (oh those neurotic GSDs!). Since we don’t believe in debt, I hate to think of the decisions we would have had to make.

    We believe our key to keeping pet insurance affordable is to have a higher deductible, and skip the wellness plans, which drive up the cost. After all if you can’t afford to provide the most basic of care (wellness checks, vaccines, etc) without the help of insurance, then you need to ask yourself if you can really afford to have animals in the first place.

    (P.S. Our dog’s health insurance is way better than our own, by far!).

    Thanks for covering this important topic.

  21. I’m in Canada and have Trupanion. Although I am happy with the coverage, I’ve never had a hassle with a claim, premiums increase at least 20%/year. I’ve had two years of over 30% premium increases and this year one the the States had premium increased by over 50%. Great coverage, but it isn’t cheap.

  22. I carried pet health insurance on my Labs for several years, until the premiums more than quadrupled (quotes for $200 per month per dog, and that was for basic wellness plans). Now I have a separate savings/investment account for pet health, which works better for me. I know most pet owners are not disciplined to save for future veterinary care, but for my pack, this is better. I’m dismayed that the premiums skyrocketed, continuing to put senior pet care at risk of becoming financial euthanasia.

  23. Our last three dogs have been Giant breed males, a Newfoundland, and two Leonbergers. We purchased each from who we believed were reputable breeders of each breed.
    Both our Leonbergers were and are in very good health, no real health problems to speak of. For both we have had a high quality Pet health insurance plan in place.
    For our Newfoundland we did not and learned a very expensive lesson ( he was our first giant breed )
    Within several weeks after picking him up at 8 weeks old he began to not move around easily for a puppy We took him to our Veterinarian and she suspected hip dysplasia.
    After x rays it was determined he in fact did have dysplasia in “Both” hips one much worse than the other with the recommendation that as he got older both hips should be surgically corrected.
    We did have both hips corrected ( without the benefit of Pet insurance ) the Vet. bills and aftercare ran into the thousands of dollars, out of pocket.
    We felt it was our responsibility to make our boy the best he could be while we were his guardians.
    When we got our next puppy, actually even before we purchased Pet health insurance to cover any and all health problems that might occur during his life with us. The policy we purchased even covers hereditary problems like hip dysplasia.
    Luckily for both our last boy and our current one we have not had any type of problems where we had to file a claim.
    I’ve found their are two “Very” important factors in choosing a quality company / policy for their insurance.
    1.) Choose a High quality company that fits your breeds possible health care needs.
    2.) Do this as soon as possible after you get your puppy / dog. ( some companies will cover hereditary problems for specific breeds if the policy is in force before a certain age.
    and will remain so for the life of the dog.
    You chose your deductible and many will pay 90% of the remaining balance.
    our current carrier has no lifetime dollar amount limit in coverage.
    We pay approximately $41.00 per month for his policy. In my opinion a small price to pay for the peace of mind it gives us to insure no matter what health problem might come up we would “Never” have to make a decision if we can afford to have the issue corrected and allow him to live the best life possible with us.

  24. I used to have VPI years ago with our two dogs. There weren’t many choices then and VPI was fine and we didn’t have any issues with the few claims we made. We had recently lost a dog to a cancerous tumor bleed out and after a $1500 surgery to try and save her (before anyone knew what was going on). So, I really wanted catastrophic health insurance for our dogs. At that time, VPI was very like the old type of human health insurance with complex codes for every diagnostic test, illness, injury, etc. It was complex and a pain and it wasn’t really straight forward.

    With our new pooch, I just purchased a policy with Healthy Paws and we are in the 15 day waiting period. I am eager to see your next blog – hopefully I made the right decision for us and our pooch. I found it very brain numbing to try and figure out which policy to go with. And then, once you figure out which policy you need to figure out which deductible amount and which co-pay. Argh!

  25. What I’d really like to see is how they justify offering health insurance to the same breeds they disallow on homeowners…

  26. I have mixed feelings about pet insurance. My main concern is if a lot of people get it, then the cost of going to the vet will raise just as it did with dental care and medical care for people. The medical world rarely gives a discount for personal payments, but yet charges more to make up for the discounts and deductibles which they know are going to happen. Aside from that, pet insurance certainly could be a good thing. Any major illness or injury which a pet could acquire, would easily be worth the cost of the insurance if it was the “right” policy. There are so many various types with conditions and limitations, so one has to be careful in choosing. Personally I just save up a certain amount each month and put aside for my dogs’ care. It could possibly not be enough to cover a major problem, but that’s just my decision for now.

  27. I have had Trupanion for nearly 5 years and had two large claims. I’ve been very pleased with their service and recommend it to others. I purchased a plan with $1,000 deductable and a $30,000 maxium, so I would have catastrophic coverage specifically for cancer. Having lost two dogs in the past to cancer and my current dog being a breed with a high risk for cancer, I wanted a good insurance plan for her. She did end up with mammary cancer two years ago. She is doing well and in remission.
    With a high deductable, my premiums are low, despite my past claims and my dog now being a senior. There are so many fantastic treatments available to help sick dogs but many are expensive. I don’t ever want to be in the position that my dog could be saved with a $15,000 treatment, but have to put my dog down because I couldn’t afford it.
    I am very happy with Trupanion and suggest people evaluate their dog’s risk factors for major health issues like cancer and then think about their financial situation. What is your dog’s life worth to you? What would you do if saving your dog’s life might bankrupt you? That’s were insurance coming in.

  28. I had 24 Pet Watch Insurance on my Tibetan Terrier – 6 years – I increased the insurance when he was 5 years – last Spring he was found to have Advanced Stage Lymphoma. My Insurance Company cover al but 80% of the bills until the end.

    I had the same company with my Tibetan many years ago and they paid 80% of his heart condition and various aging expenses .Very Extensive Charges

    I would not have a Pet without Insurance due to the Rising Medical Bills for Dogs – almost impossible to say what illness and accent will be for should they occur