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Protection for paws

Posted: February 11, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: February 11, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Leeanne Shinn holds a treat for 2-year old terrier-pug, Scout in their Valencia home.

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Like many pet owners, Leeanne Shinn, of Valencia, considers her dogs Scout and Ruby members of the family. That’s why she insures them.

“I don’t want to ever have to make the decision to treat my dogs based on whether or not I can pay the bills,” Shinn said. “I can probably scrape together a couple thousand quickly, if it was needed for surgery that day, but I would need to have the money back in a few weeks so I don’t miss rent.”

Pet insurance is an emerging trend in the United States, where an estimated 70 percent of households include a dog or a cat.

Introduced in Sweden in 1924, pet insurance typically works in a similar fashion to human medical insurance. The policy holder pays a monthly premium, there’s an annual or per occurrence deductible and a percentage of the remaining costs are paid by the insurance company.

Currently, there are at least a dozen pet insurance companies offering policies, including Veterinary Pet Insurance, Pet Plan and Shinn’s choice, Healthy Paws, which was the No. 1 customer-rated insurance plan by Pet Insurance Reviews, www.petinsurancereviews.org.

Shinn, a nurse, also received a small discount on the policy from Healthy Paws since she rescued both pets.

“Their model worked for me. It was the fact that I could go to any vet, that the reimbursement was swift, and the deductible was $500 and they paid 90 percent of the rest,” said Shinn, who pays $45 a month to insure both dogs. “Ruby skips, which is a sign of a knee problem common to Chihuahuas, and there aren’t any genetic exclusions with Healthy Paws. She doesn’t need treatment now, but if she does in a few years, it’ll be covered.”

According to the American Pet Product Manufacturers Association, Americans spent nearly

$11 billion on veterinary care in 2008 and, as stated in a study from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, veterinary fees have risen 64 percent between 1998 and 2006.

On average, the American Veterinary Medical Association found that the annual number of veterinarian visits for dogs is 2.6 and for cats, 1.7, with a respective annual cost of $356 and $190.

Dr. Baljit Grewal of Valencia Veterinary Center is a fan of pet insurance.

“It’s a good idea if you’re looking to provide the best possible medical care,” Grewal said. “Pet insurance gives people more choices to treat their pet and not cut corners if the pet needs extensive workups. I think it’s worth it.”

So does Sandie Sigrist Allaway, an editor from Valencia. She originally bought pet insurance from The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals a decade ago for her cat Shooster, and added Spike, her current Maine coon cat, after adopting him eight years ago.

“Shooster needed many vet visits due to his stomach issues, the same as Spike now. It was getting really expensive out of pocket, so I needed some support,” Allaway said.

The plan started at $14 a month per cat and now costs Allaway $17.11 for Spike. Her ASPCA plan has a $100 deductible and pays 80 percent of costs thereafter.

“Some things are excluded, but most are not,” Allaway said. “The process is extremely simple. I have a form I give to the vet to fill out listing services and costs and then they fax it to the number on the form. ASPCA makes it very user-friendly. I really like their system.”

Allaway doesn’t consider pet insurance a necessity for owners with healthy pets that don’t require veterinary visits other than routine checkups.

“However, you never know when something unexpected could occur, so it’s really a choice,” she said.

For more information on pet insurance plans, visit www.petinsurancereviews.org. 

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