As I write this, my 15-year-old cat, Thomas, is curled up in my most comfortable chair, watching me at work. Just looking at him reminds me why I’m so grateful to have pet insurance.
Earlier this year, Thomas was diagnosed with Stage 3 chronic kidney disease. Since then he’s been at the vet every three months for blood work and a urinalysis to check on his kidney function. At a couple of hundred dollars a visit, it would have been a real strain on my finances if I hadn’t had him covered. As it is, now that I’ve met his deductible, my coverage is reimbursing me for 90 percent of the cost of his ongoing tests. It will also cover 90 percent of the cost if he has to be hospitalized or when it’s time for me to start giving him subcutaneous fluids.
Contrast that to my experience four years ago with my sweet Dahlia. She suddenly developed severe respiratory problems and I rushed her to the emergency clinic. That visit and the overnight hospitalization cost $1,500. She then saw a specialist, who did an ultrasound, which unfortunately revealed three tumors in her body. That was another $1,000. The biopsy, another $500. Three visits to the emergency clinic to have the fluid drained out of her chest so she could breathe, $500 each (at least). And finally, her euthanasia and cremation, which cost me another $300.
To pay for all of that, I had get CareCredit and then reach out to my friends, family and fans of my blog for more assistance. If I’d had insurance for her before all that began, I probably wouldn’t have had to take nearly as big a hit financially or beg for support from family, friends and strangers.
I strongly recommend that anyone get health insurance for their cat. However, there are a few things you should know before you go shopping around.
It won’t cover cats who are already sick
The whole point of insurance is to get it before you need it. You can’t expect to call a pet insurance company from the emergency clinic and get coverage, any more than you could call Allstate while your house is on fire and expect to get paid out. It also won’t cover conditions your cat already had before you got coverage. For example, my Bella had diabetes. She’s in remission now, but if her diabetes comes back, her insurance won’t cover it because she had the disease before I got her policy.
You need to know what you’re getting
Every pet health insurance policy is different. Some pay based on the actual cost, some pay on a benefit schedule. Some cover preventive care (for an extra fee), some don’t. Some will cover hereditary conditions, some won’t. I recommend that you visit Pet Insurance University to learn about the benefits and “gotchas” of different pet health insurance policies.
Understand why and when rates adjust
Some pet health insurance policies’ rates will go up as your cat ages. Others use actuarial factors and broader information about your cat’s breed. My coverage cost adjusts on the anniversary of each cat’s enrollment date, and the rate adjustment is based on the cost of care in my area and the cost the company incurs for care of all cats in my geographic region, among other things. If you call a pet health insurance company to inquire about coverage, ask why and when rates adjust and be sure to get an answer you understand.
Understand that contact-center agents can’t guarantee coverage
When I worked at a pet health insurance company, we were repeatedly told that we were not allowed to say anything that could guarantee or imply a guarantee of coverage. Only the claims specialists were allowed to make yes/no decisions on coverage because only they had the training to do so. So don’t be surprised if you ask “will X be covered?” and the representative says “I can’t guarantee coverage.” They’re not trying to give you the runaround; there’s a good chance an agent could actually be fired for guaranteeing coverage.
Long story short: Do your research, ask lots of questions, and be sure you understand the answers. Even — or perhaps especially — if you’re on a budget, pet health insurance can be a lifesaver. I’ll never be without it again.
Do you have insurance for your cat? How has your experience gone with your insurance carrier? Have you ever had to use your insurance? Share your stories in the comments.