If you consider your dog or cat to be a member of the family, you are not a pet owner -- you are a "pet parent." There's a vast difference, according to Robert Jackson, CEO of HealthyPaws.com, a pet insurance provider.
Jackson's company, he says, provides health and accident insurance benefits to people who would "do anything" to save their pets. But "anything" can be expensive! The costs of an emergency surgery or a stay in intensive care could easily ring up a bill of $3,000 or more -- as I recently learned when my Yorkie needed surgery.
Pet health insurance is not designed to cover the ordinary annual costs of owning a pet such as vaccinations, health examinations and regular teeth cleaning, which, according to the American Pet Products Association, costs the average cat owner $196 and the average dog owner $233.
Should you consider buying health insurance for your pet? In recent years, it has become a far more respected product. Consumer Reports has studied the "best buys" of pet insurance, concluding that if you choose wisely, the odds are good that your policy will pay for itself at some point in your pet's life.
There are even websites such as PetInsuranceReview.com that compare premium costs and coverages on pet health policies. HealthyPaws.com consistently gets high ratings based on its pricing and reliable payment of claims.
If you're thinking about getting pet medical insurance, here are five things you should know:
--The cost of coverage depends on the age of the pet, the breed (and there is a category for mixed breeds) and your zip code. An online calculator on HealthyPaws.com gives instant quotes.
You can lower the premium by agreeing to pay a higher deductible or co-pay. A popular option at Healthy Paws is a $200 deductible with 80 percent coverage with a 20 percent copay. For a small, young dog, that works out to about $25 per month, which is automatically renewed on your credit card until you cancel.
--Not all costs are covered. Again, pet insurance is not meant for the ordinary annual costs of owning a pet. Annual heartworm tests and meds, shots and dental are not covered in most policies. But you are typically covered for expenses in case of an accident, emergency or illness -- including cancer, hereditary and congenital conditions, surgery, diagnostic treatments, prescription drugs and a long list of other potential costs.
--The costs of covered care are reimbursed. HealthyPaws has simplified the payment of claims with its own app. You can simply take a photo of the bill and upload it to submit your claim, which is reimbursed promptly. Jackson notes that in some emergency situations the company will work with the vet to pre-approve the costs and pay the bill directly to the animal hospital.
--Coverage starts 15 days after the application is approved. You don't need to send in your pet's medical records until you file a claim. Then the company will quickly check with the vet and reimburse you for your costs, after you have satisfied the deductible and made the co-payment.
--More tips: Buy insurance when your pet is young. Pets with pre-existing conditions cannot be covered, so it's best to buy when you first get your dog or cat. Also, while all breeds are covered, there is one major exclusion: A one-year waiting period for coverage for hip dysplasia for certain breeds such as German shepherds, prone to this condition. And you cannot purchase new coverage for this condition after the pet is 6 years old.
Is pet insurance worth the cost? That all depends on whether your furry friend leads a charmed life or whether its nine lives are marred by as many veterinary interventions. But unlike paying for an extended warranty on an appliance that can be replaced if it really breaks down, the costs of a pet illness are unlimited and potentially very expensive. And, as I now know personally, that's The Savage Truth.