To insure or not to insure: that is the question!
Some of you may have been in this position yourselves: your pet gets sick and you are at the vets, you know it will be expensive but aren’t sure how much. First it’s £500, then £1000 then £2000 then £5000. Costs can rapidly escalate when treating pets, especially in complex cases. Before you know it, you can face a huge bill. Now for those with appropriate insurance (we will get to that later) they can relax because they know that their policy will cover all the treatments and all they have to worry about is the excess (much like with a claim when you crash your car). But for those who aren’t insured, where do you draw the line? How much can you afford to borrow? Do you crowdfund like so many do nowadays to pay for a treatment?
No vet or nurse ever wants to be in the position where we are having a conversation with our clients about treatment options only to find out that they can’t afford the treatment options. These conversations literally suck. I have been in a few of them over the years and it literally breaks my heart to think that an animal’s survival potentially comes down to affordability. Our pets are part of the family, but the sad reality is that veterinary treatment is expensive and sometimes, if the right treatments can’t be paid for then the hard decision has to be made to put that animal to sleep. And I can tell you know, while it is horrendous for pet parents, it is soul destroying to us a vets and nurses to know that there is something that could have been done for that animal if only it could be paid for.
If we cared we would do it for free…
Before anyone says ‘if you really cared you would just do it for free’, let me stop you there: we would love to, genuinely, if money was no object then everything in life would be a lot easier would it not? The biggest cause of stress to many veterinary practices nowadays is outstanding debt from customers who haven’t paid their bills for treatments.
When you go shopping do you say at the counter ‘if you really cared you would do it for free’? How about to the window cleaner, the gas man, the milkman, at the petrol station….you see what I mean?
Things cost money-the staff costs, the medications, the equipment, the training to learn to perform procedures, not to mention the £50k + of debt that any new graduate vet carries into working life with them. The reality is that if we did everything for free, our businesses would collapse and there would be no vets anymore! Then where would we be?
Believe me, vets would love to give every animal on this planet the best treatments available at every opportunity and we long for a world where one day that may be the case! Part of that is why we set up vidivet.
Sadly, there is not an NHS for pets (if you live outside the UK, the NHS is a phenomenal institution that people fund via their taxes but it makes medical care in the UK free at the point of care). But even the NHS is paid for by our taxes, so you pay indirectly to receive free at the point of care treatment (you just don’t notice it other than when you open your payslips to see how much you had before tax and how much is left afterwards).
‘Is your pet insured?’ said the vet…
When your vet asks you if your pet is insured, it isn’t because we want to do every test and treatment under the sun or we want to hike up our fees (the fees are the same whether you are insured or not) it is because it allows us to do those tests without worrying if it is a choice between you paying for treatment and feeding your kids!
As a UK population only 30% of pets are insured, and that comes as no great surprise as it isn’t a cheap thing! Not to mention that it is a bit of a minefield in pricing the right policy. In the USA less than 5% are insured!
Note: not all insurance policies are created equal. Some are cheap, and that may limit your cover. I know it is boring but always READ THE POLICY to check what you are covered for!
This blog isn’t going to tell you which policy to buy, we can’t do that as everyone has different circumstances…what it will do is give you some home truths.
So what does the author do?
I think it is always important for a writer to give some context to a blog content.
I have had dogs all of my life. Insurance wasn’t so much of a thing when I was growing up so our first dog Susie was never insured. She died aged 17 and barely had a days ill health in her life.
All of my dogs have been rescued from shelters, and Max, my labrador, was one of the inspirations for VidiVet. He was 4 when we adopted him and he was insured from day one. Just after his 5th birthday he got very ill, went off his food and lost a lot of weight. He ended up building vet fees of over £3000 at a referral hospital for a very rare condition and sadly passed away on 22nd November 2019.
Many people I speak to are often shocked that as a vet I insure my own pet. I guess that is easy enough to understand as people tend to think I can just get everything done for free because of my job.
Monty, my best mate, is a male neutered English Springer Spaniel, he has never had any health problems or treatments. Yet his insurance is still £600 a year and goes up every year-that’s fifty quid a month, not exactly cheap is it!
I am in a blessed position in that I can afford to insure him, which not everyone in society is! For me, it is about risk management. I know that because of the policy that he is on, whatever happens he will be covered for all of his vet fees because, like many people, I don’t have £5k burning a hole in my pocket ready for a rainy day.
If I am ever fortunate enough to have abundant wealth then I may reconsider, but for now my consideration is clear: peace of mind is given to me by having him insured.
Is insurance a false economy or worth the peace of mind?
To remove any element of doubt, the author is pro insurance but I fully understand the reasons that people may be anti insurance:
Maybe they were insured in the past but never needed to use it
Maybe they were insured and the insurance company didn’t pay out when they needed it
Maybe their policy wasn’t what they thought and didn’t cover their whole vet bill
Maybe they have weighed up the options and are happy to ‘take the chance’ of paying if and when they need to.
THERE IS NO RIGHT ANSWER! It is a personal choice.
Let me be clear, if you don’t have 2 pennies to rub together and you have to choose between insuring your pet and feeding your kids, feed the kids!
For me, knowing that I don’t have to dip into my savings and that I can just say yes to whatever treatments may be needed at any time. However, over the course of his life, it is likely that Monty may cost me in excess of £10000 in insurance premiums-especially as he gets older. So that is a LOT of money to part with without necessarily having to use it.
How much is peace of mind worth to you? Because ultimately, that is what a GOOD insurance policy is worth-knowing you can give your pet the best chance if they are poorly.
Some things to consider about insuranceThere are a lot of things that people need to consider when getting an insurance policy and we want to make sure you know what you are looking at.
What level do you need?
This is one of the most frustrating things with insurance. Not all insurance policies are created equal. If it is a cheap policy then it is likely that it won’t cover you for much.
We live in a world where there are levels of everything. If we use the car analogy, some policies are like a Ferrari and cover you for anything and everything but are very expensive. Then there is the other end of the spectrum, the car from the 1980’s that has been passed down through three generations of the family and is not very reliable and can’t be guaranteed to get you where you need to be. This represents the cheaper end of the insurance policy market.
Insurance is like that, the cheaper the policy the more risky it may be and the less you are likely to be covered for, whereas the more expensive may provide more than you need. It is all about risk management: how much risk are you happy with?
Stick or twist?
Unlike car insurance where it is relatively easy to shop around and you can still swap, car insurance will still cover you if you swap companies but your premiums may still be high. With pet insurance, it is slightly different in that there are a lot of barriers to people switching from one company to another. If your pet has ever had any mention on their medical records it may be that a new company won’t cover them for anything related to that issue. For instance, if a pet has had a skin infection many policies don’t cover them for anything to do with skin. Well that sucks as it is one of the most common issues with domestic pets, so it means that you either have to stay with the same company for life with ever increasing premiums or cancel your policy: this is one of the biggest reasons for people stopping insuring their pets. They are called pre existing conditions on your policy and will be readily available on your pets medical history at their vets.
Do you get off the hamster wheel?
Insurance is based on odds. What are the odds of something going wrong with your pet at certain different stages of their life and that thing costing the insurance company money. Shock horror, those odds increase as they get older, so that means the premium increases because it is more likely that you will make a claim as your pet gets older.
The big thing is that as insurance gets more and more expensive and people haven’t ever claimed from it, they sometimes don’t see the value in it.
For the most part, younger pets do stupid things that tend to cost a lot of money as a one off, such a break a leg which can in some cases cost thousands of pounds to fix. However, older animals tend to have more chronic issues (please note chronic means longer term condition, and it will likely last for the rest of your pets life NOT that it will kill them). Whilst these may not cost thousands as a one off, the costs soon build up if your pet needs a few hundred pounds of medication every month and regular vet checks and bloods tests.
The overriding principle is fairly simple: the older something gets, the more likely it is to break. One off costs may be less, but overall costs could be a lot higher in older pets compared you younger ones.
The reality is that ALL pets get sick at some point in their lives.
Nobody ever wants to ‘get it wrong’ when it comes to their pets, and being able to care for them when they get sick is right up at the top of that list of priorities.
I get it, money doesn’t grow on trees. And insurance isn’t cheap. Ultimately, with our pets it comes down to a few key questions and decisions:
Can I afford to pay a massive vet bill IF something goes wrong? Do I have the cash, can I borrow it or can I get my hands on it fast (without criminal activity) if needed.
Can I afford to insure my pet?
Do I know what the right policy is for me?
AM I COMFORTABLE WITH MY DECISION AND THE IMPLICATIONS OF IT FOR MY PET?
Ultimately, whatever you decide I hope it works for you, and I look forward to that utopian day when I never need to ask an owner about money again!