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Pet Insurance a Rapidly Growing Field

A study by the research group Packaged Facts showed that from 2003 to 2007, the number of insured pets (cats, dogs, and exotic animals) in the United States increased 56 percent. Worldwide in 2008 it was estimated that 2 million dogs were protected by some form of insurance policy. Cats trailed at 900,000 according to the American Pet Productions Association.

Advances in veterinary science make such procedures as hip replacements and kidney transplants as viable for four-legged family members as two. There have been significant strides forward in the veterinary treatment of cancers and the same kind of physical therapy that gets paralyzed humans back on their feet has also been proven to work with dogs and cats. Pet health-care plans can greatly defray the costs of these and other procedures, an increasingly necessary coverage option for animals who are seen as members of the family.

It is estimated that in 2010, although strapped by the ongoing recession, consumers will still spend $47.7 billion on their animal companions compared to $45.5 billion in 2009. These dollars go for food, supplies, and high-quality vet care, including visits to animal surgeons. Now, compare those numbers to the increased cost of vet services since 2000 — up 80.4 percent. Then, compare that to the increased cost of services in all other industries — just 28.1 percent. There’s no end in sight for that upward trend as newer and better treatment options and specialized veterinary medical equipment is developed.

Some of the biggest providers of pet insurance at this time are Veterinary Pet Insurance, Pethealth Inc., and PetFirst Healthcare. Plan options vary widely from minimal coverage for simple injuries to complex treatment policies that will cover such high-dollar items as chemotherapy or joint reconstruction. There are two important pre-qualification stipulations: the pet cannot have a pre-existing condition and must be less than 9 years of age.

Expect to pay monthly premiums in a wide ranging arc from as little to $10 a month to as much as $100. Expect the same on deductibles, which may be as low as $50 or as high as $500. Many policies cap lifetime benefits in a range of $1,000 to $14,000. Pet health-care discount plans are also an option, and are generally most helpful with expenses relative to preventative care. (Think vaccinations, check-ups, teeth cleanings and the like.)

Going on the current figures, only 3 percent of dog owners in the United States and just 1 percent of cat owners have bought coverage for their companions. There’s only one way for this industry to go, and that’s up. Meaning there will be more companies writing coverage and better coverage options available in coming years. Until some standardization kicks in across policies, try not to lock in to a lengthy period and examine competitive offerings regularly.

Remember, however, pre-existing conditions are completely out of the question. Your pets have not benefited from any kind of federal health care reform. The industry is counting on owners buying coverage early in an animal’s life and retaining the policy until the animal’s death. This means you will essentially be insuring a healthy dog or cat, but with the high cost of veterinary care, you’re protecting your pocket book and greatly increasing the range of care and treatment options available to your four-legged family member.

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