Pet Health Insurance Calculations – Whole Dog Journal


It’s at this time of the year that my dog Otto’s health insurance company sends out a renewal letter. And, of course, the older he gets, the more the annual premium goes up.

It only makes sense. He just turned 14 years old. His healthcare costs have increased. In addition to twice-annual well-dog visits, he gets an annual chest x-ray and abdominal ultrasound; he’s had benign growths removed from his liver, and had (a few years ago) a nearly symptom-free case of pneumonia, so we monitor abdomen and organs (for abnormal masses) and his lungs (to make sure they are clear of excess fluid). Plus, I give him a very expensive daily pain-relief medication for his osteoarthritis; it’s metabolized in a way that stresses the liver less than other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, so it supposedly helps with his slightly compromised liver function. (It works, so I’m not messing with it, no matter its cost!)

But, yikes! Today, I had to do some math to see if the increasingly high cost was still worth it. I looked at what I spent last year as a guide:

Total cost of Otto’s vet bills in 2021:           $3,025.00

What I actually paid:

Total cost of Otto’s insurance premiums in 2021: $2,557.37
Deductible: $250.00
10% of costs (insurance reimbursed me for 90%): $302.50
Total cost (so far*) in 2021:   $3,109.87

*This includes the cost of his daily medication and the premiums for the entire year, and presumes we have no more vet visits through the end of the year.

If we make no more visits to the vet this year, I will have paid $84.87 more with insurance than if he had not been insured. But, as everyone knows, just one emergency vet visit, with, say, just one blood test and a prescribed medicine or two, can easily cost $500 or more. If Otto has to go to the vet once more this year for even something quite minor, the insurance will have been worth the cost.

Pet Health Insurance Calculations
Otto takes a very expensive pain reliever for his arthritis, and it works so well for him that I’m loathe to change it. Insurance helps with the cost.

But the peace of mind of knowing that, no matter the cost, I could likely afford 10% of nearly any bill that he might incur… that’s priceless.

The fact is, knock wood, 2021 was one of our most event-free years in a while. The insurance paid off in a major way in the previous two years, when he needed more medical care.

In 2020, Otto incurred $4083.17 worth of veterinary care (including two major dental procedures). I spent $2,252.27 on his insurance premiums, $250 on the deductible, and paid just $408.32 for all those vet bills, because the insurance reimbursed me for 90%. My total was $2,910.59; insurance saved me more than $1,000.

2019 was the year when he had his liver surgery, with two nights spent at the specialty hospital where he had surgery. His total veterinary expenditures that year came to $7,152.45. I spent $1,745.27 on his insurance premiums, $250 for the deductible, and $715.30 for the vet bills (the insurance reimbursed me for 90%) for a total of $2,711.57. Having him insured saved me more than $4,400 that year.

Funny/not funny: Because of the rising price of his insurance premium each year, in 2021, even though he received less medical care than in either of the two previous years, I’ve spent more than in either of those years.

But if Otto hadn’t had insurance in either of those years, I might still be paying off credit card bills!

The increase in the annual premium has gone up steeply; in 2018, the monthly premium for Otto’s coverage was a full $100 less than I’ll be paying in 2022. The difference is more than what I was paying for my younger dog’s coverage.

Yes, I just used the past tense. Despite what I’ve just said about the clear benefit of having Otto insured, two years ago, I actually stopped paying for Woody’s health insurance. (This added to the cost of Otto’s coverage, as I had been getting a multiple-pet discount of 5% prior to cancelling Woody’s coverage.)

Pet Health Insurance Calculations
Woody’s in the prime of his life and quite healthy. I hope to be able to insure him again when I’m not paying so much for Otto’s insurance.

I’m taking a calculated risk with this tactic. I first bought health insurance for Woody when he was just a pup, and it was a good darn thing. He was an accident-prone adolescent, and I’ve lost track of exactly how many emergency vet visits he had in his first three years (I can think of five off the top of my head, though I think there must have been more). But after he turned about 3 ½, his medical visits reduced sharply (so far! knock wood!). His annual well-dog visit is pretty minimal, and he hasn’t needed a dental yet.

If I had been paying insurance premiums at the current rates for both dogs over the past three years, it would have tipped the balance; I would have been paying more for the insurance than what the two of them have incurred in costs. But, like I said, it’s been a calculated risk. If Woody had suffered from bloat, a torn ACL, or some other major health problem, then I would have been better off with insurance for both dogs.

When Otto dies, I’ll for sure buy health insurance for Woody again; he’s getting to the age that he’ll need a dental and should start having more tests at his annual vet visits.

As much of a fan if pet health insurance as I am, I can’t imagine affording health insurance if I had three or more pets; even with the multiple-pet discounts, it would add up to a lot. At that point, I’m guessing that most people would be better off saving money each month in an account dedicated for direct health care costs.

What accommodations have you made concerning health insurance for your dogs? Has it been worth it? Not worth it?





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