|Medical insurance for your pet
Another major competitor Petshealth Care Plan (previously known as Petshealth Insurance) eschews age until a dog reaches 13 years after which they qualify for just the accidents-only plan.
At that point, both companies refuse coverage for newcomers. Count on some companies to consider breed as well -- larger dogs such as boxers, bulldogs, Great Danes and Irish wolfhounds cost more, if they can even get insurance -- for the most part Chinese Shar-Peis are restricted to accident-only coverage. And rest assured these companies don't hesitate to pull vet records if your first claim rolls in too fast.
"We have many owners that get a diagnosis, take out insurance without mentioning the condition, and try to bill us for the treatment. Then they're surprised when we won't cover it," says Stephens. "Would you wreck your car, buy auto insurance and try to claim the damage against the new policy? That is the only area of contention we ever really have."
Still, VPI's renewal rate pushes 72-73 percent a year, with more than 392,000 policies currently in force.
According to a recent American Animal Hospital Association survey, 1 percent of pet owners carry this insurance, with the average premium costs hovering at $141 each year. Of course, price ranges swing from $30 at the low end to $678 annually, depending on the options you choose. The right answer lies in your risk tolerance and ZIP code.
"If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't go with a fixed fee schedule," offers Michelle Cooper, a Westchester, N.Y., owner of a black Labrador mix. "The 80 percent payback works out better because I live in a more expensive area."
Stephanie Stephens, too, sucked in her breath at her first veterinary bill after she moved from Denver to Los Angeles with five cats who became ill in August 1999. The group exam revealed her smallest baby had a tumor in her chest, so Stephanie coughed up $3,500 for surgery.
Two months later, a $700 MRI revealed the tumor had returned. Stephanie chose euthanasia, and quickly bought pet insurance with a special cancer coverage option for her two youngest cats. Her policy totals $408, payable in monthly chunks.
"I only made $35,000 a year at the time," she says. "It would bankrupt me to go through another surgery."
The coverage dilemma: What's good for the vet isn't
always sensible for pet owners.
Susan McCullough, author of Housetraining for Dummies, passed on coverage after she decided the fine print meant she'd get relatively little bang for her bucks.