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Got Pets? You’ll Want to Read This.

Adopting my cats was, next to marrying Mike, the single action that has brought me the most happiness through my life. However, if you live in NYC and have pets, then you know that vet bills can be craaaazzzzyyyy expensive. Like, nutty expensive. Think $1000 to have teeth cleaned, $5,000 to $10,000 to have bladder stones removed, and hundreds for a general “wellness” yearly checkup. Yikes!

Well, I did my exhaustive research and found out how to avoid this. But first, some important stuff you should know…

pet-insurance

Our adorable rescue cats: Dinah (from Alice and Wonderland) & Oscar (from Oscar: Cat-About-Town)

The pet insurance you’re paying for may not pay out when you need it. Here’s how they’re screwing you:

I spent the better part of this morning on the phone with my pet insurance company, PetPlan, trying to get their “happiness coordinator” to give me a straight answer. He wasn’t doing a great job coordinating my happiness, let me tell you! He was programmed into saying “we ask for” instead of “we require”, which is supremely annoying.

Let me give you an example: He’s trained to keep repeating, “We ask for two years of previous medical history, and yearly wellness visits”, but what he really meant was “We won’t give you a red cent back from your claims if you didn’t give us proof of yearly medical visits and zero pre-existing conditions” coupled with “if you’re with us for 10 years, and on the 11th, you’re late on your pet’s yearly wellness exam, we’ll keep charging you your insurance costs, but don’t expect a red cent from us when you submit a claim.”

How was I to know this? Their sales people work on commission, so they certainly didn’t tell us. He says “It’s in the 8-page Terms & Conditions document that’s linked from your online account.” Now, nobody told me we have an online account, let alone that this was a requirement. Seems to me that it’s more than a bit unethical to deliberately leave out important “requirements” for coverage (especially when you’re required –but never told– to submit paperwork to them before  your pet gets sick), and let you pay their fees anyway.

Further, pet insurance companies draw all sorts of crazy connections for pre-existing conditions. You can expect that if your cat had a UTI, then gets cancer a decade later, that they’ll use the UTI to deny coverage somehow. No, really.

Getting insurance? Here are a few things to ask:

Look closely at what the plans covers, and what’s excluded. Check what conditions have to be met to get proper coverage. Do you have to pre-approve vet visits? Does it include congenital and hereditary conditions? How quickly will you get reimbursed? Are there limits to reimbursement? Can they drop your insurance if your pet gets a long-term illness? Look for reviews online and ask to see all the fine print.

Here are 4 steps to beat unfair pet insurance:

Many pet insurance companies require copies of several years of past medical history, including proof that your vet visits were scheduled at certain intervals. Remember: The tiniest medical hiccup your pet has had in the past, can, and will be, used against you in a claim as a “pre-existing condition”, even if it was a very minor and nonrecurring issue, or seemingly unrelated to your pet’s current condition.

Here’s how you can get actual  coverage (ie. reimbursements) from pet insurance companies:

1. Cancel your existing insurance if you haven’t been doing wellness exams like clockwork every 11 to 12 months, or if your pet has any pre-existing conditions they could find out about from your vet (and they will  ask while trying to get out of paying your claims).

2. Contact your potential new pet insurance company with your list of questions. And then make sure what you think you’re getting in the policy is actually in the fine print of their Terms and Conditions.  Sales reps are on commission, and their answers won’t count when you make an insurance claim, so be sure to verify the policy details in print. Look for the part about how much and what type of medical history you need to prove. Oh, and most importantly: definitely don’t let them know if your pet was ever sick. 

3. Start over with a new vet. Don’t disclose any pre-existing conditions. Take your pets to get a “wellness exam” every 11 months for as long as your desired insurance company’s terms and conditions say. (If the insurance rep says less time is fine, don’t believe it. Go by the letter of their T&C document. The sales reps won’t be around when you’re crying and paying your insurance-denied $20k vet bill.) If your pet gets sick, take him to your original vet to get fixed up.

4. Sign up with the new insurance company. Time will have passed, so re-verify and re-read their Terms. Remember not to disclose pre-existing conditions, and only tell them about the one vet you’ve been going to for wellness checkups. You can say an acquaintance gave you the pets two years ago, so they won’t ask for (ie. require) more history. Have then do an “underwriting” which lists what’s excluded, based on your actual pet.

The only affordable veterinarian clinic in NYC:

I called around to about twenty different vet clinics to research prices for this post. For a vet to do teeth cleanings, it costs about $500, buttttt then when you dig, there’s also a bunch of other mandatory charges that they don’t tell you unless you specifically ask, such as blood work, anesthesia, etc. It adds up to between $850 and $1100 per cat at almost all the vets I called.

One exception: I found a vet clinic that’s open 7 days a week and charges about 80% less than what other vets charge. They take donations to help stay afloat, and they give away free vet care to those who can’t afford it. The clinic is on 59th street near 1st ave, and is called The Humane Society, but that’s not to be confused with the giant Humane Society (HSUS) that you’ve heard of. This clinic has actually been around for longer than HSUS (over 100 years!) Anyhow, at this clinic, teeth cleanings are $150 and checkups are $40 (bloodwork is $75). Oh yeah, and they also have a no-kill shelter on premises, so while you’re waiting you can pick up a new friend.

It’s 9am. Do you know who’s operating on your pet?

Always ask the credentials of the vet who’s going to work on your pet. Are they an intern? How long have they been out of school? The Animal Medical Center on 62nd street has a lot of interns working there. I don’t know about you, but I want a vet with experience.

Science Diet pet food is one of the worst things you can feed your pet.

Science Diet pet food is horrible for your pet. Vets are instructed to sell it to you because it brings in huge profits (and, no doubt, perks — just like pharmaceutical companies give doctors for prescribing tons of their drugs, regardless of whether or not the patient needs it). Science Diet (owned by Colgate Palmolive) can only be purchased through your vet — another reason your vet wants you to use it. This stuff is just about the worst crap you can feed your pet (full of toxic fillers and slaughterhouse scraps), and from everything I’ve read and seen it simply does not work. What’s worse is that your pets get even more sick in the meantime. A better solution is to poke around on the internet and find out what natural remedies people have tried, and what’s worked for their pets. (For example, giving your pets Wysong PH- daily supplement will fix and keep them from getting urinary infections and bladder stones.)

The best stuff you can feed your pet:

95% of pet food is made from the most vile stuff on earth. Scraps that aren’t fit for human consumption. Read more about that here and here. If you want your pets to be healthy, feed them PetGuard Organic Vegan food, with a supplement. (Mix it with their normal food until they get used to it.) Cats and dogs also need Taurine to keep from going blind, which you can get from a number of supplements, like this one, which gives them the essential nutrients cats need specifically, and will make the food taste extra Yummy 🙂

pet-insurance

Ok, so no post involving cats would be complete without some feel-good warm and fuzzies. Check out this video taken at the shelter attached to the affordable vet clinic I talked about above (Humane Society of New York, on 59th St.):

Has your pet ever gotten sick? What tips have you learned?

2 comments
Christine Collie Rowland
Christine Collie Rowland

We've never had pet insurance for our cats. Seems with all the extra appointments required just to prove your cat is "healthy" and the not-cheap premium of almost $500. per year per cat, that it would be cheaper in the long run to not have pet insurance and take your chances. Plus the risk is greatly reduced if your cat is an indoor cat who is feed healthy premium food.

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