Sunday, September 24, 2017

Is Pet Insurance Worth It?

Just about everyday on Facebook, I see a post somewhere asking if pet insurance is a good idea. In my personal experience, the answer is simple - Yes. Here's why.

Once upon a time we didn’t have pet insurance. Why? Well, we figured if one of our kitties had a serious illness, we would just pay for it. Then that happened. Sugar was diagnosed with mammary cancer. And we paid for it. Holy sh*t did we pay for it. To the tune of about $13,000 when all was said and done.

That’s when we got pet insurance. 

Of course I knew the mammary cancer wouldn’t be covered, but I still put Sugar on the policy along with our other three cats. It was May 2013 and the premium for all four was around $80 a month.

Just three months later, in August of that year, our then 12 year old cat, Chai, was diagnosed with small cell GI Lymphoma. Over the course of 18 months, before she died, she had exploratory surgery, endoscopies, ultra-sounds and was on expensive medication. It was all covered.

Less than a year later, in February 2014, our then 6 year old cat, Eve, was diagnosed with diabetes. She spent three days in the vet hospital because she was DKA (Diabetic Ketoacidosis). She was covered. Six months later, she was diagnosed with Pancreatitis and spent three days in the vet hospital, she was covered. In April 2014 she was diagnosed with asthma. Covered. In October 2015 diagnosed with IBD - yep, you guessed it, covered.

Eve is now on meds for diabetes. (Lantus insulin, $350 a bottle every 6 months), Flovent inhaler for asthma, ($400 every 2 months), and misc drugs for her IBD. All medications, test strips, testing meter, syringes, Aerokat, all are covered at 90%. She continues to need tests, bloodwork, and ultrasounds. It's all covered.

In May 2014, Sugar was rushed to the ER due to labored breathing. Ten days and $4000 worth of tests later, we had the diagnosis - lung cancer. She was covered. Unfortunately, we had to euthanize her then, but that was covered too.

In March 2016, at the young age of 2 years old, Max had osteomyelitis. Covered.

In September 2016, our then 13 year old cat, Little Bit, was diagnosed with IBD and kidney disease. She’s had ultrasounds, endoscopy and is on daily sub-q fluids. She takes meds for hypertension. Covered - all of it. 

Some people say, they’ll just take what they would pay in premiums and put it the bank for when their pet gets sick. Well, we’re paying around $90 a month for four cats, so in four years we would have saved less than $5,000. Our carrier has paid out over $40,000 in that time period. Clearly, we’re getting the better end of the bargain.

They have paid out over $20,000 just for Eve. And she’s only 11 years old with four chronic conditions. As long as we pay her monthly $23 premium, these conditions are covered for the remainder of her life.

So, yes, IMHO pet insurance is worth it. Which one? It depends. Some are better for chronic conditions. Some have more complicated pay-outs and different deductibles. Most don’t cover well-pet care. But really, that’s not what I'm worried about. I want pet insurance for the big stuff. The surgery that’s going to be $6,000. The treatment that’s going to be $10,000. The inhaler that costs $400 and lasts two months.

So why don’t more people get pet insurance? I don't know. Maybe they can’t afford it or they may they think it’s too expensive. Maybe, like me, they don’t realize how expensive it is when your pet has a serious illness. Or maybe they don’t think they’ll go the treatment route if their pet has a serious illness. It's a personal choice, of course, and it's your business whether you get insurance on your pets.

But if you've been thinking about it and just haven’t gotten around to it, here’s a word to the wise: Get around to it. Because no one in the pet insurance world covers pre-existing conditions. Once you have a diagnosis, you cannot get coverage for it. You can still cover your pet, for other illnesses and accidents, but you're on the hook for the pre-existing condition. And that can be very expensive.

Now do pet insurance companies try to get out of paying claims? Sometimes. I’ve had to appeal two claims in four years. I won both of them and they paid. 

Finally, remember this. You don’t get pet insurance because of the illness your pet has had or does have. You get it for the ones they might have. Hopefully, you get it when your pet is healthy. And yes, you’ll pay premiums and not use the insurance.

But when the day comes that you need it, you will thank your lucky stars that you have pet insurance. Because with all of the anguish that comes with having a pet with a serious illness, the one thing you won’t have to worry about is how you’re going to pay for it.

You’ll be covered.

Friday, September 8, 2017

The Power of the Paw

I'm a crazy cat lady, and in 2007 I found a website called Catster. It changed my life in the most wonderful way.

Last Monday, Ted Rheingold, the founder of Catster and Dogster died at the much too young age of 47. Although Ted was very ill with an aggressive cancer, it was still a terrible shock to learn of his death.

I told my husband that I felt like Walt Disney had died. And the comparison is appropriate. Ted was our Walt Disney. He created a fantasyland where we could interact socially as our dogs and cats. It was a magical place, and those of us who embraced it, loved it and spent many happy hours there.

A group of Catsters visiting HQ in 2009.

It's hard to describe the Catster experience - you just had to be there. Was it silly? Of course it was, we were play-acting as cats. As our cats, we sent friends requests, joined groups, had parties, played games, got married to other cats, and some of us even divorced other cats.

But there was a serious side to Catster. We shared practical medical and behavioral advice and we grieved together when a cat went to the Rainbow Bridge.

We became a community, sharing the good times and the bad times.

And most amazing is that, from the fantasy world that our "Top Dog" Ted created for us, real relationships were formed. Lifelong friendships were created and they continue today stronger than ever. Tomorrow I will walk with my team "Sugar's Trekkers for Ta-Tas" in the Avon Breast Cancer Walk. Our team would not exist without Catster, without Ted, because that's where we met.

Sugar's Trekkers for Ta-Tas at the Chicago Avon Breast Cancer Walk in 2016.

Last year, after our team walked in Chicago, we had a dinner that was attended by many Catsters. This was shortly after Ted's cancer diagnosis, and at the end of the dinner, we spontaneously decided to send some messages to Ted to let him know we were thinking about him. We wanted to thank him for bringing all of us together. So, we signed the paper tablecloth and I brought it back to San Francisco and mailed it to Ted.

What we didn't know, was at that point in time, Catster was not a good memory for Ted. But when he received our messages, the Catster magic once again began and Ted wrote in his Medium blog about it here.

Ted getting showered.
Being Catsters, we couldn't stop with just a few messages. So we did a "card shower" where over 100 cards and messages from Catsters and Dogsters all over the world were mailed to me. Along with Lori, Catster/Dogster's former Community Manager, I had the great privilege of delivering them to Ted in a pet carrier.

Ted was blown away. I'm not sure how long it took him to read all of the cards and letters, but I hope that after he did, he understand just how grateful we are for the lasting impact he made on our lives. It's a ripple effect and although the heyday of the Catster and Dogster websites is behind us, the community Ted created will live forever.

So in my best Catster parlance, I wish Ted a gentle journey and a soft landing at the Rainbow Bridge. As my angel kitty Sugar would say, "He is in the land of love and light now, where there is no pain and no cancer."

And to all who are grieving Ted's passing, who are struggling to rebuild their lives without a friend, a colleague, a brother, a son, a father, a husband, may the Power of the Paw be with you.