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Is pet insurance worth the upfront cash? - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Is pet insurance worth the upfront cash?

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

A lot of us own pets because of the joy they bring to our lives, but if your pet has ever gotten hurt or sick you also know how expensive those vet bills can get. 

Which got us thinking, is medical insurance for your pet worth the upfront cash? Investigative reporter Jennifer Costa spent hours researching the top companies for you. 

WCAX found out this is a pretty complicated topic with an overwhelming number of options. Plan to spend a lot of time on the phone before picking a policy. You may have heard pet insurance is a rip-off, so WCAX was skeptical going into this. But we found ways to protect your wallet.

Magnus is a goofy 15-month-old Great Dane. In August, this inquisitive pup's health took a scary turn.

"He had one of the worst cases of pneumonia that they'd seen. He had to stay in the puppy ICU for 48 hours in an oxygen cage," said Danie Leahy, dog owner. 

Magnus lost 20 pounds and his owners quickly learned how expensive emergency vet care can get. They took out a credit card to cover the $5,000 bill.

"We had been talking about getting pet insurance for the longest time and we were like of yeah we'll get, we'll get it, we'll get it. And after that we got it and it's already paid for itself," said Leahy.

New problems are covered, but Magnus' pre-existing conditions are not. That's why some pet owners think pet insurance is a rip-off. 

"I personally don't have it," said Samanth Bissonette, dog owner. 

"I'd rather just pay for it out of pocket and not have to deal with the monthly payments and the premiums," said Adam Conte, dog owner. 

Pet insurance has been around since the 1980s, but less than 3 percent of pet owners have it. 

To help you decide whether it's a good buy for your family, WCAX researched and called all the top insurers, Petplan, Trupanion, Healthy Paws, Petfirst. Embrace, Nationwide and Pets Best.

We quickly found not all pet policies are created equal. Shopping around can get confusing and the companies all like to bash their competition. 

"Pet insurances are really different. Just like in human medicine, you have to read the fine print as to what they cover and there's very specific things you should look for," said Dr. Garrett Levin, BEVS surgeon.  

Like broad coverage. Only a few insurers pay for wellness visits, while most will cover hereditary conditions, accidents, illnesses and injuries.

Watch for exceptions. Exam fees run $50 for an office visit to more than $100 for emergency care. WCAX found Trupanion and Healthy Paws do now cover this expense. A hidden cost to consider if your pet is a frequent flyer at the vet.

Check coverage limits. For most, unlimited coverage is standard. But Embrace and Petfirst cap annual payouts at $15,000 and $20,000 respectively. Not a big dealunless your pet comes down with a chronic costly condition. 

Understand your deductible. Annual deductibles are the most common. But Petfirst charges you a "per incident" deductible that resets every year. Trupanion charges per incident too, but you only pay the deductible for that condition once during the pet's life.  

"I thought it was really silly, but now I think it's really worthwhile," said Kira Schmiedl, dog owner. 

Experts say in most cases pet insurance will save you money.

Reporter Jennifer Costa: Should people shop around?

Levin: Absolutely. Ask questions. 

WCAX found it's easier to get answers when you call the companies directly. 

For a 2-year-old cat, monthly premiums ranged from $17 to $51. You could pay less if you chose a higher deductible or opted to pay more out of pocket.

After her ordeal, Leahy wanted maximum coverage including wellness protection. She asked her vet about each insurer, compared a half dozen policies for Great Danes, considered Magnus' frequent health needs and opted for a pricier plan.

"The last thing you want to do is make a decision about your pet based on money," said Leahy. 

 After research, we can't say whether this is a good insurance company and this is a bad one. Quotes for a cat varied by about $35 a month. The most expensive one didn't cover any more than the cheapest. Remember you can always adjust your premium or your deductible to fit your budget.

Before you call for a quote, check out "What's Not Covered?" to ensure you are picking the best policy for your pet:

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