CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Our pets are family, but when they get sick it can be expensive to make them well.
That's why more people are turning to pet health insurance every year. In 2016, nearly two million of the 144 million pets in the US had insurance which is up 15 percent from the year before. Still, many people aren't sure whether pet health insurance is an investment they want to make.
Dr. Chris Brader estimates that 10 to 20 percent of his pet patients at Matthews Animal Clinic have insurance. He admits he might not have recommended pet insurance 10 years ago but now it seems many of the kinks have been worked out.
"Co-pays have come down, what they pay out has come up, deductibles are more reasonable. Overall the coverage is better and I see more people turning to it," Brader said.
Chuck and Cindy Williams are glad they had pet health insurance while their beloved dog, Bandit, was going through a long battle with cancer. Over several years, Bandit had surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
"We would have had his treatments anyway if we didn't have insurance but we would have had to dip well into our savings," Cindy Williams said.
In all, the couple thinks their pet insurance paid out approximately $30,000 of Bandit's treatments. In many cases, his vet bills were covered to 90 percent.
"We have top of the line insurance and you certainly don't have to get what we had to have some peace of mind, but this helped us to know that our pets would be taken care of no matter what," Chuck Williams said.
Dr. Brader says he would estimate roughly 50 percent of his pet patients and their owners would benefit from having some form of insurance. Like all insurance, it is a gamble. There are some similarities between human policies and pet policies.
Co-pays and deductibles vary depending on the plan for which you want to spring. Monthly payments average around $40. Most won't cover things like annual exams, heartworm, flea prevention and vaccines. However, they will cover most unexpected illnesses and surgeries.
"Do your research and look into what will be covered. What you will owe. What pre-existing conditions that may have already happened they might not cover," Brader said. "Also, research common ailments your particular breed might be known to encounter and check to see if those things are covered. If you have a Westie, they are prone to allergies, will it be covered?"
Now, many Fortune 500 companies are offering pet insurance as a work perk. A recent survey showed as many as half of the Fortune 500 companies are doing this.
Once you decide whether you will get health insurance for your pet, choosing which plan with which company is the next big challenge. There are dozens of companies out there.
Brader pointed us toward a consumer review website called PetInsuranceReview.com to compare plans and hear from those who are using those plans.
If you choose not to get pet insurance, Brader had two suggestions for pet care payment plans. There is a healthcare credit card called Care Credit which has a lower interest rate and gives you a limited time to pay off a pet insurance bill. He also suggests starting a pet health savings account, which would allow you to save up over time for an emergency and if you don't use the money on your pet, the money is still yours.