It’s a good thing that dogs are such loving and wonderful companions, because they sure can be expensive.
Food is probably the most significant regular expense most dog owners face (particularly for those of us who own big dogs), but grooming, training, and boarding can also stretch your budget to the breaking point.
Moreover, a single trip to the vet can cost thousands of dollars if your dog becomes seriously ill or injured. This can leave you in a very tough spot if you don’t have a ton of money stashed somewhere or an empty credit card laying around. You may even have to, in extreme cases, (and I hate having to say this) have your dog euthanized if you can’t afford the necessary treatment.
But thankfully, there are a number of pet insurance plans and veterinary discount programs available, which may help you cover unexpected veterinary bills. These plans vary a good bit, and some are more helpful than others.
Pet Assure is one of the most popular, so we’ll take a closer look at the plans, benefits, and drawbacks the program provides.
Pet Assure is a fairly straightforward program: You pay a small monthly fee in exchange for discounted veterinary services. This means that Pet Assure is not an insurance plan; it’s a discount services program.
This means that rather than paying monthly premiums to an insurance company, who will then reimburse you for some portion of your expenses, Pet Assure requires you to pay for a “membership fee,” in exchange for reduced-price services.
This is how it works:
That’s the gist of the program. Some additional important details include:
Pet Assure doesn’t explicitly state that they service the entire US (nor is there any easy way to verify that they do), but it appears that they cover most metropolitan areas. At any rate, you can only use Pet Assure at participating vets, so it is a good idea to peruse the participating vets in your area before signing up.
Pet Assure does provide a convenient way to invite non-participating vets to join the program, but there’s no guarantee that a given vet will decide to do so.
Customer reviews for Pet Assure are pretty mixed. Some owners rave about the program, while others have found that it didn’t work well for their circumstances.
However, after checking out tons of reviews in several different locations, we came away with the general impression that most owners who enrolled were happy with their decision.
Those owners who had a positive experience with the plan often cited the following reasons for liking Pet Assure:
On the other hand, owners who did not like the program primarily complained about two things:
A handful of customers also reported service problems, such as having difficulty obtaining a refund for the money-back guarantee. However, the vast majority of the reviews who mentioned the Pet Assure customer service staff spoke glowingly about them.
Additionally, Pet Assure representatives responded courteously to customer comments on several different platforms and review sites.
We’ve discussed some of the major differences between Pet Assure and typical pet insurance plans, such as the pre-existing condition issue (most insurance policies will not cover diseases or injuries that your dog already has) and the need to file claims and seek reimbursement after paying the bill (you’ll have to pay the full cost of treatment up front).
Most insurance plans require that you meet a deductible before they’ll start paying anything and waiting periods are pretty standard.
This effectively means that if you went to the vet and found out your dog needs an expensive treatment, you could go home, sign up for Pet Assure, return once you receive your membership card, and enjoy a 25% discount. You can’t do that with insurance — your dog would have a pre-existing condition, which would not be covered.
However, there is another big difference to consider.
Pet insurances typically cost a bit more than most Pet Assure plans, but most cover a larger portion of your bill than Pet Assure does. For example, at least one pet insurance plan (the Nationwide Whole Pet with Wellness Plan) pays for roughly 90% of covered services. That could be a lifesaver if you end up staring at a five-digit vet bill.
So, while you’ll have to pay a little more for most insurance plans than you will for a Pet Assure plan, you stand to save much more money in the long run – assuming, of course, that your dog’s needs are covered by the plan.
For example, let’s say you have a 9-year-old golden retriever in need of total hip replacement surgery. Poor gal probably has hip dysplasia.
This kind of surgery is going to run you about $6,000(!). Upon hearing this news, you could immediately go home and sign up for a Pet Assure program on a per-month basis, for just around $10-$20 (depending on your location and the specific plan you chose).
The surgery is still going to cost a fortune, but you’ll save $1500 or so thanks to the 25% discount (but you’ll also need to subtract the $10 or $20 you spent on the membership fee).
By contrast, the Nationwide Insurance Major Medical Plan costs about $50 a month ($600 per year), and there is a $250 deductible. For this, you’ll be reimbursed about 36% of the cost — approximately $2,000 once you subtract the deductible. If you subtract the $600 you spent on premiums for the year, that means you’ll save about $1,400.
As you can see, in this case, the savings are roughly equivalent, but with a pet insurance program, you’ll be forced to pay more each month in premiums, and you’ll also have to pay for the full cost of the hip replacement surgery up front and wait for a reimbursement check.
There are some situations in which Pet Assure is clearly the better option.
For example, the Nationwide Insurance Program discussed above includes a $250 deductible — you’ll have to pay this much before the insurance kicks in. So, if you are just taking your dog in for relatively simple services (such as vaccinations), you probably won’t save any money from the insurance plan.
By contrast, if you enroll in the Pet Assure plan, you would receive a $50 discount right off the bat (assuming a $250 bill). So, all said and done, Pet Assure would clearly be beneficial in this kind of circumstance.
Pet Assure definitely seems like a good idea for some dogs and owners, but it is not right for everyone.
We’ll look at a few hypothetical examples in a minute, but first, there is one thing that everyone should do before considering this plan: Search the list of participating vets in your area.
This is obviously important for those who already have a vet they like, but it’s also important for brand-new owners who’ve yet to develop a relationship with one. You’ll still want to find a vet that is conveniently located and affordable, so do a little homework on a few of the participating vets in your area.
Once you determine that the plan includes at least one vet that seems like a good fit for you (and you’ve called to confirm that they’re accepting new patients, and that they’re still participating in the program, etc.), you can start thinking about the dollars and cents of it all.
What about a healthier dog? What if you have a two-year-old Yorkie that doesn’t require much veterinary care at all? He’ll still need an annual check-up, and maybe he needs a quick visit because he experiences a bout of tummy trouble at some point.
The costs for this type of care will certainly vary from one vet and location to the next, but your total bill probably won’t exceed $200 (some owners may pay only half that much for similar treatments).
Pet insurance probably won’t help at all in such cases – this type of visit probably won’t exceed your deductible, so you’ll be footing the entire bill.
Pet Assure, on the other hand, would be pretty valuable in such cases.
Just sign up for the program before you head into the vet (or while twiddling your thumbs in the waiting room), and you’ll get an immediate 25% discount. Taking into account the amount you’ll spend to enroll in Pet Assure, you’ll save about $30. That’s not going to pay off your credit card bill, but it’s found money.
You could even cancel your plan afterward, if you like.
The takeaway from all this is that the more money you think you’ll spend on vet bills, the more beneficial Pet Assure is. Technically, the break-even point will happen with vet bills totaling $500 a year (give or take). If you spend more than this on your yearly vet bills, then Pet Assure makes good financial sense.
Ultimately, we’d break things down as follows:
If your dog is generally healthy, and most of her vet visits are likely to be of a minor nature (checkups, vaccinations, the odd skin problem or intestinal issue), you’ll probably be best served by signing up for a Pet Assure plan. Just sign up when you are heading in and cancel after the visit, if you like.
Pet Assure offers much more freedom than traditional insurance plans do, and it will usually be more affordable to pay for the membership fees (and you can cancel these at any time). Just be sure that you research the participating vets in your area.
If you are worried that your dog is going to suffer from serious (expensive) health problems — such as hip dysplasia, spine issues or diabetes – a good pet health insurance plan will probably cover a more significant portion of the costs. Just make sure to obtain the insurance policy before your dog gets sick.
Pet insurance plans may not provide the flexibility that a Pet Assure plan does, and you’ll likely pay more for it on a monthly basis, but most will provide greater savings, particularly if your dog needs complicated and expensive vet services.
At the end of the day, you’ll just need to dig in and start comparing the amount you’d spend on the plan with the amount you think you’d spend on veterinary care. Factor in whatever peace of mind the plan will provide you, and you’ve got your answer.
Ben is a proud dog owner and lifelong environmental educator who writes about animals, outdoor recreation, science, and environmental issues. He lives with his beautiful wife and spoiled-rotten Rottweiler JB in Atlanta, Georgia. Read more by Ben at FootstepsInTheForest.com.