Insurance not just for humans - article

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Posted by GoatWorld on September 17, 2002 at 19:08:26:

PHOENIX -- Baxter wasn't happy.

He put up with the doctor's probing fingers and various indignities without too much fuss, but repeatedly rolled his limpid brown eyes at his caretaker.

"Please," he pleaded silently, "can we go home now?"

Although Baxter had some minor allergies and a small cyst on the back of his neck, the 78-pound bundle of energy was proclaimed healthy. And despite some initial nervousness, he had made friends with the doctor, planting a big, sloppy kiss on his chin.

The expense wasn't too bad this trip, but Baxter's caretaker, Barbara Orr, was glad she had insurance. It paid almost half of the $65 visit.

And over the course of Baxter's life, insurance has helped pay for vaccinations, teeth cleanings and treatment for ear infections and an injured paw -- "just normal dog stuff," Orr says.

Insurance for pets has become increasingly popular since its introduction in the United States a little more than 20 years ago.

For good reason: Like medical expenses for humans, veterinary costs have soared as procedures have become ever more sophisticated.

It's not unusual to find veterinarians who specialize in ophthalmology, orthopedics or neurology. These days, geriatric care, laser surgery and chemotherapy are standard fare for pets.

And while every advance in veterinary science is good news for pet owners, new procedures often come with a hefty price tag.

That's where insurance comes in.

"We cover over 6,400 medical conditions, everything from cancer to kidney transplants," says Michelle Desai, spokeswoman for Veterinary Pet Insurance of Brea, Calif., the nation's oldest and largest provider of pet insurance.

Even acupuncture is covered, as long as it's part of prescribed treatment and is performed by a licensed veterinarian.

'Economic euthanasia'

Veterinarian Jack Stephens started VPI in 1982 because he was disturbed that clients sometimes had to have their pets put down because they couldn't afford needed treatment.

"He created the company to eliminate what he called economic euthanasia," Desai says.

VPI sold 6,000 policies in its first year. Today more than 200,000 policies are in force, and by 2004 Stephens expects the sales of pet insurance to top $100 million for his company alone.

Orr bought her first VPI policy about 10 years ago for her old English sheepdog, Alfie.

"It really came in handy when he had to have surgery," she says. "Insurance paid for at least half of it."

VPI insures everything from dogs and cats to rabbits, birds, hamsters, potbellied pigs, ferrets, goats and reptiles, Desai says. For smaller animals such as mice and gerbils, premiums are as low as $7 a month.

Premiums for dogs and cats vary depending on the age of the animal and the type of coverage desired, but range from $8 up to $28 a month.

Annual benefit maximums range from $7,000 to $14,000.

Because the patient pays up front and gets reimbursed later under a VPI policy, it can be used at any veterinarian's office in the world.

2002 The Olympian

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