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Most Americans own a pet but can't afford to pay their $800 medical bill

AJ Horch
Most Americans own a pet but can't afford to pay their $800 medical bill

Nearly 70% of U.S. households own a pet, according to the American Pet Products Association, and most pet owners enjoy lavishing their loyal companions with products and services to give them a better life. Overall spending in the U.S. pet industry is increasing at about 4% a year, up from $66.75 billion in 2016 to nearly $70 billion a year today.

Yet as likely as it is that spending will continue to increase, it is also likely that 1 in 3 of these pets will need emergency veterinary treatment within any given year.

Unfortunately, emergency treatment oftentimes runs upward of $1,000 and sometimes much more. And for many pet owners, the urgency is unexpected. Tara Falcone, founder of ReisUP, recalls how her Labrador retriever, Ruger, racked up almost $25,000 in medical expenses over four years — first, when he tore both his ACLs while chasing deer in the backyard, then after he developed a rare form of bone cancer and needed to have part of his jaw removed.

According to Petplan, a Philadelphia-based pet insurance company, the average cost of an unexpected visit to the veterinarian can cost anywhere from $800 to $1,500. This can be a heavy burden for most Americans, who, according to the 2018 Report on the Economic Well-being of U.S. Households, would not be able to cover an unexpected cost as high as $800. Faced with an unexpected expense of just $400, 27% of adults would have to borrow or sell something; 12% would be not be able to cover the expense at all.

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According to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association, close to 2.16 million pets were insured in the United States in 2018, an increase of 18% over the previous year. Accident and Illness plans continue to be the main driver in the pet health insurance market. In the U.S., 98% of insured pets were covered either through an Accident and Illness plan or through an Insurance with Embedded Wellness plan. The remaining 2% of insured pets were covered through an Accident Only plan, says NAPHIA.

Studies have found that premiums are lowest when pets are young. The average age of insured dogs in 2018 was 4.58 years, and the average age of insured cats was 5.51 years, says the NAPHIA.

For Falcone, who is also a certified financial planner, the costs added up quickly. But she claimed that nearly 90% of Ruger's $25,000 vet bill has been reimbursed, thanks to pet insurance.

While rates vary based on age, breed and location, Falcone said that by budgeting $40 a month toward pet insurance, she was able to afford Ruger's treatments.

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