Rebecca Shuster never wanted to lose Hope over money.
That’s why the Vaughan, Ont. woman has paid more than $30,000 in pet insurance premiums for Hope, her 13-year-old Shih-poo and her other 11-year-old dog since they were puppies.
“I thought I was buying the best safety net,” Shuster told CBC Toronto. “We wanted insurance so that money wouldn’t be a deciding factor in the health care that we provide.”
Now Shuster says she feels abandoned by Petsecure after the insurer told her that next year it’s lowering its coverage amount on claims for Hope by 30 per cent — but expects Shuster to continue paying the same $155 a month premium and $500 annual deductible.
In a letter, Petsecure told Shuster the change was the result of a review the company does for all customers’ claim activity; and that based on that review, the amount the insurer will reimburse for vet bills for Hope will go from 80 to 50 per cent on Jan. 1, 2020.
So Shuster’s share of future claims will more than double.
“We signed up with them 13 years ago so that when it came to the end we could at least have the comfort in knowing we tried everything,” she said. “Now maybe we’re not able to try everything.”
Hope needs daily medication for her diabetes, and the Shih-poo has a partially blocked gallbladder that could rupture and require emergency surgery. The gallbladder issue was one of many problems that Hope faced in July when Shuster rushed the dog to Toronto Veterinary Emergency Hospital for treatment.
The cost of a few days’ treatment there is why Shuster thinks Petsecure dropped its coverage amount.
Making changes to coverage is included in Petsecure’s policy, but Shuster says she didn’t know about it, and believes the insurer should have pointed it out.
“I think that the government should step in and have these insurance companies tell people exactly what’s in the wording, and what they’ll cover, and what they’re allowed to do,” she said.
Pet insurance considered property insurance
Pet insurance is considered property and casualty insurance in Ontario and is subject to the Insurance Act, according to the Financial Services Regulatory Authority (FSRA).
The provincial regulator told CBC Toronto it advises “consumers with complaints to attempt to resolve complaints directly with their insurance company, which is required to have a formal complaint process.”
FSRA doesn’t “assist with contractual matters or claim disputes.”
In a statement Petline Insurance, the parent company of Petsecure, said “we do not change our policies based on the age or health diagnoses of pets.”
Instead the company told CBC Toronto it reviews policies to ensure it’s “accurately managing the payment of claims,” and those reviews result in a change in the percentage of coverage — some higher and some lower — for approximately two per cent of its customers.
“In this case, the two-year history of Hope resulted in an adjustment to the percentage we co-pay,” said the insurance company.
Petline also noted a past change to Hope’s coverage, which then bounced back to 80 per cent. Shuster didn’t remember it, but found a letter from eight years ago stating her coverage would return to 80 per cent from 70 per cent.
At the time, Shuster argues, a 10 per cent change would have been “pennies” because Hope was a healthy five-year-old dog.
“If we had known that this was going to happen down the line we probably wouldn’t have gotten insurance and would have tried to just put money aside,” Shuster told CBC Toronto.
Read the fine print, animal law lawyer says
Putting money aside is one option a Toronto animal law lawyer says pet owners should consider before choosing whether or not to get insurance — or what insurance to get.
“[There’re] just so many different policies available, so it’s not just one type of insurance that fits all,” said Suzana Gartner. “It’s very important to understand the policy and do the due diligence.”
That’s something a Winnipeg dog owner says she learned the hard way.
Jacqueline Armour got Petsecure insurance for her dog Bobby when he was a puppy in 2005. Armour says she had no problems with Petsecure until after Bobby got sick. He was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease at 10 years old.
The disease, which causes a hormone imbalance, requires regular medication and blood tests, and about a year into treatment Armour says Petsecure dropped coverage on Bobby’s claims from 80 to 50 per cent.
“I was totally broken because my whole purpose of having pet insurance was to have the coverage when I needed it,” said Armour.
Despite the reduced coverage, Armour continued to pay for Bobby’s treatment until he died in Sept. 2018.
Now Armour has a pair of year-old puppies. She still got them insurance, but with a different company that doesn’t change claim coverage levels.
“I specifically was smart enough this time to ask my potential insurers if they have such a policy and the company I’m with now does not,” Armour told CBC Toronto.