There are many reasons why a person might want to get a dog. Companionship is certainly a wonderful benefit of having a dog, as is the opportunity to bask in unconditional love. Another consideration for many dog owners is protection.
Even a small dog can provide the security of knowing no one is going to get within 10 feet of the house without everyone inside knowing about it. Certainly the loud and surprisingly intimidating bark that comes out of my own Black Lab has made a few folks hesitant to approach the door.
It’s in the nature of every dog to try and protect its pack, even if it doesn’t really have the size or aggressiveness to back up the threat. It’s also in the nature of every dog owner to want to protect their four-legged family member. A great way to do that is with pet insurance.
In this installment of our insurance review series, I’m focused on PetFirst Pet Insurance.
PetFirst Company Overview
The company was founded in 2004, by two friends in Indiana. One of the two had shelled out $3000 two years earlier to care for an ailing dog. When that same dog had to be put down in 2003, he set about finding a way to help others pay for sudden and unexpected pet health care expenses.
PetFirst Healthcare, LLC claims to be the fastest growing pet insurance company in North America.
Rather than being underwritten by another company, PetFirst is actually an authorized underwriter and administrator for American Alternative Insurance Corporation (AAIC), a provider of niche market insurance across the United States. AAIC is in turn a subsidiary of Munich Reinsurance Company, a major multinational insurance entity.
FOLLOW UP: PetFirst’s website contains the following text – “PetFirst Healthcare, LLC is a managing general agent authorized to underwrite and administer pet health insurance policies and claims on behalf of American Alternative Insurance Corporation (AAIC).” From this I inferred there was no underwriter. However, in a response to a customer complaint on the BBB website, a customer service representative makes reference to a policy holder’s underwriter changing to another underwriter. This evidently caused some confusion and resulted in a cancelled policy. Well, it’s confusing me, too! Now I’m not so sure who the underwriter really is.
For several years, PetFirst was available in Canada, but this ended March 1, 2017.
PetFirst Insurance Plan Options
PetFirst offers an accident and illness plan called Lifetime. The website showcases three basic prepackaged plans, Lifetime 5,000; Lifetime 10,000; and Lifetime 20,000. The number refers to the annual claim limit.
When you ask for a quote, you are automatically presented with the opportunity to customize the plan. It defaults to a selection of options that pretty much run right down the middle – none of the most expensive, or least expensive choices are selected – and gives you a price.
I was granted $10 in discounts in my first year, because I chose “Internet Purchase” from a selection of options labeled, “Which of the following apply to you?” Other boxes I could have ticked were:
- Corporate Employer Group Member
- Animal Care Employee (Vet Clinic or Animal Welfare Organization)
- Military Member
Varying discounts are available for each option. Adding additional pets can also save you money.
There is a 14-Day Money Back Guarantee, but that’s little more than a “buyer’s remorse” clause, given the 14-day waiting period for an illness claim. It would be very hard to assess the quality of the product in only two weeks.
Overview of their Most Comprehensive and Popular Plan
Based on the assumption that the default quote is the Lifetime 5,000 plan shown on another page (the site is a bit hard to follow), I chose this plan to represent the average. The site calls it out as the “Top Pick.”
Average Monthly Cost / Cost Range
As always, I have based my quotes on an entirely fictional Golden Retriever, age 4, living in the 90210 zip code. Unlike some other insurers, PetFirst didn’t seem concerned with the gender of my dog. (Whom I named Doog.)
The default plan gets you $5,000 in annual coverage with a $250 deductible, and an 80% reimbursement rate. The monthly premium is $43.95, except the first month, which is $33.95. (That’ll be the $10 discount mentioned above, presumably.)
Of course, if you don’t like those numbers, you can set the parameters as you see fit. For the ultimate protection, you can opt for $20,000 annually with a measly $50 deductible, and 90% reimbursement for a whopping $195.95 monthly. Add on the top tier of routine care benefits (covered in detail below), and you’re forking over $221.95 each month, or $2663.40 annually.
If you’d rather save a little, try a $1000 limit with a $500 deductible and only 70% reimbursement for $18.95 per month. Cheap, but also just this side of useless coverage.
- Congenital Conditions
- Breed-specific conditions
- Chronic Care
- Bilateral conditions
- Foreign body ingestion
- Periodontal disease
- Hereditary conditions
- Cruciate ligaments (12-month waiting period)
- Hip dysplasia
- Diagnostic tests
- Exam fees
- X-rays and ultrasounds
- Prescription medication
- Holistic care
- Acts of terrorism
- Pre-existing conditions
- Cosmetic/elective procedures (tail docking, ear cropping, etc.)
- Breeding or conditions related to breeding
- Anal gland expression or removal
- Special diets or other pet food
- Vitamins and mineral supplements
- Conditions occurring during a waiting period
- Grooming and grooming supplies
- Treatment of external parasites and preventable internal parasites (fleas, ticks, lice, heartworms, hookworms, roundworms, tapeworms, whipworms)
- Endontics and removal of deciduous teeth
- Diagnostic tests and treatments for excluded conditions
- Travel and time expenses
- Conditions resulting from coursing for sport or hunting, organized fighting, law enforcement or guarding, or racing
- Behavioral training
- Routine exams, tests, or screens
- Teeth cleaning or polishing
- Preventative treatment and diagnostics for conditions related to preventable parasites
- Spaying or neutering
- Diagnosis, management or correction of intervertebral disc regardless of cause during first 12 months of coverage
- Diagnosis, management or correction of cruciate ligament damage (ACL, MCL, PCL, and CCL) during first 12 months of coverage
- Diagnosis or treatment for organ transplants
- Conditions arising as a result of an act of war, insurrection, rebellion, revolution, invasion, civil war, illegal act, usurped power, nuclear incident, or chemical, biological or radiation contamination
Choose from $1000, $2000, $5000, $10,000, or $20,000.
Waiting Period For Payouts
Illness coverage begins 14 days after the start date. Accident coverage begins at midnight the day after enrolment.
Choose from $50, $100, $250, or $500 annually.
Spay / Neuter Requirements and Limitations
Whether or not your pet is already spayed/neutered does not affect coverage or premiums. Not covered by the plan, but some coverage is provided in the add-on general wellness package. (See below.)
Available Options / Add-on packages
Any plan can have a Routine Care Benefit package added on for an additional fee. The fee varies, depending on the insurance package selected.
There are three levels of care: Routine 125, Routine 250, and Routine 400. In this case, the number refers to the annual maximum. Coverage provided by each plan is as follows:
- Vet exams - $15
- Vaccinations - $25
- Prevention (flea/heartworm) & microchipping - $50
- Behavior training - $35
Starts at $7/mo.
Add-on to average sample plan detailed above: $9
- Vet exams - $25
- Vaccinations - $50
- Prevention (flea/heartworm) & microchipping - $60
- Behavior training - $50
- Routine maintenance (spay/neuter, teeth cleaning, full health screen) - $50
- Routine screens (fecal, FeLV/FIV) - $15
Starts at $13/mo.
Add-on to average sample plan detailed above: $17
- Vet exams - $35
- Vaccinations - $75
- Prevention (flea/heartworm) & microchipping - $100
- Behavior training - $75
- Routine maintenance (spay/neuter, teeth cleaning, full health screen) - $100
- Routine screens (fecal, FeLV/FIV) - $15
Starts at $19/mo.
Add-on to average sample plan detailed above: $24
Minimum age: 8 weeks
Maximum age: None (Technically, 20 is the highest age you can select online.)
Working dogs: Not excluded, but no coverage for illness or injury suffered on the job.
Breeding dogs: Not excluded, but no coverage for issues arising from any aspect of breeding.
Pre-existing conditions: Not covered, but coverage is not precluded.
Veterinary exam: Not required for enrolment.
Depending on the option you select, PetFirst will reimburse 70, 80, or 90% of the vet’s bill, minus exclusions. Claims can be made online in a pre-set up account, by fax, email, or standard mail.
To make a claim, fill out a claim form, and submit it along with the invoice and your pet’s medical record from the visit. The first claim requires the records for the previous 12 months.
You are free to visit any veterinarian, emergency clinic or specialist in the United States. There is no coverage when traveling to Canada.
What Sets PetFirst Insurance Apart from Other Insurers?
Owners of senior dogs may be happy to see that any dog of any age can get coverage. Of course, the economics of insuring a superannuated canine are suspect, and one should really think long and hard about paying huge premiums for a dog in its declining days.
Bargain hunters will appreciate the discounts offered for various reasons; I saw more possible discounts through PetFirst than with any other provider I reviewed. You can even earn gift cards to your favorite retailers by referring friends.
PetFirst highly touts the fact you don’t need to submit the results of a veterinary exam before being approved for coverage. And, they cover all breeds of dog (and cats!), whereas some insurers will reject aggressive or illness/injury-prone breeds.
A.M. Best Rating
A.M. Best provides ratings for insurance companies around the world. Their reports are accessible to the public, and they provide very educated opinions about the financial steadfastness of each company reviewed. This is a service they’ve provided since the end of the 19th Century. A good rating here should be seen as a very strong indicator of a reliable insurer.
PetFirst Healthcare, LLC is not rated by A.M. Best, however American Alternative Insurance Corporation is. AAIC received the following rating:
Rating: A+ (Superior)
An ‘A’ rating is the second highest score A.M. Best offers.
Better Business Bureau Rating
Since 1912, the BBB has provided a forum for customer satisfaction concerns for businesses across Canada and the United States. By providing bias-free ratings of companies, based on frequency and quality of response to complaints, the BBB creates a snapshot of how well a business interacts with its customers.
PetFirst Healthcare LLC is a BBB “Accredited Business,” indicative of a company committed to superior customer service. The BBB gives PetFirst an A+ rating, their highest score.
Customer Review Rating: 100% negative, 0% positive
Composite Score: 3.68 out of 5 stars
Summary of PetFirst Pros and Cons
- Customizable coverage
- No upper age limit
- Discount for multiple pets
- Online claim submission
- Routine care coverage available
- No initial exam required
- All breeds accepted
- Numerous discounts available
- No coverage for working/breeding dogs
- Limited access to support on weekends, especially Sundays, when there is no one to answer the phone
- Low ratings on BBB, Facebook, Yelp
- No option for direct pay to vet
- No coverage in Canada
Our Overall Impressions and Rating
PetFirst offers a wide array of plan options, ranging in price from very low to very, very high. While it is nice to be able to work with the numbers until you get the results you want, I question whether the extreme ends of the coverage spectrum are worth looking at. They don’t seem to make any financial sense to me.
The website was a little tricky to work with (I couldn’t get the quote page to work properly with Safari, my browser of choice) and seemed lacking in hard information. This was the only site I saw that did not offer the chance to view a sample policy, and finding a complete list of exclusions was much easier than finding the inclusions. I also noted this was the only provider I reviewed that made no claims as to how long it took to process a submission.
On the positive side, the plan does seem to be fairly inclusive, with nothing startling in either the list of inclusions, or the list of exclusions. I did note that this insurer does explicitly state they cover injuries and illnesses caused by acts of terrorism. An unlikely source for a claim, but certainly not impossible.
The complaints I’ve read about rising premiums, denied claims, and difficulty in reaching customer service worry me a bit. All insurance providers suffer from negative reviews, mostly because people seem more likely to go out of their way to issue a negative comment than a positive one. However, aside from the usual “this place sucks” reviews from people who clearly didn’t understand their policy, there were many reviewers who were simply frustrated with a lack of help from the reps. The quantity of poor reviews is hard to ignore, especially in light of the many glowing reviews found on PetFirst’s own website.
Although I did not have to deal with PetFirst directly myself, I did come away from my research with mixed opinions. While the coverage seems adequate, very little about the website did anything to instill confidence in me as a (fake) potential customer. I came away with the impression that this was an average insurance provider trying to pass itself off as a major player with a superior product.
The low initial premiums available on some plans for younger dogs may appeal to budget-conscious pet owners, and some fortunate customers may be perfectly satisfied with PetFirst. However, I can’t help but feel there are better options out there for your money. I won’t sound the alarm, but I won’t recommend this insurance provider, either.
Want more? Read our review of Healthy Paws here.
Jim lives east of Toronto, where he writes and designs marketing material for small businesses. He can be reached at [email protected]"
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