Top Dog Tips - Pet Health InsuranceGood morning readers! Hopefully you all enjoyed my column last week about raw food diets and the changes I'm making to my dog's diet right now. It's great to hear your feedback and learn about what has or has not worked with your pack. As always, I welcome your input and look forward to reading your comments, questions, tips, and tricks.

This week I had the opportunity to chat with Justin Lyons, National Sales Director at FIGO Pet Insurance for dogs and cats.

Like most of you, I've been following the growing trend in pet insurance and really wanted to figure out what it was all about. I've also been reading up on FIGO and, to me, it seems that they offer a lot of additional services that set them apart from the rest of the pet insurance pack.

Before my talk with Justin I didn't realize just how long pet insurance has been around. I've only been hearing about it for the last 5 or 6 years, but it's actually been an option for pet parents since 1980. More than 35 years ago, the first pet insurance was offered by BPI, which has now been bought out by Nationwide.

INFOGRAPHIC: 19 Tips to Pick the Best Pet Insurance Plan

Justin also informed me that less than 1% of the pets in North America are insured. The pet insurance industry has seen a growth of about 18% a year for the last couple of years, and still only 1% of the pets in North America are insured. That's insane! Pet insurance is already a $700 million dollar industry, so imagine the growth possibilities!

Just so you know, my pets are not part of that 1%. That's part of the reason why I've been so interested in the pet insurance industry lately. As you know, we have had boxers for many years and they are not the healthiest breed. We've had our fair share of vet visits, and with those visits have come some astronomical vet bills.

Pet Health Insurance
Photo: FIGO Pet Insurance

Why FIGO? Well…

Years ago, company founder Rusty Sproat, who is also the CEO and president of the company, learned about pet insurance through a friend of his that had acquired it for his dogs. After an in-depth conversation, Sproat did a little research. He quickly realized that all pet insurance companies looked a lot alike. Aside from a few slight policy variations, they offered the same options and even their websites looked similar.

Sproat wanted to offer consumers something different, and that’s why FIGO Pet Insurance stands out from the crowd. FIGO is unique in the sense that they are a technology company in addition to a pet insurance company. FIGO got its start in Chicago’s premier technology facility 1871. The membership only facility was created to cultivate and grow ideas for technology based businesses.

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At 1871 mentors from technology giants like Microsoft would come in and speak with members. It was an amazing opportunity. Sproat already knew he wanted to offer a great product, website, mobile experience, and anything else that he could to meet his customers’ pet insurance needs while also making the entire experience user friendly. The opportunities at 1871 helped him reach that goal.

When I asked Justin about FIGO, he described the company as a lifestyle brand. The website is easy to use and consumer friendly. I checked it out myself, and although FIGO pet insurance isn’t available in Maine just yet, I used some fake information to see how quickly I could get a quote. It only took me about 6 minutes from the time I began until I had a quote, and I am certainly not the most technologically advanced person.

But what I really wanted to know from Justin was why pet parents should even consider buying pet insurance. I mean, I know all pets get sick at one time or another, but is it really worth spending the money on insurance plus paying copays and deductibles?

He explained it really well, and I can’t think of a better way to explain it to you than to regurgitate what he said to me. FIGO’s average insurance policy costs about $30 a month. Even if you never file a claim, is it worth it to you to spend $30/month for your dog’s perfect health? Absolutely! I’ve never had a dog that has never gotten sick or needed some kind of emergency care, and all the dogs I know have either been sick or needed some kind of emergency care at some point. Odds are that yours will too.

So now let me ask you this. If you were to spend $30 every month on pet health insurance and your dog had a major medical emergency, including a $200-$500 copay would it be worth it to be able to give your dog the best care possible? My answer? Absolutely! And not only does pet insurance protect you from these (sometimes astronomical) emergency care costs, but FIGO even lets you obtain services at any vet you want.

That’s one of their biggest differences from other pet insurance companies. They have no restrictions on the vets that you can use. You don’t have to select a vet that is in their network, and if you choose an alternative healing method, like holistic healing, they'll still cover it as long as your vet is licensed. They even cover specialists! They allow pet parents to choose any licensed veterinarian in Canada, Puerto Rico, or the United States.

I couldn't believe it. To me, that option alone would make my decision. We've dealt with Chloe's heart condition for almost a year now, and to have the piece of mind to know that we could afford to bring her to a cardiac specialist would have been amazing. We struggled to decide if we should take her or not, but the closest specialist to us is more than 3 hours away. Not only would we have had to pay for the exam fees and treatment, but we would have also had to pay travel costs and stay in a hotel for at least one night.

If we had coverage from FIGO back then, we wouldn't have had to question it at all. Thankfully our amazing veterinarian was able to come up with a treatment plan for Chloe after consulting with specialists over the phone, but not every pet parent is lucky enough to have the outstanding veterinary care that we do.

As you may have gathered from last week's column about raw food diets, I am also interested in alternative treatments for my pets, but they too are very expensive. It would certainly be nice to have the option of finding a holistic veterinarian that our pet insurance would pay for.

Pet Health Insurance
Photo: FIGO Pet Insurance

The main thing that I want to convey to you all after my conversation with Justin, is that pet insurance may not be especially beneficial to pet parents who only take their animals to the vet for preventative care like shots and check-ups. Pet insurance is for the emergencies that are bound to pop up throughout the life of your pet. It's for those unexpected (and extremely expensive) accidents that happen, or for when your pet is diagnosed with some type of disease or condition that is going to be expensive to treat.

Justin also made a great point in our conversation that I rarely think about because I am a veteran pet owner. He made me realize that often times new pet parents don't realize the long term costs of owning a pet. They don't think about what it will cost to have porcupine quills pulled out of their dog or how expensive it would be if their cat got hit by a car and broke his leg.

To be honest, I've had pets my entire life and I understand that they can be expensive, but I still don't have any money set aside for pet emergencies. As a matter of fact, most treatment options for major diseases or conditions, like cancer or cardiomyopathy, can cost thousands of dollars. I don't know any pet owners who have thousands of dollars tucked away in case their animal has an emergency.

With most pet insurance companies, you can choose your deductible and amount of coverage. Obviously the more coverage you want, the higher your premium every month and the lower your deductible, the higher your premium will be as well. Another thing that impressed me about FIGO is that their deductible is collected annually, not per condition.

That means that if your deductible is $200, as soon as you've met that in a year, even if you meet it in the first month, you're done paying your deductible until the next year. A lot of pet insurance companies charge a deductible for every condition. Meaning that if you meet your $200 deductible when your dog gets a face full of porcupine quills, you would still have to pay another $200 deductible if he got hit by a car and broke his leg three weeks later. That's ridiculous to me, and I also feel like it's kind of deceptive on the insurance companies part.

Other things that really impressed me about FIGO that most other pet insurance companies don't offer include:

They wave the copay and deductible if your vet considers the procedure to be “life saving.”

Congenital and hereditary conditions are covered, as long as no signs have been present before coverage and the animal has not been treated for the condition before coverage started.

If your pet had cancer before, any form of cancer that is not directly related to the previous form is still covered. For example, if your dog had been treated for stomach cancer before you got coverage from FIGO and then after you got coverage he was diagnosed with brain cancer, his treatment for brain cancer would be covered because it isn't directly related to the stomach cancer he had previously.

If your dog previously had a treatable condition, like an ear infection, FIGO will still cover ear issues as long as your pet has not suffered any ear infections in the last 12 months. This goes for all treatable conditions. As long as they haven't occurred within 12 months, they will be covered for the life of your policy.

Prescriptions are covered 100%.

With their preferred plan pet owners get $500 to offer a reward to help find a lost pet, emergency boarding coverage, and if your pet is lost and not returned they even offer coverage to help you adopt a new companion (a little grim, but still a nice feature that most pet owners would appreciate). All of this is offered with the ultimate plan, plus you also get unexpected death coverage, and vacation cancellation coverage if you need to cancel due to your pet needing life saving treatment.

By far the best offering from FIGO is their pet cloud. Justin explained to me that when thinking about pet insurance and what the company should offer, they started by focusing on the things that stress pet parents the most – pets getting sick, organizing pet records, and pets getting lost. They knew that by offering great pet insurance they were helping owners when their animals were sick, but what about the other two?

They wanted to find a way to leverage technology and coverage, and that's where their pet cloud comes in. The cloud allows users to upload and store all of their pet's important medical documents. This way if they need to go to an emergency clinic or they visit a vet while out of town, they still have all the necessary documents so the new vet will know the animals history.

The cloud also reminds owners when shots and exams are due and shows them dog-friendly establishments, like dog parks and pet-friendly hotels, in their area. The cloud lets users upload a bill and file a claim right from their smart phone. I don't know about you, but that is a HUGE benefit for me. The more things I can do from my phone, the better.

Early next year FIGO is even planning to direct deposit money into their customers bank accounts instead of sending checks in the mail, so essentially you could have pet insurance and do everything paperless.

Pet Health Insurance
Photo: FIGO Pet Insurance

Justin also explained to me that FIGO truly cares about their customers and their pets. They know having an animal get lost is heartbreaking and stressful for pet owners. That's why they provide every one of their customers with a unique ID tag (shown in the picture at the beginning of this column). Each tag has its own ID number, and when someone finds your pet they can simple enter the ID online or through the app and an email and text will be sent to every registered member of the lost animal's family.

So by now you're probably thinking that this column is all about trying to get you to run out and sign up for FIGO pet insurance, and that's not the case at all.

I just wanted to express to you the importance of pet insurance and what a great benefit it is if you can work it into your budget. I've spent the last few weeks researching insurance and FIGO just stood out to me as a company that went above and beyond a simple insurance provider.

I wanted to chat with Justin and learn a little bit more about the company, and once I realized all the benefits that they offer and all the little things they do to make pet insurance easier for pet owners, I realized just how different they are. I had to share my research with you all.

If you're interested in pet insurance please do your own research; don't just take my word for it. However, I won't be surprised if you realize many of the same things that I did. FIGO is a new company, so they aren't nationwide quite yet, but I asked Justin to email me when they are available in Maine. There are many other companies out there, so it's important that you look around to find the best option for you and your pets.

Check out FIGO's website for more information and to obtain a quote for your pet. You can also look into other top pet insurance providers including:

…and you can also check with the insurance company that you have for your auto, home, or health insurance. Some companies are now offering additional packages for pets and they may give you a deal if you bundle multiple policies together.

READ NEXT: The Ultimate Guide to Pet Insurance – Everything You Must Know

Now it's your turn.

Do you have pet insurance? Have you researched insurance companies? Any information, tips, tricks, or experiences that you've had may benefit other pet owners and we'd love to hear about them. Let us know and let's talk!

Samantha’s biggest passion in life is spending time with her Boxer dogs. After she rescued her first Boxer in 2004, Samantha fell in love with the breed and has continued to rescue three other Boxers since then. She enjoys hiking and swimming with her Boxers, Maddie and Chloe.