When I first discovered the Wellness Plans at Banfield (formerly Vetsmart), I was thrilled! The biggest heartaches I have experienced as a veterinarian have been when pet owners can not afford care for their pets. Most of the time, this occurs when the pet has a serious illness -- something the owner has not prepared for financially nor emotionally. Usually, these life-threatening illnesses could have been avoided.
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The Wellness Plans, despite the category this is under, are not insurance. They are designed for the life of a four-legged loved one, and all include annual vaccines, comprehensive examinations, and unlimited office visits. Depending on the Plan and the age at which the pet is enrolled, it might also cover bloodwork, spay/neuter surgery, dental cleaning, urinalysis, and radiographs. They are designed to turn pet health care into a budgeted expense (rather than an emergency-fund expense) and allow early detection of health concerns. For example, without a Wellness Plan, if your pet isn't feeling well for a couple of days, you may decide to wait and see how he/she feels in a few more days rather than spend the money for the office visit. With a Wellness Plan, you would be more likely to go on in, since the check-up is free. It could be absolutely nothing to worry about, or it could be the start of something serious if left untreated - a viral infection, liver disease, diabetes, etc. Caught early, antibiotics or a special diet may be all that is necessary; if untreated, hospitalization, IV fluids, etc. may be needed -- to the tune of several hundred dollars -- and may not be enough.
Basically, you pay a one-time membership fee ($69.99 or $99.99, depending on the age) and monthly payments $11.95 & up, depending on the Plan); additional pets get a 50% discount on the membership fee. It's a one year agreement which is automatically renewed unless you specify otherwise (you just continue with the monthly payments). It can be canceled before the year is up, but most of the time so much money has been saved, it's cheaper to pay the rest of the year than to pay the retail value of services received. This is one thing that confuses some people. If someone has a puppy for four months on the Plan and she gets all of her puppy vaccines AND is spayed, the owner has only paid about $80 in payments (plus the $100 membership fee); not on the Plan, even if the puppy had no extra visits, she has had $400+ in services. Obviously, it would not be fair to make one person pay for the full year ($240 in this case) and let someone else pay only $80 for the same services!
Another point of confusion is where the services can be used. Since there are so many Banfields, it is convenient to be able to transfer the Plan if you move. However, if there are several in one area, you do have to stay with one location for all of the preventive care (vaccines, comprehensive physical exams, covered surgeries, etc). The office visits are free at any Banfield, though, and you get a discount if other services are needed, so it comes in handy when traveling.
One final drawback is that the payments are automatically charged each month to a credit card or bank account. Given the concern for security, some people are very uneasy about this. The only option at this time is to pay the year in full if you don't want the automatic withdrawals. Even though it is still quite a savings, for some people it is more at once than they can afford.
If you are considering a Wellness Plan for your pet, there are a couple of things you need to decide. First, is Banfield the place for you and your pet? Secondly, if money were not a concern, what level of care would you want for your pet?
There are some things that most people don't know about Banfield. Yes, the wait can be outrageous. Some people say the prices are too high (when we did price shopping last year, I found that Banfield's prices are pretty much the same as the other veterinarians in the area). And yes, it is a corporation, so responses are not always immediate. But nobody realizes the time and effort that goes into making sure the best medicine possible is offered. I'm not saying it's perfect, because of course it's not -- occasionally something is missed or a mistake is made. However, on the rare occasion that does happen (it happens a lot less with Banfield than the private practices, in my experience), the incident is fully reviewed (it's called a Peer Review) to find out what went wrong. A full panel of Board-Certified veterinarian specialists is available to answer questions and help the Banfield doctors -- something unheard of elsewhere. A Medical Records Review is performed on each hospital every month. Seminars are held for Banfield doctors to update their knowledge. And -- get this: most states require 20-30 hours of continuing education each year to continue practicing; Banfield requires 100 hours each year for their doctors!
There are three types of pet owners: those who consider their pets their children, those who consider their pet a close friend, and those who consider their pet an animal. Banfield was designed for the first two types. Those in the third category will not be happy at Banfield, and definitely do not want to consider a Wellness Plan.
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