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Thoughts on Banfield Wellness Plans

I've done some reading recently and was surprised to see the backlash against Banfield's wellness plans. I thought I'd write down my personal thoughts on the matter.

It seems that people think Banfield's wellness plans are a form of insurance. They aren't. There's a big difference between insurance and a wellness plan. Here's my perspective on it:

  • A wellness plan deals with the cost of owning a pet. The plan helps while your pet is alive by giving you free immunizations, free office visits, and reduce prices on other services like labwork and medicines. It doesn't provide coverage for less common things like surgery, boarding fees, etc. Basically, it just tries to help you manage the cost of routine care. You're still on your own in bizarre circumstances.
  • An insurance policy deals with the life and death of a pet. It provides a pet owner with some financial payout if the pet is stolen, sick, or dies (depending on the plan, of course). It does nothing to assist with the routine costs associated with pet ownership. Pet insurance policies are generally modeled like human policies, taking into account things like mortality rates, known expenses for each dog breed, and your pets health records at various points.

So the plan that is right for you depends on your needs. If you are a typical pet owner and want to levelize your expenses, you'll probably benefit from a wellness plan. If you earn income from your show dog or breeding dog, then an insurance policy might be better.

My Experience

I've had 5 pets on Banfield's wellness plans over the last 10 years (2 previous, and 3 now). What follows is my experience with all my pets on Banfield plans.

We used to spend $300 to $500 per pet each year. That includes everything vet-related: vaccinations, checkups, and all the minor emergencies that happen. So without Banfield, our expenses for 3 pets would be in the $900 to $1500 range each year. I'm saying “would be” because I'm projecting my past experience forward. In truth, I think my expenses would be even higher today because of inflation, and because dogs are more expensive to own than cats.

One difficult aspect of pet ownership has always been that the expenses occur randomly. Any trip to the vet results in a large bill. Its hard enough to stick to a budget, much less when randomly-occurring and unpredictably large vet bills are in the picture. We never had enough cash on hand to pay our vet bills, so we ended up putting them on our credit card. Not a good situation. And because of the expense, we avoided taking our pets to the vet unless they were really sick. That wasn't good for their health.

Then a PetSmart was built near us, and it had a Banfield Animal Hospital inside. We investigated and found their wellness plans. After a bit of homework, things started to make sense. Here are the hilights, in chart form:

Item Regular Veteranarian Banfield
Payment structure Point of service Monthly bill
Payment due at time of service Full price Expenses only
Office visits Full price Free
Vaccinations Full price Free
Spay/Neuter Full price Free 1)
Fecal exams & bloodwork Full price Free or reduced price
Medicine cost Full price Reduced price
Emergency Full price Full price
Surgery Full price Full price
Office hours 5-6 days/week 7 days/week
Walk-ins allowed Yes Yes
Early morning drop-offs Maybe Yes

It looked like we would break even during the year, so we gave the plans a try. Our initial appointment was more expensive than we hoped. There is a $100 setup fee, plus Banfield collects the first monthly payment in advance. But overall, the appointment wasn't any more expensive than what we were used to paying–especially considering the full exam, the number of vaccinations our pets received, etc.

Later on, the benefits really started to kick in. The Banfield office made a follow-up call the next day to see if our pets were OK. That was a nice touch, especially since it was from the vet tech we had spoken to and not a computer. Then came the postcard reminders for upcoming vaccinations, mid-year exams, and such. Each visit to Banfield was free, and many of the vaccinations were free. We normally spent only a few dollars at the cash register on each visit.

In a matter of months, we were hooked. We weren't so hesitant about going to the vet's office anymore. In fact, we visited Banfield more than any vet we had used in the past. This is partly because they're located in the PetSmart where we buy pet supplies, and partly because of the free office visit thing.

That phase lasted for a few months, and I'm glad we went through it. I think we became better pet owners in the process. Our frequent interactions with the Banfield veterinarians helped us gain confidence. We learned the difference between what needs a vet's attention and what doesn't, and that gave us peace of mind.

In summery: sometime during our first year as Banfield clients, we achieved what I think Banfield is going for with their wellness plans: lower costs for pet owners, and better care for pets. The main benefits we see year-round are:

  • Levelized expenses for animal care
  • Free office visits - less apprehension about going to the vet's office
  • Vaccines included
  • Spaying/neutering is cheap on the plan
  • Tooth cleaning is included once per year
  • Reduced prices on medicine and vaccines

Other Benefits

  • Paperwork: We get a a printout for each pet that is part of a visit. The paperwork contains a 1-sheet summary of the pet's condition (weight, condition of eyes, skeleton, etc.). We also get an explanation of what was done during the visit. If any medicines or vaccines were given, we get an explanation of them, along with a list of side effects and what to do if they occur. If the doctor brings anything to our attention, it is normally written in full detail in the paperwork. We read our paperwork at at home and file it later.
  • True money savings. We have saved real money as Banfield clients. Their computer system keeps track of our savings just like a grocery store does. But they accumulate the savings over time and report that on our paperwork. My most recent receipt tells me we have saved over $9,500! Those are real dollars that we didn't have to spend on animal care.
  • PetSmart. Having our vet inside a PetSmart store makes everything very convenient. They allow pets in the store, so people bring their animals just for fun. PetSmart offers grooming services and obedience classes. And they sell everything for dog, cats, birds, fish, reptiles, and rodents.

Its Not Insurance

Lets set the record straight though. There are some things that Banfield plans don't deal with:

  • Surgery. Most Banfield offices do surgery, but it isn't free. Some parts will be covered (like anesthesia, I think), but you pay for the rest.
  • Emergency care. Banfield doesn't reimburse you for visits to other offices.
  • Medications. You pay for medications, but you do get reduced prices.
  • There is no “death benefit”. No cash payout if your pet dies.

And please–tell me you're smart enough not to expect this stuff from a $22/mo plan. I've seen people complaining on blogs (like this one) that these things aren't free. Get over it–you already saved money.

Stuff Banfield Can't Say

I'll defend Banfield from the comments I've seen in blogs:

  • “They won't let me cancel my plan”. Yes they will. You just have to pay back the money you've saved first. If you started a wellness plan and then cancel it after receiving $200 worth of services, you'd have to pay for the $200 of services. That's fair, right?
  • “Their office and lab services are priced too high”. Really? Maybe it depends on where you live. My receipt shows that my puppy's first exam, 3 vaccinations2), and a fecal exam would have cost $110 retail. I've paid more than that before. I suppose I could dial-a-vet until I found someone with lower prices. But then I'd have to travel to their office, spend more time, etc.
  • “Its a scam…its not really insurance”. The first line of their brochure says: Optimum Wellness Plans Are Not Insurance…they're better. And oddly enough, it explains what that means inside the brochure. :-) I don't think most people need “insurance” for their pets. What they really want is a way to manage expenses.
  • “They performed services I didn't authorize”. You generally have the same options with pets that you do when you drop off your car at a repair shop: you ask for an estimate in advance, or you have them call you if the price goes above X dollars. If you didn't do that, then you don't have a valid complaint. This is standard practice in many industries. I agree its not customer-friendly, but don't blame Banfield for your inexperience. Live and learn.
1) assuming that you bought the “puppy” or “kitten” plan
2) Distemper Parvo DAPP, Corona Virus vaccine, and LeptoSpirosis 4-way vaccine
/home/cfreyer/public_html/data/attic/personal/dogs/thoughs_on_banfield_plans.1247856650.txt.gz · Last modified: 2009/07/17 14:50 by Chris Freyer