So I guess it’s time to finally cough up the goods on the subject of pet health insurance. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to table your patience. The subject had gotten so big, broad and unwieldy that I’ll not have time to cover it in one single post. Over the next week, however, I’ll cover it all—or rather, I’ll attempt to.

I’m planning to bring it to you in several installments. The first is today’s, in which I’ll discuss how veterinary medicine has finally come to this. How is it that our industry requires a financial product (i.e., insurance) to properly address its healthcare issues?

It’s impressive to me that we’ve come to the point where pet insurance makes sense to vets. Back in the eighties the concept was widely viewed as laughable. In the nineties it started to seem like a scary possibility. Now here we are a decade later wondering which plan we should choose for our own pets.

There’s no doubt that such a rapid evolution is the result of some similarly swift changes in the veterinary care industry for pets. In case you hadn’t noticed, your vet bill is getting bigger. Most of that is because you want more for your pets. You’re willing to spend more to make sure that your dog or cat gets the care befitting a “family member,” a higher caste to which he or she now typically belongs. The other bit has to do with our own escalating supply costs—and that’s another post altogether.

When the care vets can provide begins to outstrip your ability to pay for it, something’s gotta give. In this case it’s the insurance companies…giving you the ability to pay for care you might never have considered twenty years ago—for a fee.

The purpose of insurance in this setting is to help you pay for the growing expense involved in pet illness and injury. If your pet lives a healthy life, the monthly premiums you pay for pet insurance is overkill—you’ll lose money in the long run. When she surprises you with a midnight snack of antifreeze, however, pet insurance might just make the difference between high-tech treatment and instant euthanasia.

Peace of mind and tragedy aversion is the name of the game when it comes to pet health insurance. Those of us with substantial expendable savings? Statistically, we’re better off without it. After all, the insurance companies are in the biz to make a profit. But how many of us can boast a lotto-size stash under the mattress?

Though it’s a great service these companies can provide, the vet profession has been very slow to adopt it. Fear of a third-party payment system (as in human medicine) is the biggest hurdle. We’re vets. We don’t want to start dedicating our time and energy to complex billing matters. And we don’t like what we see in the human medical profession. Keep that poison paperwork far far away, thank you very much. In our eyes, the insurance companies have come to run human medicine. We don’t want to end up playing that game.

But to some extent we have no choice. That’s the reality of our free market economy and the potential death knell to our small practice ways. But I digress…

Ultimately, pet owners need to find ways to pay for pet care. Insurance companies provide an avenue by charging a monthly fee that reflects their pet’s potential for illness and injury. Vets currently have only to sign paperwork so that their client can be reimbursed at an appropriate rate if their pet succumbs. It’s this simple—right now, anyway.

Stay tuned for part 2.