Toronto

Ontario woman feels abandoned by pet insurer she's paid $30K after coverage on elderly dog drops 30%

Like many Canadians, Rebecca Shuster considers her two dogs part of the family. But now, with her aging pets struggling with health problems, she's finding out the pet insurance she bought to protect them isn't providing the coverage she thought it would.

Rebecca Shuster wants Petsecure insurance to tell customers coverage might change before signing up

Rebecca Shuster has paid more than $30,000 in pet insurance premiums for her two dogs Hope (right) and Zoe (left). (Paul Smith/CBC)

Like many Canadians, Rebecca Shuster considers her two dogs part of the family. But now, with her aging pets struggling with health problems, she's finding out the pet insurance she bought to protect them isn't providing the coverage she thought it would.

The Vaughan, Ont. woman signed up with Petsecure, a Winnipeg-based company and Canada's largest pet health insurance provider, more than a decade ago when she got her 13-year-old Shih-poo, Hope. 

Since then, Shuster has spent more than $30,000 in premiums on the company's high-end insurance for both Hope, and her 11-year-old dog, Zoe. She says she was shocked to discover that Petsecure can change how much of her vet bills it covers — and she wants other pet owners across the country to be aware that could happen to them, too.

"I thought I was buying the best safety net," Shuster told CBC Toronto.

"We wanted insurance so that money wouldn't be a deciding factor in the health care that we provide."

But now Shuster is worried she could lose Hope over money. 

Petsecure is lowering its coverage amount on claims for Hope by 30 per cent — but expects Shuster to continue paying the same $155 a month premium and $500 annual deductible. 

In a letter, Petsecure told Shuster the change was the result of a review the company does for all customers' claim activity; and that based on that review, the amount the insurer will reimburse for vet bills for Hope will go from 80 to 50 per cent on Jan. 1, 2020. 

So Shuster's share of future claims will more than double. 

Hope needs daily medication for her diabetes, and the Shih-poo has a partially blocked gallbladder that could rupture and require emergency surgery. (CBC)

"We signed up with them 13 years ago so that when it came to the end we could at least have the comfort in knowing we tried everything," she said. "Now maybe we're not able to try everything."

Hope needs daily medication for her diabetes, and the Shih-poo has a partially blocked gallbladder that could rupture and require emergency surgery. The gallbladder issue was one of many problems that Hope faced in July when Shuster rushed the dog to Toronto Veterinary Emergency Hospital for treatment. 

The cost of a few days' treatment there is why Shuster thinks Petsecure dropped its coverage amount.

Making changes to coverage is included in Petsecure's policy, but Shuster says she didn't know about it, and believes the insurer should have pointed it out.

"I think that the government should step in and have these insurance companies tell people exactly what's in the wording, and what they'll cover, and what they're allowed to do," she said. 

Pet insurance considered property insurance

Pet insurance is considered property and casualty insurance in Ontario and is subject to the Insurance Act, according to the Financial Services Regulatory Authority (FSRA). 

The provincial regulator told CBC Toronto it advises "consumers with complaints to attempt to resolve complaints directly with their insurance company, which is required to have a formal complaint process."

FSRA doesn't "assist with contractual matters or claim disputes."

Both of Rebecca Shuster's dogs have to take daily medication. (CBC)

In a statement Petline Insurance, the parent company of Petsecure, said "we do not change our policies based on the age or health diagnoses of pets." 

Instead the company told CBC Toronto it reviews policies to ensure it's "accurately managing the payment of claims," and those reviews result in a change in the percentage of coverage — some higher and some lower — for approximately two per cent of its customers. 

"In this case, the two-year history of Hope resulted in an adjustment to the percentage we co-pay," said the insurance company.  

Petline also noted a past change to Hope's coverage, which then bounced back to 80 per cent. Shuster didn't remember it, but found a letter from eight years ago stating her coverage would return to 80 per cent from 70 per cent. 

At the time, Shuster argues, a 10 per cent change would have been "pennies" because Hope was a healthy five-year-old dog.  

"If we had known that this was going to happen down the line we probably wouldn't have gotten insurance and would have tried to just put money aside," Shuster told CBC Toronto.

Read the fine print, animal law lawyer says

Putting money aside is one option a Toronto animal law lawyer says pet owners should consider before choosing whether or not to get insurance — or what insurance to get. 

Animal law lawyer Suzana Gartner says pet owners need to read the fine print before choosing a pet insurance provider. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

"[There're] just so many different policies available, so it's not just one type of insurance that fits all," said Suzana Gartner. "It's very important to understand the policy and do the due diligence."

That's something a Winnipeg dog owner says she learned the hard way.

Jacqueline Armour got Petsecure insurance for her dog Bobby when he was a puppy in 2005. Armour says she had no problems with Petsecure until after Bobby got sick. He was diagnosed with Cushing's disease at 10 years old.  

The disease, which causes a hormone imbalance, requires regular medication and blood tests, and about a year into treatment Armour says Petsecure dropped coverage on Bobby's claims from 80 to 50 per cent. 

Despite lower coverage from Petsecure, Jacqueline Armour kept paying for her dog Bobby's medication until he died in Sept. 2018. (Submitted by Jacqueline Armour)

"I was totally broken because my whole purpose of having pet insurance was to have the coverage when I needed it," said Armour.  

Despite the reduced coverage, Armour continued to pay for Bobby's treatment until he died in Sept. 2018. 

Now Armour has a pair of year-old puppies. She still got them insurance, but with a different company that doesn't change claim coverage levels.

"I specifically was smart enough this time to ask my potential insurers if they have such a policy and the company I'm with now does not," Armour told CBC Toronto.

About the Author

Nicole Brockbank

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Nicole Brockbank is a reporter for CBC Toronto's Enterprise Unit. Fuelled by coffee, she digs up, researches and writes original investigative and feature stories. nicole.brockbank@cbc.ca

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.