Pet insurance is one of those things nobody wants to spend money on until it’s too late, yet it can save pet owners a lot of financial heartache. Wellness care can be expensive. That is why savvy companies looking to attract young minds to their workplace are starting to offer pet insurance as part of a benefits package.
After all, for many people, pets are truly part of the family. Businesses honoring this relationship by offering pet insurance will garner good will from both employees and the pet-owning public.
“Insurance gives a pet parent peace of mind and allows them to focus on their pets’ well-being during a crisis or a chronic illness,” says Stacy Choczynski Johnson, DVM, who serves as the pet expert for Pumpkin Pet Insurance in New York. “Their attention does not need to be diverted to financial implications related to the cost of care. Pet parents are relieved of the burden of decision-making based on their pocketbooks. They can simply say ‘yes’ to the gold standard medicine their veterinarian is offering.”
Policies covering things like vaccines, parasite prevention, and dental cleanings can help owners pay for wellness care over the course of a year, rather than receiving a big bill at the time services are provided.
Rob Jackson, chief pet protector at Healthy Paws Pet Insurance, in Bellevue, Wash., says every year there are new treatments, prescriptions and high-tech advancements in veterinary science, which is great for pets, but means increased costs per incident.
“Reflecting this growth, there are a lot of new pet insurance players entering the market, giving consumers more choice,” he says.
Benefits of benefits
When offering pet insurance, a company would work with their chosen insurance agency, and sign the employee up with their own account. When an employee’s pet needs veterinary care, the owner will typically pay out of pocket, but then get reimbursed by either the insurance company or their employer who holds the account.
Jordan Cohen, strategy manager for Brio Benefit Consulting, notes a lot of people looking for a job now inquire about pet insurance when discussing benefits.
“When a company offers a pet insurance option, employees feel their company is taking care of all parts of their family,” he says. “It is considered an attractive, high-value benefit by employees and potential new hires that speaks to corporate culture. Of course, purchasing pet insurance through your employer is more straightforward than going at it alone because the employer has already researched the best vendors, so the individual employee doesn’t need to.”
The goal for the benefits package is to make this an easy add-on.
“At Brio, we work with each client to strategize which type of pet insurance offering and which pet insurance vendor would work best for them,” Cohen says. “For example, some pet insurance vendors offer a set price discount policy that doesn’t check for a pet’s pre-existing conditions, provides coverage regardless of the animal’s age, and covers in-network veterinarians.
Other packages provide more comprehensive insurance coverages that are structured similarly to human healthcare policies. Cohen explains these are more expensive than discount plans, but feature set deductibles and coinsurance options. The costs of these plans vary based on the type of pet, breed, age, and any pre-existing conditions.
“Once the decision to offer the coverage is made, we also work with them to determine the best way to communicate the new offering to employees, including email, text, video, intranet site, etc.,” Cohen says. “Then, we begin the enrollment process to help pet-owning employees sign up.”
On the upward track
Heather Venkat, DVM, state veterinarian for the Arizona Department of Health Services, notes the number of people with pet insurance has grown since the pandemic, which is likely related to increased exposure and opportunities to learn about pet insurance.
“Advertisements for pet insurance are more common now, and word of mouth has helped people learn about the benefits of purchasing insurance for their pets,” she says. “Pet insurance becoming part of a new hire’s benefits package is a savvy decision because people love and care for their pets like they are family. Employees will know that if their employer cares about their pets, they will likely be a great company to work for.”
Shawn Plummer, CEO of The Annuity Expert, has more than 10 years of experience in annuity and insurance products. He says the demand for pet insurance has risen with the increased rates of pet ownership during the pandemic, as people sought animal companions to keep them company during the pandemic and shelter-in-place measures.
“COVID-19 may also have increased the focus on increasing preparedness for unexpected situations, such as pet medical emergencies,” he says. “Many people are not financially prepared for a medical emergency for their pets and are often caught unawares by the steep medical bills for some of the veterinary procedures their pets may require. With pet insurance, they can help their pets get the medical care and treatment they need even if an expensive procedure is required.”
Healthy Paws Pet Insurance also identifies a recent trend in companies adding pet insurance as a voluntary benefit.
“Employers are increasingly recognizing the important role pets play in our lives, and offering this benefit is one way to stand out in a competitive recruiting environment,” Jackson says. “Nearly 10 percent of the nation’s employers provide pet insurance as an optional benefit, rising from just two percent in 2008.”
Johnson is glad more companies offer comprehensive insurance coverage, particularly policies covering sick pet office exams.
“If 99 percent of U.S. pet owners consider their pets as family members, it makes sense pet health and wellness would be front and center as part
of an employee benefits package,” she says. “Younger generations like millennials are owning pets instead of having children and offering pet insurance could be attractive to prospective employees.”
View from the vets
Pet insurance helps strengthen the bond between the veterinarian and pet owner. It changes the exam room conversation from, “what will this cost me?” to, “do whatever it takes!” The focus is on the pet and best medicine.
Travis Dermott, DVM, veterinarian of Durango Animal Hospital in Las Vegas, says since a majority of households own a pet, yet many millennials and Gen Xers have yet to start a family, offering pet insurance helps attract potential employees who would not benefit from many other standard benefits.
“Pet parents with insurance are more willing and able to have more advanced diagnostics and treatment performed on their pets with they are sick,” he says. “While this is a financial benefit to veterinarians, the more important benefit is that medical decisions are less frequently made based on financial constraints. It is tough for veterinary staff to know they could do more to help a patient and pet insurance helps us do just that.”
An increasing amount of people with pet insurance will likely drive more clients into the veterinary clinic, increasing the specialty care pets receive.
“There will be more options for treating a pet if the person has pet insurance, making clinics busier in a good way,” Venkat says. “Also, pet insurance will help pets recover from illnesses or injuries after their treatments, helping them live longer, and continuing to be happy and healthy and needing regular annual check-ups at the vet.”
Douglas G. Aspros, DVM, chief veterinary officer for Veterinary Practice Partners, notes it is easy to see the advantages, and you would have to look hard to see the downside of offering pet insurance to employees.
“Insured pets will get better care,” he says. “Financial constraints commonly limit the diagnostic your insurance company has your back will allow pet parents to access care that can produce the best outcome.”
Plus, for the veterinary hospital, insurance takes much of the pressure off doctors. It permits them to focus their attention on getting the care right for the patient and not on the invoice.
“Much of the tension in practice is struggling to find the balance between effective care and reasonable cost,” Aspros says. “When you know a patient has health insurance, doctors can consider the options and potential medical outcomes with far less concern about the credit limit on the client’s charge card.”
A graduate of the University of Miami, Keith Loria is a D.C.-based award-winning journalist who has been writing for major publications for close to 20 years on topics as diverse as veterinary medicine, travel, and entertainment. He started his career with the Associated Press and has held high editorial positions at publications focused on healthcare, sports, and technology.