More employers offer pet insurance as perk

  • Donna Cochran of Geyserville used the pet insurance offered by employer, Vista Broadband, to help pay for the $4,000 ACL surgery for her cocker spaniel Bentley. (photo by John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

Donna Cochran doesn't have children, but her two dogs are just as precious to her as offspring. So when Bentley, a 10-year-old black and tan cocker spaniel tore his ACL in August, Cochran didn't think twice about opting for the nearly $5,000 surgery to repair her dog's leg.

Her decision was made much easier by the pet insurance policy that she purchased two weeks before Bentley's injury. The policy covered 90 percent of the procedure's cost, leaving Cochran with a modest out-of-pocket expense.

"My dogs are like my kids," the Geyserville resident said. "I would have done the surgery anyway. The insurance eased the pain for me."

Cochran, who is the office manager for Santa Rosa-based Vista Broadband, is one of a growing number of pet owners who have health insurance for their animals.

Advances in veterinarian medicine have made life-saving procedures like chemotherapy and kidney transplants available for pet owners — but at a cost. The American Pet Product Association projects that U.S. pet owners will spend nearly $13 billion on animal health care this year, yet less than 2 percent of the 75 million pets are insured.

"There are so many more technological innovations and treatments available today that your dog getting cancer isn't necessarily a death sentence," said Michael San Filippo, a spokesman for the American Veterinary Medical Association. "There are more procedures available, but they can leave pet owners wondering how to pay for it."

More employers are offering pet insurance as an employee benefit — about 3,600 companies, including a third of the Fortune 500. Pet health care as an employee benefit is one of the fastest growing segments of the nascent pet insurance industry, said Curtis Steinhoff, communications director for Veterinary Pet Insurance, the largest company in the market.

"The biggest trend is getting pet insurance through your employer," he said. "It's a benefit that employers can offer to employees without families."

Vista Broadband recently added pet insurance to its employee benefit package after employees requested it, CEO Scott Mindemann said.

"I hadn't heard about pet insurance, but after doing research, I found out how common it was," he said. "It was a no-brainer. It's a really cool benefit."

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