More employers offer pet insurance as perk

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Posted: Monday, July 15, 2013 12:00 am

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Melissa Yoakam jokingly calls her dog Shadow her “car payment” because she pays $250 a month for the 12-year-old's cancer treatments.

She'd pay far less if she had pet insurance, but she didn't take advantage of it when Shadow was younger, and when he got cancer it was too late. She urges her colleagues not to make the same mistake.

“I should have it but I don't,” she said.

Yoakam is well-versed in the subject as benefits manager at Chipotle Mexican Grill, which is one of a growing number of companies that discount and subsidize pet insurance as a perk to workers.

The nation's oldest and largest pet insurer, Veterinary Pet Insurance, offers policies at one in three Fortune 500 companies, as well as 3,400 other companies and associations, said company president Scott Liles.

Other organizations also offer insurance through employers, but the number of people who sign up remains small.

California-based VPI has 61 percent of the niche market with only a half million pets insured nationwide. While that represents a tiny fraction of the estimated 165 million pets in the United States, it has huge growth potential.

“Like any kind of health care offering, (pet insurance) is viewed as an employee enticement and retention tool,” said Charles J. Sebaski, an insurance analyst for BMO Capital Markets in New York.

VPI offers insurance to companies with more than 100 employees, who can choose payroll deductions or direct billing.

Nevada's largest employer, MGM Resorts International, based in Las Vegas, added pet insurance in 2006 to a benefits package that also includes onsite child care, legal aid and free meals, said corporate benefits manager Melissa Friedman.

Chipotle, based in New York, began offering the benefit in 2002 because “we knew people were big into pets,” Yoakam said.

With the cost of health care for humans and pets rising faster than income, pet insurance is relatively affordable, Sebaski said.

“If you're willing to buy cancer meds or liver meds or put a pet through a surgical operation to extend their good health and life, those can be very expensive things,” he said.

Copyright 2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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