How much do Americans love their pets? A great deal, says the American Pet Products Association (APPA), a membership organization that promotes responsible pet care and the pet products industry. U.S. households spent $66.75 billion caring for and feeding their pets in 2016 and are projected to spend $69.36 billion in 2017.
A survey of “pet parents” by Aon’s Healthy Paws Pet Insurance found that…
- 55% of pet owners spend $75 a month on their pet
- 76% buy presents a couple times a month for no reason
- 88% celebrate their pet’s birthday
- 71% buy clothing for their pet, especially for Halloween
Americans spent $15.95 billion on veterinary services alone last year, APPA figures show. They spent an additional $14.93 billion on over-the-counter medicines and other supplies for pets. Many pet owners consider their pets family members, a trend employers have recognized with an increasing number of "pet-friendly" workplaces where employees can bring their furry friends to work with them. With such healthcare expenditures for pets creating a potential burden for employees, should employers add pet care to their benefits offerings?
HR Dive spoke with Rob Jackson, co-founder and CEO of Healthy Paws Pet Insurance & Foundation, about pet insurance, how it works and whether it should be part of a company's benefits package.
HR Dive: What are the benefits for employers that choose to offer pet insurance?
Jackson: Employers should absolutely offer pet insurance, especially if they are looking to recruit younger talent. Many millennials are delaying having children, or foregoing human children all together in favor of having a furry family. Offering this popular benefit often requires little to no effort on the part of the employer, and gives them a leg up when recruiting talent.
HR Dive: What kinds of illnesses or physical ailments does pet insurance cover?
Jackson: Pet insurance is designed to cover those unexpected accidents and illnesses that can take “pet parents” by surprise — and result in an expensive vet bill. The Healthy Paws policy covers everything from cancer to hereditary conditions to torn ligaments. It even covers the cost of surgery to remove a sock from your dog’s stomach.
HR Dive: What are the benefits of having pet insurance for employees?
Jackson: The benefit of having pet insurance is being able to provide the best care possible for your pet without worrying about the cost. Veterinary medicine has advanced considerably in recent years, and more human-level diagnostic and treatment tools are now available for our pets — from MRIs to cyber-knife surgery to treatment for chronic dry eye. But these advances come at a cost. “Pet parents” should never have to choose between their pet’s life and their savings. Having pet insurance can spare employees from having to make a heartbreaking decision.
HR Dive: What should employers consider before offering pet insurance?
Jackson: Employers should understand that our relationships with our pets have changed. Pets are a part of the family, with some younger generations opting to have pets instead of children. We increasingly humanize our pets— buying them clothes, taking them to daycare, throwing them birthday parties. In fact, 14% of the “pet parents” we surveyed in February 2017 said their pet has its own Instagram or Facebook account. Understanding the important role pets play in the lives of your staff members and enabling them to provide the best care possible for their furry family member will set employers apart in a competitive job market.
HR Dive: Should employers administer pet insurance differently from employee insurance?
Jackson: The administration of pet insurance is often much simpler than any other employee benefit. With Healthy Paws, employers simply need to sign up as partners and start telling their employees about it. There’s no fixed open enrollment period, and no paperwork for the employer. Employees can get a quote or enroll online at any time, and their monthly premium is automatically charged to their personal credit card. Almost no administration is required for employers to make this benefit available to their employees.
HR Dive: What considerations should employees have about buying pet insurance, especially through their employer?
Jackson: The pet insurance coverage employees get through their employer will be the exact same coverage as if they had purchased it on their own. The only difference is employers are often able to negotiate better rates for their employees. In any case, employees should be sure to review any policy documents to get an understanding of how the policy works, what’s covered and what’s not to help prevent surprises down the line.
HR Dive: Do pet health plans work similarly to those for humans? Are preventive measures covered, for example?
Jackson: There are a couple key differences in the way pet insurance works compared to human health insurance:
- The Healthy Paws plan only covers accidents and illnesses. While some pet insurance plans offer coverage for wellness visits like annual exams and teeth cleaning, the cost for the monthly premium can outweigh the benefits.
- You can see any licensed veterinarian for treatment, so there’s no need to check if the doctor accepts your coverage.
- With pet insurance, you pay your vet directly for treatment, then submit the bill for reimbursement. Healthy Paws customers can submit claims by taking a photo of the vet bill and submitting it via our mobile app.
HR Dive: What’s the average cost of coverage, or monthly premiums?
Jackson: Pet insurance premiums vary based on the type of pet you have, such as a cat versus a dog, and its age, breed and your location. Premiums for cats start at around $15 a month and for dogs around $25 a month.
HR Dive: What other advice do you have for employers and employees about pet insurance?
Jackson: No pet insurance company covers pre-existing conditions, so if your pet is showing signs of injury or illness prior to enrollment, you can’t expect treatment coverage for those conditions. Insuring your pet early on means you’re less likely to run into problems with pre-existing conditions later in life.