Pets are a key part of many people’s lives and the pandemic has only boosted this bond as pet adoption spikes due to more employees working from home.
About 45% of pet owners will spend the same or more on an animal’s healthcare than on their own, according to a survey by financial products provider Lendedu of 1,000 pet owners. Of those surveyed, 10% of pet owners say they had missed a payment on another bill to pay for pet care.
On average, it can cost an employee between $700 and $2,000 per year in veterinary bills to care for a healthy pet, according to the Spruce Pets, an online resource for pet owners. Factoring in emergency care, food, toys and grooming and employees will be spending a good chunk of their salaries on their furry friends.
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About 15% of employers offer a pet insurance benefit, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. For employers looking to play a more holistic role in their employees’ lives by providing support where workers need it most, investing in a pet insurance benefit is a key way to attract and retain their talent.
“As employee benefit packages become more customized and in service of the individual employee, versus the homogenous employee base, you'll find that the people who do take advantage of the pet insurance offering are especially passionate about the availability of pet insurance and the access that they have to to a pet insurance programs,” says Katie Blakeley, vice president of pet insurance at MetLife.
In a recent interview, Blakeley shared her thoughts on why employers should invest in pet insurance programs and how the pandemic has increased demand for these benefits.
How has pet insurance evolved since it was first introduced in the U.S.? In the U.S. pet insurance actually got started in the early 1980s, but didn't really get a lot of traction until about 10 years ago. The big catalyst for that in the employee benefits space is the perception and the treatment of our pets as family members. What’s important to employees is also important to employers.
Pet insurance really has always been focused on unexpected expenses that are really tied to accidents, injuries and illnesses that your dog or your cat might experience. So how do you plan for those unexpected veterinary costs? That was the focus early on. But as the product, the industry and pet ownership overall has evolved, there's been the introduction of new benefits that really focus on the whole health of the pet. The biggest thing is care for routine expenses and wellness; things like vaccinations and flea and tick prevention. It's not just in the big emergencies that [employees will] experience the value of pet insurance, it can be in those everyday expenses too.
The biggest change over the last 40 years in the pet health insurance industry is the introduction of wellness benefits. But also as veterinary medicine has evolved, so has the pet health insurance industry.
How has the pandemic impacted the demand for pet insurance benefits? We have seen an increase in both leads, that’s people who are requesting a quote for pet insurance, and for sales too. A crisis like [COVID-19] really forces people to take stock of what’s truly important in their lives — pets are included in that subset of things that really matter to us. It has forced people to really consider what matters in their life and [ask] ‘how am I investing in that? How am I prepared for the unexpected, if my dog gets cancer?’ The people who have maybe put pet insurance on the backburner, the pandemic in many ways forced people to give it more thought.
Why should employers invest in pet insurance benefits? It goes back to benefit packages that service the individual versus the group as a whole. It's just appreciating that so many people across the U.S. are truly pet passionate people and having the availability of pet insurance as a voluntary benefit can really be a distinguishing factor for people. As much as [employees] expect employers to offer health insurance and retirement benefits, I think employees today especially those with those types of hallmarks are expecting that their employers will also offer pet insurance.