Pets are people too, some employers offer health coverage

When looking for a job, choosing a company that offers the best benefits is critical.  Now, many employers are adding a new perk to the mix that will help care for a members of the family not typically covered - pets.

First came medical coverage and retirement plans, then benefits like daycare and workout facilities.  Now, pet insurance as a new perk is nothing to bark at.  "We're seeing a lot of companies that are offering pet insurance," says American Animal Hospital Association's Dr. Thomas Carpenter.

The insurance covers all manner of pet related medical expenses, from surgeries to ultra sounds and x-rays.  The policies aren't only offered by small firms.  Big names like Ford Motor Company, Wal-Mart, and Del Monte now see them as a "pet project."  "It really compliments our culture, our health and wellness platform that we have for our employees.  And, it's just an extension to the health and wellness for our employees' pets," says Liny Schwan of Del Monte.

Workers are typically responsible for paying the premiums.  However, they are often discounted.  "Employees that sign up for pet insurance through their employers are eligible for a five percent discount.  In addition, if there are multiple pets involved, there are multiple pet discounts available," says Dennis Drent of Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI).

VPI is one of the largest pet insurers.  They say the number of corporate policies has tripled in the past five years.  "Approximately 15 percent of VPI's policyholders have come to us through their employers," says Drent.

Shaylah Shah pays about $450 annually for her German Shepherd's policy.  In the past year, Shaila recouped the costs in a single pet visit.  "She had some growths on her, and when we got them removed, the bill was $696 and we got $468 reimbursed for that," she says.

The American Animal Hospital Association says a policy can help offset unexpected medical treatment.  However, if you want a policy, whether it's through your job or on your own, it's important to know exactly what you're paying for.  "When people are buying pet insurance, probably the biggest source of dissatisfaction is that they aren't really aware what they're purchasing," says Drent.

When researching pet insurance, find out if there are any additional costs for preventative care coverage, such as checkups and vaccinations.  Find out if hereditary or pre-existing conditions are excluded, and ask about reimbursement policies.  "The method of repayment is important to understand, whether that be direct reimbursement based on the procedure alone, the percentage of the cost, or whether there's a co-pay involved," says Drent.

Also ask if you can go to any veterinarian, or if you must stay within a network.  Shaila can visit any vet, and that gives her peace of mind for her furry friend.  "Just any other family member, like we have insurance, I feel like it's a good thing to have for your pets, too.  So that way you feel they are covered, they are taken good care of," she says.

Some companies that offer pet insurance will automatically deduct the premiums from your paycheck.  If your company doesn't offer pet insurance, and you would like the benefit, you can ask your human resources department to contact an insurer to get the process going.