Pet insurance is the ‘in vogue’ voluntary employee benefit

When it comes to those furry — and not so furry — members of the family, workers are seeing more options than ever for benefits from their employers. 

And it’s not just dogs and cats. Under Nationwide’s pet insurance plans, for example, employees can cover birds, pot-bellied pigs and pet chickens (emphasis on “pet”). Fish, the company told HR Dive, are not included. 

“Not every pet has four legs,” said David Hurley, director of sales of voluntary benefits for member/specialty groups at Nationwide Pet. 

As companies focus more on voluntary benefits and ways to cater offerings to individuals, more are offering pet insurance and other pet-related benefits to their employees, benefits experts said. In 2022, 36% of large employers (those with more than 500 workers), provided pet insurance options to staff, up 22% from five years before, according to research from consulting firm Mercer. 

“It certainly has now become mainstream and come in vogue,” said Brian Russell, voluntary benefits practice leader for Mercer. “It transcends all types of employer groups; it’s not just limited to one industry. … Employers are really finding that it is a benefit that can appeal to a majority of their employee populations, regardless of their generation, regardless of their other statuses.”

Sixty-two percent of people in the U.S. own a pet, and 35% have more than one, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in April. Of those surveyed, 97% consider their pets part of their family

Pet insurance can serve as an attraction and retention tool but also as a financial and well-being benefit, said Hurley, who has insurance for his two basset hound puppies. Pet insurance plans purchased through employers represent 70% of Nationwide’s pet insurance business, and people with plans typically submit two to three claims per year. 

A group effort

Accounting firm EY started offering pet insurance in 2015, and roughly 2,400 of its 57,000 employees now have plans through the company, said Frank Giampietro, EY Americas chief well-being officer. 

Rates vary by geography, but the group plans cover all types of breeds and species, including birds and exotic pets, and reimburse employees up to 70% on vet bills. That includes accidents, illnesses and hereditary conditions. And employees have the option for a $500 stipend to use for pet wellness.

“We get much more attractive group rates that we’re able to offer than if they were able to go out and get it on their own. So it really does provide a meaningful discount to them, versus them going out in the individual market and purchasing it,” Giampietro said. 

The company expanded its pet-based offerings in February 2022 when it transitioned from a remote workforce to a hybrid one, Giampietro said. After holding listening sessions and surveying employees about their barriers to returning to the office, EY rolled out a Way of Working fund. Each employee receives $800 annually that can be used to cover commuting costs, dependent care and pet care. 

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates that nearly 1 in every 5 households got a cat or dog during the COVID-19 pandemic. And, because EY’s workforce skews younger, for many, that was their first pet while employed, Giampietro said. Many expressed concerns about what to do about pet care once they returned to the office, he said. 

“We’re trying to provide whatever support we can as an employer … with the hope that, as [we] make their life easier, [we] create more loyalty and, ultimately, more productivity,” Giampietro said.

EY also is considering offering direct access to pet care services for employees. Much like with pet insurance, the company would choose a pet care partner, then offer discounted rates to employees, he said. 

Nestlé also offers pet insurance to its U.S. employees as a voluntary benefit. Plans can cover veterinary treatments related to accidents and illnesses, including diagnostic tests, X-rays, prescriptions, surgeries and hospital stays, and employees have the option to select wellness coverage for routine checkups and vaccinations, a Nestlé spokesperson said. 

“We’ve seen strong engagement from employees with our pet insurance offering over the years. Today, our employees … have hundreds of dogs and cats covered under pet insurance policies across our U.S. businesses, and several employees have multiple pets covered under their plans,” the spokesperson said. 

Nestlé also offers a reimbursement for pet adoption and a Health Savings Account credit for eligible employees who have a dog or cat, the spokesperson said. And many of the company’s corporate locations, including Nestlé Purina PetCare’s St. Louis headquarters, are pet-friendly. 

Demand grows

PetPartners has provided pet insurance as an employer offering for more than a decade, and interest continues to grow, said Michelle Yates, executive vice president of business development at the firm.

“It continues on a growth trajectory every year,” said Yates, whose own dog is insured through the company. “Again, in 2023, we’re seeing double-digit growth. And we keep an eye on the competition, and they’re seeing double-digit growth as well.” 

Part of that increase is being driven by employees insuring their cats. “Several of our cases are boasting a 20% year-over-year increase in feline enrollments, which is phenomenal,” Yates said. 

Offering pet insurance can be an alternative way for employers to support their pet-owning employees without going through what can feel like a “cumbersome task” of allowing pets in the office, said Yates, although PetPartners has pet-friendly offices that even come equipped with dog drinking fountains.

Some employers are also helping to cover costs directly. About 10% of companies working with PetPartners are paying either a portion of the pet insurance cost or all of it, Yates said; “These last few years are the first time that I’ve seen where employers are pitching it and paying for it.” 

Interest in pet insurance has been “industry agnostic,” Yates said. 

“We have in our portfolio all types of industries, from hourly workers to manufacturing to law firms, from regional companies to national companies, and the sentiment is the same: These employees feel like their pets are their dependents,” Yates said. “When they’re going through and selecting benefits for themselves and their family, whatever that looks like to them, seeing the pet option on the ballot goes over very well.”