Health insurance for your pets is a growing business, and Brea company is in on it

You insure your house, your car and your health – but your dog, cat or parrot?

“People care more about their pets than ever before,” said Scott Liles, chief pet insurance officer at Nationwide, a Brea-based insurer.

He said that the company has 45 percent of the market share with 550,000 policyholders. Formerly called VPI, the insurance company was founded in 1982 by 700 vets.

Although most policies are for dogs and cats, Nationwide’s coverage runs the gamut and includes birds and exotics.

The company has covered a hedgehog with depression, a potbellied pig that overdosed on human medication, and a chicken stung by a scorpion.

The field of pet insurance is growing faster than other insurances such as auto or home. From 2012 to 2014, the number of pet insurance policies grew 12.6 percent, according to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association.

In Orange County, the company helped Newport Beach’s Andrea Kane with her Rhodesian ridgeback, Diesel, covering surgery for a torn ACL and care for skin cancer.

Kane once experienced what many pet owners have, deciding to euthanize a pet when she couldn’t afford out-of-pocket medical bills.

Vets call it “economic euthanasia.”

“As a pet owner not being able to come up with $25,000 to provide cancer care…was heartbreaking,” she said. “I felt like I was letting him down as his owner and not being able to give him every possible chance to heal his sickness. … Diesel will go on to live a very long productive life because he has options.”

For pet insurance, the average premium for an accident and illness plan was $36 a month, or $13 a month for an accident-only plan, in 2014, according to the NAPHIA.

There is debate as to whether pet insurance is worth it if you have a relatively healthy pet.

In 2011, Consumer Reports found that when it shopped for a 10-year-old beagle with a pretty healthy background, none of the top pet insurance companies would have paid out more than the cost of the premiums.

Consumer Reports looked at Nationwide (then VPI), ASPCA and 24 Petwatch Quickcare – which together control 90 percent of the market share. Trupanion, newer to the scene, was considered, too.

It wasn’t until they threw in serious and costly health problems, that Consumer Reports started to see benefits from the policies.

Liles pointed out that, like with any insurance policy, premiums vary based on coverage.

“The goal for the consumer is … to manage risk (for) when the unexpected occurs, and have the peace of mind knowing you have the coverage for your pet when you need it,” he said.

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