Hospital Helps Employees Care for Pets and Patients


From the WebMD Archives

April 12, 2000 (Atlanta) — Are you concerned because your loved one’s breath is worse than normal, or he’s losing too much hair — or perhaps that the fleck of foam on the corner of his mouth may be rabies? Don’t worry, treatment for the problem’s covered … at least it is in some workplaces.

The cost of health insurance is not only rising for humans, but for pets, too. Pet insurance’s mere existence was inevitable. And now, more and more employers are starting to add the coverage to their list of employee benefits. One such place is Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan.

“We’re a health care institution, so a lot of our employees are very caring people, and [for] a lot of them, their pets are like their family members,” says Erin O’Connor, vice president of human resources for Lenox Hill. “There is evidence out there about pets being an emotionally calming influence, and the better the employee is, emotionally, the better the care they’re going to give to the patients who are here.”

For about $4 out of every bimonthly paycheck, the employees at Lenox Hill Hospital can get a 25% discount on veterinary services, from major treatment to shots, at clinics that participate in the plan. It’s sort of like an HMO for animals … sort of.

“You have to understand that that comparison ends at the fact that there’s a network of vets; there’s no other similarities whatsoever,” says Jerry Hirsh, director of communications for Pet Assure, the group that organizes the vet network. “Our vets are totally independent … we have no one here that would even understand how to approve a treatment.”

Pet Assure doesn’t actually insure the pet, but coordinates the national network of vets that agree to treat pets in the program at a discount. There are no forms, all pets are covered, no matter their species, age, or disease, and there’s no physical required to get the insurance. Does your pet smoke? No problem, according to Hirsh. He says what his company offers is “beyond insurance, really.”

There are other organizations similar to Pet Assure out there, and even some traditional-type insurers. O’Connor says her hospital made the choice after a task force looked into the different options. The idea for the benefit came from an employee survey.

“[It] came about through an employee group we formed here at the hospital for the purpose of exploring satisfaction with benefits, and new potential benefits that employees wanted … This was third on the list,” O’Connor tells WebMD.

The trend is obviously catching on, too. Hirsh says, “We’re in various levels of negotiations with all kinds of companies, big household name companies, and smaller regional companies. It’s really an inexpensive benefit … and it’s a real nice goodwill gesture.”

O’Connor says that out of 2,800 employees at the hospital, about 50 had signed on for the option the last time she checked. That doesn’t mean the option is unpopular, but rather that a lot of employees are taking a “wait-and-see” attitude. More people may sign up “after the first go-around,” O’Connor tells WebMD.

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