TAMPA, Fla. – If people take out medical insurance for themselves or family for those `just in case’ situations, then why not do the same for their pets? That was pretty much the attitude when Bay Gulf Credit Union decided to offer Pet Protect health insurance through its Advantages in Membership CUSO. Mike Bartoo, president of AIM, explains a couple of factors sparked the move. First, he noticed a couple other credit unions adding it to their product menus. In addition, he and BGCU CEO William DeMare saw articles suggesting a number of companies were offering pet health insurance to employees as part of their benefit packages. “So we decided maybe this was something we needed to look at and make available to our members as well,” Bartoo says. Bartoo talked to IBM Southeast Employees’ Federal Credit Union in Boca Raton. They offer pet insurance to members, but the program there was also new and hadn’t developed a track record. Finally BGCU decided the program really involved limited cost to the credit union. It seemed worth introducing. If it becomes something a lot of members take advantage of, wonderful. If only a few members sign up, that’s okay. There hasn’t been a lot of response yet, Bartoo adds, but it’s still rolling out and promotion so far has consisted of a newsletter article plus some brochures in branch offices and a link on the BGCU website. “From talking to Pet Protect, I understand they have received contacts from some of our members, but a policy has not yet been sold,” Bartoo says. “I think it’s something that will start becoming relatively accepted. I’m just not sure that it is yet. It’s a fairly basic product. The thing you have to overcome – and I’ve been a pet owner myself – is you look at it and you say, `Well, the insurance itself can be anywhere from $15 to $30 a month depending on the pet, and I’ll probably never use it.’ “But the one time your dog breaks his leg and you end up writing a check to the vet for $800 or $1,000, you suddenly look again and wonder why you didn’t buy that insurance. Pets are very much a part of the family. People don’t think twice about spending $1,000 or $1,500 if the pet needs surgery. You could have been paying $20 a month and had that entire amount covered.” However, it’s a new concept to most people. Bartoo figures if he sat in the credit union lobby and asked 100 members if they would pay $25 a month for pet health insurance, he’d be amazed if one member responded positively. But he also believes as people find the costs of veterinarian care increasing, the idea of pet health insurance will become more attractive and accepted. “One thing we really should do, and will do, is talk to local veterinarians. `Is this something you would make available in your office?’ If so, from the veterinarian’s perspective, my assumption is they do not take a discount from the insurance company. They get the same amount either way. If the pet owner is paying for pet health insurance, they’re more likely to take the pet in to see the vet if the pet is sick.” -

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