- The Washington Times - Friday, August 25, 2000

PALM BEACH, Fla. Medical treatment for pets has grown sophisticated and more expensive so perhaps it's logical that Fluffy and Fido now have their own insurance policies.

Medical insurance for pets is gaining popularity, and veterinarians and financial planners say that's good news for pet owners who consider their dogs and cats full-fledged family members.

Pet insurance has been around since the 1980s, but only about 1 percent of American pet owners buy policies. Insurers see an untapped market; in Sweden, for instance, nearly half of pet owners have policies.

Family Security Insurance Services, an independent agency, this month began selling pet insurance issued by Aegon, a large Dutch insurer. Home Shopping Network, based in St. Petersburg, Fla., this year began offering it to employees.

Demand for pet insurance has increased as veterinary medicine has advanced, said Robin Itzer, spokeswoman for Veterinary Pet Insurance of Anaheim, Calif. Now dogs and cats get kidney transplants, pacemakers, chemotherapy and MRIs.

"Ten or 15 years ago, people would have just said, 'Fluffy had a good life,' " Miss Itzer said. "In the last 10 years, veterinary medicine has drastically changed. Everything is state of the art."

Policies sold by Family Security Insurance cost $234 a year for puppies and kittens, said Vice President Bob De Benedetto. For dogs and cats 5 to 8 years old, the annual premium is $286.

Only canines and felines are eligible; no birds or iguanas need apply.

Pet owners pay vets for services, then ask the insurance company for reimbursement. But some pet insurers have gone out of business and some pet owners have become discouraged by having to wait for reimbursement.

"In the cases I've seen, I thought it was kind of a waste of money," said Dr. Jack Liggett, a veterinarian at Clearlake Animal Hospital in Palm Beach.

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