More employers, owners opting for pet insurance

NEW YORK — Many people consider their pets like children and when they get sick, a trip to the vet isn't cheap. To help, many employers have started offering pet insurance as a work perk.

That's something that Rita Orrell took advantage of eight years ago.

Her 12-year-old Boston Terrier named Rooby was diagnosed with a tumor near her tail in August. She has to go for radiation treatments three times a week.

"It is a relief," she told CBS News. "It is an investment and a bit of a gamble as insurance usually is. You could never see a return on it and for most insurance you hope you don't."

Insurance for dogs, cats and other pets is growing in popularity. Nearly two million pets were insured in 2016 —Up 15 percent from the prior year. By 2019, pet insurance is expected to surpass $1 billion.

While only a fraction of the 144 million pets in America are covered, nearly half of Fortune 500 companies offer the perk to employees.

"From their employee's point of view, pets have really become part of the family," said Scott Liles, chief pet insurance officer for Nationwide. "Literally over the last few years, pets have moved from the backyard to the bedroom."

If you have to buy a plan on your own it can cost more than $40 a month. They usually only cover accidents and illnesses, not wellness visits and vaccines.

"I understand that people may not be able to afford that," said Orrell.

"Do enough pet owners have pet insurance?"asked CBS News correspondent Meg Oliver.

"No," said Dr. Abe Van Beven with Petcure Oncology. "I don't think so."

He said insurance is vital when an animal is hit with a serious disease like cancer.

"It starts off about $4,000 and ranges up to about $9,000."

Erica Dicaterino wishes she had protection. Her dog Sophie was recently diagnosed with cancer in her leg.

"Altogether it's been about $11,000."

"Were you prepared for that?"

"No I was not."

Insurance would have covered 90-percent of Sophie's medical bills. Dicaterino said she plans to buy insurance for future pets.