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HSN tosses pet-owning workers a new treat

The shopping network offers an insurance benefit for discounted veterinary bills at the cost of a $5 payroll deduction.

By MARK ALBRIGHT

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 21, 2000


Home Shopping Network hopes to take a bite out of the tight employment market by offering a new fringe benefit: a health plan for Fido.

In fact, the TV shopping network is offering its 4,000 employees pet health coverage for any creature -- cats, dogs, turtles, hamsters, even iguanas -- that a veterinarian will treat.

"To many of our employees, pets are a true member of their family," said Lisa LeTizio, senior vice president of human resources. "We're committed to providing the most diverse array of benefit options to fit peoples' lifestyles. I think pet health insurance is going to go mainstream."

It's not really an HMO for critters. The plan offers HSN workers a 25 percent discount on pet medical bills at 10 local veterinary clinics. Plan members pay $5 a month through a payroll deduction that covers their entire family menagerie. HSN, which subsidizes 80 percent of the cost of health insurance for employees, shoulders only the overhead of organizing its pet plan.

"When we told our benefits company we wanted to offer pet insurance, they thought we were nuts," said Kristi Marqese, HSN's benefits director.

Network officials have no idea how many employees will sign up, although one of the first was HSN president Mark Bozek, who adopted a former racing greyhound named Sky.

The plan is one of a buffet of non-traditional benefits HSN created recently. Among them: group rate employee discounts for homeowners and car insurance, on-site car detailing, delivered dry cleaning and shoe repair. USA Networks Inc., HSN's corporate parent, is trying to extend the same benefits to all of its employees.

Because of rising veterinary service bills (an annual checkup and shots often tops $100, and surgery can run in the thousands), more conventional pet health insurance is offered by a few insurance companies.

"Most veterinarians locally accept it because it's a reimbursable policy that pays them in full," said Gary Oswald, former president of the Pinellas County Veterinary Medical Society. "But I've never heard of a plan like Home Shopping's."

Don Gaias, principal with the Tampa office of Towers Perin, a human resources consulting firm, said plans such as HSN's should prove appealing. But Gaias, a cat fancier, gets a similar deal from his Tampa vet without paying premiums.

"I get what he calls his four-cat discount."

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