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California bill would regulate pet insurance

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- California could soon start regulating the small but growing market for pet insurance under proposed legislation.

A bill by Assemblyman Matt Dababneh, D-Los Angeles, would set guidelines for the largely unregulated pet insurance industry, according to the Sacramento Bee (http://bit.ly/1mtPGwJ).

Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed similar legislation, but the latest measure was approved 78-0 by the state Assembly and now awaits approval by the state Senate.

If the proposed legislation is signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, California would be the first state to impose basic requirements for pet insurance, said Patrick Storm, a spokesman for Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, who supports the legislation.

“Pet insurance is still the Wild West, and that's what we're trying to rein in,” Storm said.

The legislation was prompted by increasing complaints to the state Department of Insurance about pet insurance policies that consumers say are confusing or sometimes misleading.

“Consumers weren't confident in the product they were buying,” Dababneh said. “There's obviously a big new opportunity for us here in California to once again lead the way.”

The legislation would make policies more transparent and give insurance regulators a greater ability to oversee the plans. Policyholders would get a 30-day trial period during which they would have the option to return their coverage.

The pet insurance industry has largely remained neutral on the bill, but Veterinary Pet Insurance, the largest U.S. provider, has endorsed the measure.

“Because there are now so many companies in the market, we felt it was important that everyone was playing by the same rules,” company spokesman Curtis Steinhoff said.

Only about 1 percent of American pet owners hold policies, but they're becoming increasingly popular as treatments get more expensive and more owners treat their pets like members of the family.

Stuart Waldman decided to buy pet insurance after treatment for his previous dog cost him $17,000. But he hasn't been impressed and wishes consumers could have better access to policy information, Waldman said.

“We get claims rejected constantly because of a pre-existing condition,” said Waldman, a Los Angeles resident and former Assembly aide. “We always have to appeal.”

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Information from: The Sacramento Bee, http://www.sacbee.com

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