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Pet insurance becomes more popular

Health insurance for pets is becoming more popular, but pet-owners need to be careful when choosing a plan, said Sherry Samson, vice president for marketing and operations at Vaaler Insurance in Grand Forks.

"A fair number of insurance companies offer pet insurance, but they are 'direct writers,' meaning that they work directly with pet owners, not through an agency," she said.

Health insurance for pets "is a relative new area" in insurance, emerging in the past five to 10 years, she said. It's not a standardized commodity like homeowners or personal auto insurance.

"Veterinary care sees escalation, much like human medical care, and can represent a significant cost for people."

People should do their research, especially on deductibles, co-payments, exclusions and maximum benefits the company will pay in any one year, she said, "to make sure they are comparing plans on an equal basis."

Companies may exclude coverage of certain breeds because of their tendency to develop conditions that require medical and surgical intervention, like German shepherds which are prone to getting hip dysplasia.

"People need to be careful to look for conditions which are not covered," including pre-existing conditions, she said.

"If your dog has been treated for something, you may not be able to get insurance."

Some traditional insurance companies will cover the cost of treating a pet that's been in an accident, she said. That's often limited to $1000.

Dental, geriatric and preventive care are areas for which more people are purchasing health insurance for their pets.