Here's where the healthiest people live, according to insurance data

by Hanna Horvath
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Here's where the healthiest people live, according to insurance data

The start of a new year (and decade) typically means revisiting self-improvement goals like eating healthier, exercising more, sleeping better and dropping bad habits.

Getting life insurance is also high on many to-do lists. Because buying when you’re younger means you’ll get the same coverage for significantly less, it’s never been a better time to apply. But what if you’re waiting to apply once you’re a little … healthier? Say, after you lose weight or quit smoking.

Life insurance is one area where health goals can intersect with financial goals. Healthier people generally pay less for life insurance. We examined data on life insurance applicants in each state to see how their physical health compared to the rest of the country.

About this data

To do so, we looked at common health conditions life insurance companies initially screen. We combined six conditions — high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, sleep apnea, asthma and depression — and weighted them equally to create an ranking of which states had the healthiest and unhealthiest life insurance applicants.

The data come from Policygenius customers who called to apply for life insurance in 2018. It’s been anonymized to protect their privacy. One caveat: Insurance companies screen for these six conditions over the phone, but it's possible people don't know or don't reveal they have these conditions until later in the application process.

Here’s what we found.

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The average life insurance applicant has lower rates of high cholesterol (11.1%), high blood pressure (13.6%), diabetes (2.5%), sleep apnea (2.4%), asthma (4.9%) and depression (6.3%) than the average American.

Why is this? Unhealthy people are more likely to die than healthy people, so it would make sense for them to shop for life insurance. But bad health means higher premiums, which may drive a reluctance to apply.

Though life insurance applicants were healthier on average, health conditions vary widely across the country. Here’s a geographical look at the rankings.

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Exploring the data

Idaho was ranked the healthiest state for life insurance applicants, due to its low rates of high blood pressure (9.3%), sleep apnea (0.7%) and depression (4.7%).

New Mexico was ranked the least healthy state for life insurance applicants because of high rates of cholesterol (14.7%), asthma (8.9%) and depression (9.9%).

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Questions about the index? You can ask in the comments below.

How life insurance companies set costs

Life insurance costs depend on several factors, including age, gender, benefit amount, term length and health.

Life insurance companies screen for a number of different health conditions. Even if you apply online, you’ll have to get on the phone to answer additional health questions to complete your application and move on to the underwriting process.

Insurers use health information to determine how likely you are to die during the coverage term, so they can set your premium rates. The riskier you are, the bigger the chance insurers will pay out a benefit, so they charge higher rates as a hedge against that risk.

The data from the index comes from information collected during these phone calls. It’s only a preliminary step in the process. You’ll still need to go through underwriting. This includes a medical exam, which may unearth other medical conditions they weren’t previously disclosed.

“These specific health conditions are large indicators of major factors that contribute to your life expectancy,” Nick Mancuso, senior operations manager for disability and advanced planning. “They ask questions that can be screened through a medical exam.”

Your health impacts your finances. Applicants with certain health habits or chronic conditions will typically pay more money for their policy.

For example, a 30-year-old male life insurance applicant looking for a $500,000, 20-year term policy — would pay an average $28.58 per month for life insurance.

If they were a smoker, they would pay an average $83.19 per month, a 191% increase. Learn more about the price impact of health conditions on insurance here.

How to get life insurance with bad health (or habits)

You may be able to get life insurance at an affordable rate if you have a complicated health history, depending on your condition and the severity.

Some conditions, like a terminal cancer diagnosis, will mean you can’t get life insurance. But other conditions, like high blood pressure, diabetes or even cancer that is in remission, could simply mean you have higher rates than if you were in perfect health.

Lifestyle choices can also affect your life insurance rates. Losing weight or quitting smoking can lead to lower rates, though generally you have to keep the weight off for one year or have stopped smoking for at least two years before your rates will be lower.

Disclosing your condition or habit as soon as possible is your best bet, Mancuso said.

“If anything, it will help your agent steer you toward the right carrier,” he said.

Some carriers offer better premiums for certain health conditions, which is why it’s important to shop around. The bottom line: Be upfront and don’t lie about any health conditions. It’s considered fraud. Learn more about finding affordable life insurance here.

Image: Jeniffer Araujo