Disability insurance and cancer

Disability benefits can protect your income if you are diagnosed with cancer, but you won't qualify for coverage if you have a recent cancer diagnosis.

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Disability insurance is an important safeguard for your income and livelihood after a cancer diagnosis — but only if you already have a policy in place. If you receive a new cancer diagnosis and don’t have a private disability policy or coverage through your employer, you won’t be able to apply for a new policy until your cancer treatment has stopped.

If you don't have an existing policy when you receive your diagnosis, you may be able to receive some disability insurance benefits from your state disability program (five states and Puerto Rico have mandatory disability insurance programs) or through Social Security disability insurance (SSDI).

Can you apply for disability insurance if you have cancer?

Unfortunately, if you don’t have disability insurance or fear that the coverage provided by your employer won’t be enough, you can’t apply for a new disability insurance policy with a recent cancer diagnosis or if you're undergoing cancer treatment.

Disability insurance providers use risk assessment to make policy and premium decisions. If you have a new cancer diagnosis or are currently undergoing treatment for cancer, the insurer can’t accurately assess your risk.

Once you go through treatment — whether surgery, chemo, radiation, or another treatment — and the cancer is in remission, however, you can apply for a policy to protect you from future accidents and illnesses.

In the meantime, if your illness does mean that you’re unable to work, you can apply for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI).

Making a disability insurance claim with cancer

If you have received a cancer diagnosis and need to learn about disability insurance options, the first step is to survey what coverage you may already have. There are three primary types of disability coverage:

Talk to your HR department about what coverage you have through work. If you have a private disability insurance policy that you’ve purchased on your own outside of work, look into claim requirements.

A cancer diagnosis doesn’t guarantee that you can receive disability benefits. To make a successful disability claim and claim benefits, a diagnosis has to lead to a disability that keeps you from working.

To make a claim, you’ll have to get a statement from your doctor that explains your health status and that you’re disabled and unable to work. That information has to meet your policy’s definition of disability. Some insurers may also require a statement from your employer.

→ Read more about how to file a disability claim

SSDI and cancer

The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses a guide called the Blue Book to evaluate SSDI applications from people with cancer.

There are some cancers that can result in Social Security disability benefits with just a diagnosis. These cancers are listed on the SSA’s Compassionate Allowances conditions, and people with these diagnoses can be fast-tracked through the approval process.

Some Compassionate Allowances conditions are listed below — the full list of conditions that qualify for SSDI is available from the SSA:

  • Adrenal cancer

  • Adult non-Hodgkin lymphoma

  • Bladder cancer (with distant metastases or inoperable)

  • Breast cancer (with distant metastases or inoperable)

  • Esophageal cancer

  • Head and neck cancers (with distant metastases or inoperable)

  • Brain cancer

  • Kidney cancer (inoperable or unresectable)

  • Large intestine cancer (with distant metastases, inoperable, unresectable, or recurrent)

  • Liver cancer

  • Osteosarcoma (bone cancer) (with distant metastases, inoperable, unresectable, or recurrent)

  • Ovarian cancer (with distant metastases or inoperable)

  • Pancreatic cancer

  • Prostate cancer (with visceral metastases)

  • Small cell cancers

  • Small intestine cancer (with distant metastases, inoperable, unresectable, or recurrent)

  • Stomach cancer (with distant metastases, inoperable, unresectable, or recurrent)

  • Thyroid cancer

This list is just for Compassionate Allowance conditions for Social Security disability insurance. For all other types of disability insurance, claims are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

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Applying for disability insurance after cancer

Once you are in remission, have had your cancer removed or treated, and a doctor has given you the all-clear after a follow-up appointment, you can apply for a disability insurance policy to ensure that your income is protected from other health issues in the future.

Former cancer patients aren’t uninsurable, but applying for disability insurance with a pre-existing condition can mean that you’ll have higher premiums.

There are several ways to lower your premium if you have a history of cancer:

  • Exclusions: If you have a history of cancer, it’s very likely that cancer will be listed as an exclusion and won’t be covered by your policy. How specific the exclusion is depends on your history, including what type and stage of cancer you had.

  • Shorter benefit period: Depending on your health history, an insurance agent may suggest that you purchase a policy that only provides benefits for three to five years, instead of until retirement. Once you have several years without claims, you can reapply for a more robust policy.

  • Step-graded coverage for illnesses: Step-graded coverage means that when you first buy the policy, you'll have lower coverage for illnesses but full coverage for accidents. Then, each progressive year without a claim means you get more of the full coverage amount if you become disabled from an illness.

We can help you can get disability insurance quotes, and a Policygenius disability insurance specialist can help you personalize your quotes to your needs.