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Shopping for a life insurance policy can feel confusing, and if you have a family history of cancer or have been diagnosed with cancer yourself, finding the best provider for your situation might seem complicated. Your health history plays a large role in determining your life insurance premium. If you are a cancer survivor, currently in treatment, or one of your parents or siblings has had a cancer diagnosis, your premiums or even your ability to purchase an insurance policy are affected.
But depending on your diagnosis, your current health status, and the details of your family history, there are still several life insurance options available to you. If you’re currently undergoing treatment, a guaranteed issue policy can protect you until your health improves. And if your cancer is in remission or your immediate relatives have had cancer, you may still be eligible for a competitively priced traditional policy.
If you have a family history of cancer, you may still qualify for the best rates
Cancer survivors currently in remission have some life insurance options, but it varies by insurance company
If you’re currently undergoing treatment for cancer you will only qualify for guaranteed issue life insurance, though you may not be eligible at all
If you are currently undergoing treatment for cancer, or if you have had a cancer diagnosis within the last two to four years, you will not be able to purchase a traditional term or whole life insurance policy and will have to purchase a more expensive final expense policy. (There are usually exceptions for non-melanoma skin cancers like basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma).
If you’re still undergoing treatment, your future health is difficult for insurers to evaluate. An underwriter will want any major medical issues to have been resolved for at least a few years before they rate your health. They don’t want to assess your mortality and assign you a health rating while your medical profile has the potential to change rapidly. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t get any life insurance coverage if you’re undergoing treatment for cancer or have a recent diagnosis.
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Guaranteed issue life insurance is a type of whole life insurance that does not require a medical exam and, in many cases, does not require answers to medical questions.
The tradeoff is that guaranteed issue life insurance policies are much more expensive than traditional term life insurance, and offer lower benefit amounts. But if you’re unable to purchase traditional term insurance, a guaranteed issue life insurance policy could be a good way to get some life insurance coverage and provide a small death benefit for your family should you die while the policy is active. Once you’re in remission for a number of years, you can revisit your traditional policy options and cancel your guaranteed issue policy after finding a suitable replacement.
Guaranteed issue life insurance is most often available to people over 50, but if you are under 50 and living with cancer, it may be possible to purchase a guaranteed issue policy with some insurers. Guaranteed issue premiums are based on your age, and are priced per $1,000 unit of coverage. Additionally, the policies are limited in how many units you can purchase: many policies max out at a $10,000 death benefit, though some may allow you to purchase up to $25,000 in coverage.
|WOMEN||$10,000 POLICY||$25,000 POLICY|
|Age||Annual Premium||Monthly Premium||Annual Premium||Monthly Premium|
|MEN||$10,000 POLICY||$25,000 POLICY|
|Age||Annual Premium||Monthly Premium||Annual Premium||Monthly Premium|
Sample premiums based on policies offered by Policygenius in 2020. Not available in all states.
People with past cancer diagnoses who have been declared in remission and are a certain number of years past their final treatment may be eligible for a traditional term or whole life insurance policy. During the underwriting process, the life insurance company will review your application in order to assign you an insurance classification, which is a rating that determines how much you’ll pay for your insurance policy. Some of the information they’ll look at includes:
Medical history and pre-existing medical conditions
Driving record (MVR)
Medical exam results
Each provider has its own classification terms, but generally, Preferred Plus will give you the lowest premiums, with Preferred, Standard Plus, Standard, and Substandard ratings (also called table ratings) offering progressively higher premiums. For cancer survivors, your ability to qualify for a policy and your premiums for that policy will be based on four factors:
The type of cancer you had (e.g., breast cancer, skin cancer, thyroid cancer, etc.)
The date you were diagnosed with cancer
The date of your last cancer treatment
How the insurer weighs those factors against the rest of your health history
It’s hard to say which insurers are best for which cancers, because your entire health history is taken into account during underwriting in addition to how much time has elapsed since your diagnosis and treatment. Certain cancer diagnoses can lead to a more preferable rating than others based on how an insurer assesses the mortality risk of those cancers. Skin cancer, for example, is often assessed more favorably by underwriters than lung or pancreatic cancer.
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Generally, these are the best insurance classifications you can expect if you have been diagnosed with each of the following cancer types. But multiple factors, like your credit report and a medical exam, will determine your final rating.
Cancers that could result in Preferred Plus ratings for some carriers:
Non-melanoma skin cancer
Papillary thyroid cancer
Stage 1 seminoma testicular cancer
Cancers that could result in Preferred ratings for some carriers:
Cancers that could result in Standard ratings for some carriers:
If you have a cancer diagnosis in your health history, it’s important to work with an independent broker like Policygenius that can review your medical history and work with in-house underwriters to choose the best insurer and policy for your situation.
When you’re applying for life insurance, your current health matters, but so does your family’s health history. Insurers will ask if any members of your immediate family — your parents and siblings — have been diagnosed with cancer or another genetic disease, at what age they were diagnosed, and whether they died. Your answers to those questions could affect your insurance classification.
Every insurance company treats a family history of cancer differently, which is why your quotes can vary so widely between insurers. While having a family member with a certain type of cancer may affect your rates with one provider, it could be that you’re still able to get the best available rates with another.
Some insurers will give you Preferred Plus rates if the cancer in your immediate family has higher survival rates and is not considered hereditary; others will not offer their best rates if an immediate family member has had any cancer diagnosis
Some carriers won’t count gender-specific cancers if you’re of the opposite sex (e.g., if you’re female, the fact that your father had testicular cancer won’t affect your rates)
Others won’t inquire into your family history of cancer at all
Since some types of cancer can be passed down from parent to child, a family history of cancer among your biological relatives (along with other chronic illnesses, like diabetes and heart disease) will be taken into account by insurers when setting your premiums.
Having a current cancer diagnosis, a past history of cancer, or a family history of cancer raises red flags for an insurer when they’re evaluating the risk of insuring you, but not every instance of cancer in your medical history will have the same effect on your life insurance.
A guaranteed issue policy is a great way to secure financial protection for your loved ones if you’re currently undergoing cancer treatment or recently completed treatment. If you’re in remission or an immediate family member has had cancer, do some research to find out how that could impact your premiums, if at all. Every insurance application is different and each insurer varies in the way they evaluate cancer diagnoses, so make sure to compare coverage on your own or with the help of an independent broker to identify which policy is the best fit for your entire medical and personal profile.
Due to the ever-changing nature of the coronavirus pandemic, some insurers are modifying processes and/or imposing coverage restrictions on certain health conditions or age groups. Speak to a Policygenius agent for free to find out how to get the most affordable policy.
If you have an active life insurance policy and die from cancer, your policy will pay out the death benefit to your beneficiaries. But if you lied about your condition during the life insurance application process, your insurer can withhold the funds.
Applicants undergoing cancer treatment aren’t eligible for a traditional term or whole life insurance policy and will need to opt for guaranteed issue policies to get life insurance coverage.
Anna Swartz is a Managing Editor at Policygenius, where she has been since 2018. An expert in home, auto and renters insurance, she loves making tough concepts easy to understand and helping readers feel confident about their insurance options. Before joining Policygenius, she was a senior staff writer at Mic. Her work has appeared in The Dodo, AOL, HuffPost, Salon and Heeb.
Amanda Shih is a life insurance editor at Policygenius in New York City. She has a passion for making complex topics relatable and understandable, and has been writing about insurance since 2017 with specialities in life insurance cost and policy types. She's previously written for Jetty and LegalZoom.
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