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High cholesterol? Here's how it will change your life insurance rates, and what the best life insurance companies are for getting affordable coverage.
Published August 14, 2019
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Here’s something frustrating: after you put in your life insurance application, get the medical exam, and go through underwriting, your life insurance agent comes back and tells you that your rate got bumped up. Why? Higher than average cholesterol levels.
If you already knew your cholesterol levels were high, this might not come as much of a shock to you. But if your cholesterol problems were previously undiagnosed or your past cholesterol tests have come back in the optimal range, you might be left wondering how the insurer came up with these numbers. But don't worry — you're not destined to pay high premiums forever. There are steps you can take and insurers to consider that can help you get a competitive life insurance rate.
Life insurance companies are going to look at two numbers: your total blood cholesterol level, and the ratio of your total cholesterol to the "good" HDL cholesterol. Both of these numbers are important for getting a full picture of your health, because even if you have a low total amount of cholesterol (200 is the ideal), if your total-cholesterol-to-HDL ratio is higher than 5, you could be at higher than average risk for heart disease. For more information on how to read cholesterol test results, talk to your doctor or check out this resource from Harvard Health.
No two life insurance companies have the same standards when it comes to assessing your cholesterol levels and the risk, but we can make some generalizations about how they look at your test results.
Many insurers have a two-step process for looking at cholesterol levels. First, they look at your total-cholesterol-to-HDL ratio. That number alone will automatically place you into a health classification (learn more about life insurance classifications). For example, a total cholesterol-to-HDL ratio of 5 is about average for an adult male, so if you have ratio of 6, you may automatically be placed in a lower health classification by the insurer.
After they look at your total-cholesterol-to-HDL ratio, they’ll look at your total cholesterol level. Usually, insurers have an upper limit for total cholesterol level assigned to each ratio. For example, if you have a ratio of 6, you may be limited to a total cholesterol level of 240 before you’re knocked down to a lower health classification.
Other insurers have different standards depending on your age or health. For example, the younger you are, the higher a standard insurers will hold your cholesterol levels to. Additionally, women have a naturally higher cholesterol level than men, so many insurers have one standard for each sex.
Don’t omit any information about your cholesterol levels (if you have that information) when you apply. The more upfront you are about that information, the easier it will be for your agent to get you an accurate quote. While there still may be some surprises once you actually go through underwriting, the more information you can provide upfront, the less shocked you’ll be when it comes to the final price.
If you don’t have your cholesterol levels on hand, it makes sense to call your primary doctor and see if she can provide you with your most recent cholesterol test results. While those results may no longer be accurate (your insurer will use the test results from your medical exam, not your last physical), it can give you a general idea of what to expect.
You can buy over-the-counter cholesterol measuring kits, but the cheaper versions will only measure your total cholesterol level, which isn’t as important to the insurer as the total-cholesterol-to-HDL ratio. To get that number before you apply, you’ll need to either spend a lot more on a fancier testing kit, or go to your doctor or a clinic for a full cholesterol test.
If you’re unhappy with your rate based on your cholesterol test results, you can ask the insurance company to reconsider based on your past cholesterol tests. However, it’s not as simple as calling up your agent and telling them that your last ratio was a 3.5. You need to have proof, and lots of it, to hand over to the insurance company. While the amount of proof depends on the insurer, some will expect to see five years of consistently low cholesterol levels before they reconsider your classification.
Because each insurer assesses your cholesterol a little bit differently, you may be able to get a more favorable rating at one insurer over another. Talk to your agent about your options – now that you’ve identified that cholesterol is your problem, it should be easier to pick an insurer that will look at your health profile favorably.
In the rare case that your application is declined, it was likely a confluence of factors, of which cholesterol was just one, that led to this decision. Again – talk to your agent. They’ll be able to give you a personalized rundown of other insurance companies that may look at you more favorably. You can also read our general-purpose tips for what to do after a life insurance application is declined here.
Colin Lalley is the Associate Director of SEO Content at Policygenius in New York City. His writing on insurance and personal finance has appeared on Betterment, Inc, Credit Sesame, and the Council for Disability Awareness. Colin has a degree in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.