What is a chronic illness and can you qualify for life insurance if you have one?
A chronic illness is a condition that lasts one year or longer and either requires ongoing medical attention, or limits activities of daily living, or both, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Six out of every 10 adults in the U.S. live with one chronic illness, and four in 10 have two or more  . But having a chronic illness doesn't immediately disqualify you from getting life insurance.
Insurers will take a holistic look at your health and treatment plan in order to determine your rates; they’ll likely have you take a medical exam or a health questionnaire over the phone.
Plenty of people with a chronic condition can qualify for average life insurance rates, but your rates will depend on your specific health condition and the kind of treatment you may be following.
If your condition significantly impacts your daily function or ability to work, you might not qualify for term life insurance, the most popular coverage option. However, a life insurance agent or an independent broker can help walk you through other options.
At Policygenius, we’ve got a team of experts who specialize in life insurance for people with various health considerations, including chronic illness. They'll help you find the right options for your unique needs.
What diagnoses do life insurance companies include in their definition of chronic illness?
Below are examples of chronic conditions that may affect your life insurance eligibility and rates:
What types of life insurance are available if you have a chronic illness?
Term, permanent, and final expense life insurance are some of the options available to you if you have a chronic illness.
The best way to find the right option for you is to do some preliminary research about how insurance companies will evaluate your medical history, and to work with an independent insurance agent. They will help you identify the best and most affordable policy for your situation.
Term life insurance
Term life insurance is a popular option for most people because it’s affordable and comes with few tax restrictions or limitations.
Term provides financial protection during the time you need it the most, usually up until retirement age. In many cases, term life insurance will be available if you have a well-managed chronic illness.
Permanent life insurance
Permanent life insurance lasts your entire life, as opposed to a set term, and usually has a cash value savings component. Because of this, it’s about five to 15 times more expensive than term life.
Permanent life insurance products, such as whole life insurance, are best suited for people with higher net worths and long-term financial obligations.
A chronic illness won’t automatically disqualify you from applying for permanent life insurance, either. However, it will likely contribute to even more expensive premiums, making it a less practical choice.
Final expense life insurance
Final expense life insurance, also called burial insurance, is a type of permanent life insurance policy intended to cover the cost of a funeral or any other final medical bills.
Final expense life insurance can be a good option for older adults, people who need less than $100,000 in coverage, or people who have health conditions that might disqualify them from getting term insurance.
Life insurance riders
The main reason to buy life insurance is to provide financial support to your beneficiaries after you die.
However, you can also add living benefits riders, which offer supplemental coverage to your life insurance policy. These add-ons can help provide funds if you receive a diagnosis for a terminal illness or if you’re in need of critical care after an unexpected medical event, like a heart attack.
The availability and cost of each rider varies depending on which insurer you buy coverage from.
The most common living benefits riders include:
Accelerated death benefit: It’s a rider that allows you to request a portion of the death benefit if you’re diagnosed with a terminal illness or condition. The accelerated death benefit comes free of charge with most term policies.
Critical illness rider: This add-on allows you to request a portion of the death benefit if you’re in critical condition as a result of a health event, including ALS, heart attack, stroke, and major organ failure.
Chronic illness rider: Provides benefits if you can no longer perform at least two of the six activities of daily  : bathing, dressing, using the toilet, transferring (to or from bed or chair), caring for incontinence, and eating.
Long-term-care (LTC) rider: A long-term care rider covers nursing home care, home health care, and other long-term care-expenses for those no longer able to perform at least two of the six activities of daily living.
A licensed agent can help walk you through which type of life insurance might be the best fit for you based on your health and personal circumstances.
How much does life insurance cost if you have a chronic illness?
A 35-year-old non-smoker with a well-managed chronic illness can expect to pay $42 per month for a term life insurance policy with a $500,000 death benefit payout and a duration of 20 years. The cost of your premiums will depend on your specific illness or condition. It’s possible to qualify for average rates — and even above-average rates — depending on your condition and how it’s managed. On the other hand, if your condition significantly impacts your daily function or ability to work, you’ll likely end up paying more in premiums.
20-year term life insurance rates for people with a chronic illness
Best companies for life insurance if you have a chronic illness
No one life insurance company is best for every person with a chronic illness, but certain insurers may consider your condition a lower risk than others do. Since every company has its own underwriting guidelines, it’s important to understand what medical information will influence a decision about your diagnosis.
We used industry data, pricing from Policygenius carrier partners, and third-party ratings like A.M. Best and J.D. Power to pick the best insurers on the market. Our independent recommendations will help you get life insurance coverage with confidence.
Below are some general recommendations, but speaking with an independent insurance broker will help you find the best life insurance company and lowest prices for your profile.
Best overall: Lincoln Financial
Most affordable: Legal & General America
Best term: Pacific Life
Best rider availability: Foresters Financial
Best overall life insurance for people with a chronic illness
Lincoln Financial offers better rates than other insurers to people with chronic or pre-existing conditions. In particular, Lincoln Financial is known for competitive pricing for applicants with histories of arthritis, cancer, mental health diagnoses, and stroke, among other health problems.
Most affordable life insurance for people with a chronic illness
Legal & General America, which also does business as Banner Life and William Penn, offers a wide array of coverage options to people with a number of chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and asthma, to name a few.
It also offers competitive premiums in general — if you get assigned a slightly higher health classification, you’ll still pay less than if you were given that same health classification with another insurer. Ultimately, the best option for you will come down to your specific condition and health circumstances.
Best term life insurance for people with a chronic illness
Pacific Life also offers competitive pricing across many health classifications. They can offer competitive rates to people with various chronic conditions, such as sleep apnea and diabetes. Pacific Life also has more flexible guidelines when it comes to some higher-risk chronic conditions, such as HIV.
Best life insurance rider availability for people with a chronic illness
Foresters Financial includes unique riders that are already factored into their premiums, including the accelerated death benefit rider as well as chronic, critical, and terminal illness riders.
These add-ons allow you to access a portion of the death benefit while you’re alive if you meet the criteria outlined by the company.
For example, if you’re unable to perform two activities of daily living, or if you’ve suffered a critical illness such as a heart attack or stroke, you may be eligible to receive the benefit.
What do life insurance companies consider when you're applying with a chronic illness?
Life insurance companies will ask for details about your chronic illness in order to determine your rate. Here are some examples of health conditions and follow-up questions insurers will likely ask if you’re applying for coverage with that condition.
Diabetes: The insurance company will ask for the age at which you were diagnosed with diabetes, the type of diabetes you have and its severity, and how you treat and control it.
High cholesterol: How much you pay depends on your overall cholesterol levels and the ratio of your “good” cholesterol to your total cholesterol levels.
Sleep apnea: Insurers evaluate severity and whether it’s caused by (or causing another) health condition, like heart disease, to determine rates. They’ll ask when your last sleep study was and your most recent oxygen saturation level.
Depression or anxiety: How much you pay will depend on the date of diagnosis, your prescription or therapy history, the severity of your diagnosis, and whether you’ve been hospitalized.
Alcoholism: You’ll likely have difficulty finding competitive premiums up to seven years after quitting drinking, if you’ve had even occasional alcohol consumption as a former alcoholic, or if you have a recent DUI or DWI. Insurers will also look for signs of long-term health issues associated with alcoholism, such as stroke or liver disease, when determining your rates.
Cancer: If you were recently diagnosed with cancer or are currently being treated for cancer you’ll likely not be eligible for traditional life insurance. Typically, after five years, you may be eligible for coverage, but the insurance company will want to know about your diagnosis and treatment history.
Digestive disease: Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, or other digestive conditions can sometimes lead to higher life insurance rates. But if your condition is under control and you haven’t had any recent flare-ups, you may be able to get affordable premiums.
High blood pressure: The age of onset, severity of your condition, and whether you treat it consistently by managing your diet, exercise, or stress all impact your rates.
What to do before you apply
Life insurance options if you’re denied coverage
Sometimes, your particular medical history might disqualify you from being eligible for a traditional life insurance policy. But if you’re declined for a term or whole life policy, you still have options. These include:
Guaranteed issue life insurance is a type of final expense coverage that offers near-certain approval odds. It can provide some financial protection if you don’t qualify for term coverage, plus you don’t have to take a medical exam for approval.
Group coverage: If you’re able to work, many employers offer group life insurance coverage. These policies generally have fewer health requirements for coverage and are offered at a low-cost or as part of a benefits package.
Every health condition will be considered by the insurance company on a case-by-case basis, so it’s still worth talking to an agent or broker to figure out what your best options are.
Other health concerns that can affect your life insurance
Certain pre-existing conditions and other health-related concerns can affect your life insurance options or costs. A Policygenius expert can help you find the right policy for your needs.
Mental health issues such as depression or anxiety