A complete guide to life insurance for people with a chronic illness

Having a chronic illness can impact your life insurance eligibility, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have coverage options. Even if you don’t qualify for traditional life insurance due to your health condition, there are alternatives to ensure you can still get financial protection for your loved ones. How much you pay for life insurance if you’re already sick will depend on your specific diagnosis and your insurer. Shopping around can help you find the best life insurance rates even with a chronic illness.

Katherine Murbach PolicygeniusAmanda Shih author photo

By

Katherine Murbach

Katherine Murbach

Associate Editor & Licensed Life Insurance Expert

Katherine Murbach is an associate editor and a licensed life insurance expert at Policygenius. Previously, she wrote about life and disability insurance for 1752 Financial, and advised over 1,500 clients on their life insurance policies as a sales associate.

&Amanda Shih

Amanda Shih

Editor & Licensed Life Insurance Expert

Amanda Shih is a licensed life, disability, and health insurance expert and a former editor at Policygenius, where she covered life insurance and disability insurance. Her expertise has appeared in Slate, Lifehacker, Little Spoon, and J.D. Power.

Updated|7 min read

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Shopping for life insurance with a chronic illness?

Finding coverage doesn't have to be complicated. We've got a team of experts who specialize in life insurance for people with various health considerations, including chronic illnesses. They'll help you find the right options for your unique needs so you can get covered with confidence.

Life

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 [1] . But having a chronic illness does not 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.

Ready to shop for life insurance with a chronic illness?

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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:

How do life insurance companies know if I have a chronic illness?

During the application process, life insurance companies will take a comprehensive review of your health history in order to assess risk and set your premiums. They’ll ask you about any current or past health conditions, medications, and any surgeries you’ve had. 

Generally speaking, any treatment for health conditions in the last five to 10 years will have a bigger impact on your application.

→ Read more about how to get life insurance with a pre-existing condition

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 simple and affordable. 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 and protect you from unexpected events, like a terminal illness, as well as providing funds for medical care for a chronic condition. 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 [2] : 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?

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

Age

Sex

Non-smoker

Smoker

25

Female

$31.74

$73.38

Male

$39.08

$95.38

35

Female

$38.06

$101.35

Male

$45.80

$128.46

45

Female

$76.17

$225.35

Male

$96.71

$302.87

55

Female

$169.34

$491.31

Male

$239.21

$693.49

Methodology: Rates are calculated for male and female smokers and non-smokers in a Standard health classification, obtaining a 20-year, $500,000 term life insurance policy. Life insurance averages are based on a composite of policies offered by Policygenius from AIG, Banner, Brighthouse, Lincoln, Mutual of Omaha, Pacific Life, Protective, Prudential, SBLI, and Transamerica, and may vary by insurer, term, coverage amount, health class, and state. Not all policies are available in all states. Rate illustration valid as of 7/28 2022.

How chronic illness affects health classifications

During the application process, the insurance company will use your health and financial history to assess how risky you are to insure. Your health information will be used to assign you a health classification, which in turn will be used to set your policy premiums.

Every insurer has its own set of underwriting guidelines and treats each illness differently. Your health classification will depend on your diagnosis, your treatment, and how long you’ve had the diagnosis. 

For example, someone recently diagnosed with depression who doesn’t use therapy or prescriptions to treat it could be denied life insurance coverage, but someone with a mild diagnosis and a track record of consistent treatment may be eligible for one of the better classifications — and low life insurance rates.

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.

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.

Methodology: How we chose the best life insurance companies for people with a chronic illness

We don't get paid for our company reviews and use an extensive rubric of criteria covering policy details, price, financial confidence, third-party ratings, and customer experience to assign unbiased ratings out of five stars. Any recommendations we make are based on internal and external expert opinions and data from our Policygenius Price Index, which uses real-time rate data from leading life insurance companies to determine pricing trends.

Our ratings and reviews can help point you to an insurer you can rely on for your family’s financial protection, but the best life insurance company for you is dependent on multiple factors. A licensed agent at Policygenius can work with you through the application process so you’re getting coverage from the best insurer for your circumstances at the most competitive price.

→ Read more about our reviews methodology here

Best overall life insurance for people with a chronic illness

4.7

Policygenius rating

How we score: Policygenius’ ratings are determined by our editorial team. Our methodology takes multiple factors into account, including pricing, financial ratings, quality of customer service, and other product-specific features.

Banner Life logo

Banner has some of the longest term lengths and most competitive life insurance rates, even for people with pre-existing or chronic conditions.

Pros

  • Very competitive rates

  • Covers many health conditions

  • Term lengths up to 40 years

Cons

  • Strict temporary coverage eligibility

  • Reconsideration is paid for by the applicant

Why we picked it

Banner Life offers a wide array of coverage options to people with a number of chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and atrial fibrillation, to name a few. They also offer 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.

Most affordable life insurance for people with a chronic illness

Protective

4.9

Policygenius rating

How we score: Policygenius’ ratings are determined by our editorial team. Our methodology takes multiple factors into account, including pricing, financial ratings, quality of customer service, and other product-specific features.

Protective logo

Competitive rates, long term options, and very high coverage amounts make Protective a top-tier choice for people with a chronic illness looking for affordable term life insurance.

Pros

  • One of the best values on the market

  • Variety of coverage amounts and term lengths

  • Solid suite of online tools

Cons

  • Slow application approval

  • No no-medical-exam options

Why we picked it

Similar to Banner Life, Protective is a highly rated company that offers competitive rates across all age groups and many health classifications. Depending on your specific condition, Protective may provide an affordable option. 

Best term life insurance for people with a chronic illness

Pacific Life

4.6

Policygenius rating

How we score: Policygenius’ ratings are determined by our editorial team. Our methodology takes multiple factors into account, including pricing, financial ratings, quality of customer service, and other product-specific features.

Pacific Life logo

Pacific Life offers competitive rates at every age and solid coverage options for people with heavier builds, sleep apnea, and other health concerns.

Pros

  • Affordable prices

  • Strong financial ratings

Cons

  • No accelerated underwriting

  • No online quote tool

Why we picked it

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, diabetes, and Crohn’s disease. Pacific Life also has more flexible guidelines when it comes to some higher-risk chronic conditions, such as HIV and alcohol abuse.

Best life insurance rider availability for people with a chronic illness

Foresters Financial

4.2

Policygenius rating

How we score: Policygenius’ ratings are determined by our editorial team. Our methodology takes multiple factors into account, including pricing, financial ratings, quality of customer service, and other product-specific features.

Foresters Financial logo

Foresters Financial offers a highly customizable term life insurance policy along with options for people who might want to skip the medical exam during the application process.

Pros

  • No-medical-exam option available

  • Very fast turnaround

  • Unique riders included at no extra cost

Cons

  • Slightly lower death benefits than other no-med options

  • Rates slightly higher than industry average

Why we picked it

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 still living 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.

Ready to shop for life insurance with a chronic illness?

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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.

Do I have to disclose my chronic illness to an insurance company?

Yes, you should disclose your chronic illness during the application process. Life insurance companies verify your application against your health records, and oftentimes, a medical exam. Intentionally withholding this information is a type of insurance fraud, and an insurer can refuse to pay out the death benefit if they have reason to believe you were dishonest.

What to do before you apply

  1. Determine how much life insurance you want to purchase.  Consider your financial obligations — do you have a spouse, children, or a mortgage? These factors will help inform how much coverage you need. Most financial planners recommend 10 to 15 times your income as a rough estimate. 

  2. Compare quotes from multiple providers. This will help you confirm you’re applying with a life insurance company that’s likely to give you the best rates for your health history and circumstances. Keep in mind that your quote will likely differ from your final offer, which is when you’ll know your final rates. 

  3. Talk to a licensed life insurance agent about the details of your specific health history. A licensed agent will be able to provide a personalized recommendation based on your unique profile. At Policygenius, we can do the shopping for you because we work with over 10 different insurers.

Ready to shop for life insurance with a chronic illness?

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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: 

  • Final expense insurance — a type of coverage geared toward covering burial expenses of final medical bills — is usually more expensive and provides a much lower death benefit than term life insurance. However, it doesn’t have any medical prerequisites for approval. 

  • 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.

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.

Frequently asked questions

Can you get life insurance if you have a chronic illness?

Yes, in many cases, you can get life insurance if you have a chronic illness. It will depend on your specific illness and how significantly it affects your daily life. The better managed your health condition is, the more likely you’ll be to get competitive coverage.

What is considered a chronic illness?

A chronic illness is an ongoing health condition that lasts more than one year and requires continual medical care, like diabetes, high cholesterol, or cancer.

Does COVID-19 affect the life insurance application process or eligibility?

It does. If you currently have COVID-19, you’ll have to wait around 30 days to apply. If you’re experiencing long COVID-19 symptoms, this might affect your life insurance application process, so it’s best to speak with an advisor to know your options. Speak to a Policygenius agent for free to find out how to get the best policy for your particular situation.

References

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Policygenius uses external sources, including government data, industry studies, and reputable news organizations to supplement proprietary marketplace data and internal expertise. Learn more about how we use and vet external sources as part of our

editorial standards.
  1. Centers for Disease Control

    (CDC). "

    About Chronic Diseases

    ." Accessed July 28, 2022.

  2. LongTermCare.gov

    . "

    What is Long-Term Care?

    ." Accessed July 28, 2022.

Authors

Associate Editor & Licensed Life Insurance Expert

Katherine Murbach

Associate Editor & Licensed Life Insurance Expert

gray twitter icon linkgray linkedin icon link

Katherine Murbach is an associate editor and a licensed life insurance expert at Policygenius. Previously, she wrote about life and disability insurance for 1752 Financial, and advised over 1,500 clients on their life insurance policies as a sales associate.

Editor & Licensed Life Insurance Expert

Amanda Shih

Editor & Licensed Life Insurance Expert

gray twitter icon linkgray linkedin icon link

Amanda Shih is a licensed life, disability, and health insurance expert and a former editor at Policygenius, where she covered life insurance and disability insurance. Her expertise has appeared in Slate, Lifehacker, Little Spoon, and J.D. Power.

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