Having a chronic illness can impact your life insurance premiums, but it depends on your diagnosis and varies by insurer.
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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. If you have a chronic illness, you may feel nervous about qualifying for life insurance or finding an affordable policy. But getting life insurance with a chronic illness is not impossible.
Depending on your medical history, some insurers may offer you better pricing than others, so it’s important to shop around. If you don’t currently qualify for traditional term or whole life insurance, there are alternatives to ensure you’re financially protected.
A chronic medical condition can increase your life insurance costs, but some providers will still offer you competitive premiums
The diagnosis, date of diagnosis, treatment, and your overall health influence your premiums
If you’re denied traditional insurance, you can apply for guaranteed issue or simplified issue life insurance
Living benefits riders can provide funds for medical care while you’re alive
During the underwriting process an underwriter uses the insurer’s algorithms and data to decide, based on your health history, hobbies, and other personal details, how risky it is to insure you. You’ll get a health classification based on your risk, and your policy premium is set using the classification you receive.
There are four main health classifications:
A Preferred Plus classification earns you the lowest premiums, and premiums increase from there. If your health history is especially complex, you may be placed in a Substandard category (also known as a table rating).
Every life insurance company has its own set of underwriting guidelines and treats each illness differently. Your health classification varies based on your diagnosis, your treatment, and even how long you’ve had the diagnosis. 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 a Preferred classification.
Regardless of your diagnosis, it’s important to disclose your entire health history. Intentionally withholding this information is fraud, and an insurer can cancel or reject your coverage if they discover you’ve been dishonest.
No one life insurance company is best for every person with a chronic illness, but certain providers may consider your condition lower risk than others do. Since every insurer has its own underwriting guidelines, it’s important to understand what medical information will influence a decision about your diagnosis.
Underwriters 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. If you were younger when you received a diagnosis, have type 1 diabetes or a severe case of diabetes or diabetes-related health conditions, and/or don’t consistently treat and control your symptoms, you’ll pay higher premiums.
Life insurance providers will generally look at your overall cholesterol levels and the ratio of your “good” cholesterol to your total cholesterol levels. The levels required to qualify for each health classification vary by insurer, and your age and gender may be a factor, too. If you have high cholesterol when you’re young, that could raise flags.
Sleep apnea is a common chronic condition with a wide spectrum of symptoms ranging from snoring to hypertension. Insurers are most interested in the severity of your sleep apnea and whether it’s caused by or causing another health condition, like heart disease. Severe cases or those related to other health issues will lead to higher premiums.
Underwriting guidelines for clinical depression and anxiety can be particularly variable between insurance companies. Insurers will evaluate your date of diagnosis, your prescription or therapy history, the severity of your diagnosis, and whether you’ve been hospitalized. As with other chronic medical conditions, insurers will look more favorably on less severe depression or anxiety and people who show consistent treatment.
You may have difficulty finding competitive premiums up to seven years after quitting drinking due to the high recidivism rate in alcoholics. If you admit to even occasional alcohol consumption as a former alcoholic, insurers may reject your application. If you have a DWI on your motor vehicle report, many insurers will deny your application as well. Underwriters will also look for signs of long-term health issues associated with alcoholism, like stroke and liver disease.
If you have a recent cancer diagnosis or are currently being treated for cancer, it’s unlikely you’ll qualify for traditional life insurance. But if you’re a few years in remission or have a history of cancer in your immediate family, you can usually qualify. The underwriter will ask about your diagnosis and treatment history—some cancers, like skin cancer, are considered less risky—as well as whether your parents or siblings have had cancer.
Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, or other digestive-related medical 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, it’s possible to get competitive premiums.
If you have high blood pressure you’ll be asked for age of onset, the severity of the condition, and whether you treat it consistently by managing your diet, exercise, or stress. Having a long history of blood pressure concerns, a severe case, or a poor treatment regimen to manage it may hurt your health classification and premiums.
Every health profile is different, and every insurer will evaluate your application differently. While one provider might offer the best premiums for people with diabetes, another might have the best premiums for people with diabetes and a family history of cancer. An independent insurance broker will be able to more accurately identify the best companies for your circumstances.
Ready to shop for life insurance?
The main reason to buy life insurance is to provide financial support to a beneficiary after you die. But, many policies offer one or more accelerated death benefits riders, also known as living benefits riders. If you have a qualifying health condition, like a chronic illness, this allows you to access some of your life insurance death benefit while you are still alive.
The availability and cost of each rider varies by type and insurer, and you’ll need to provide proof of your medical need to activate them.
The most common living benefits riders are:
Accelerated death benefit rider: Also called a terminal illness rider, provides benefits when you have a life expectancy of 6-12 months or less
Critical illness rider: For those diagnosed with a qualifying illness, 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 living: walking independently, eating, getting dressed, personal hygiene, continence, and using the toilet without assistance.
Long-term care (LTC) 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.
Sometimes, your particular medical history means that you won’t be approved for a traditional life insurance policy. If you are declined for a traditional term or whole life policy, you aren’t out of options. There are some permanent policies that offer coverage to people in poor health.
The two main forms are:
Simplified issue life insurance — requires some medical questions but no medical exam to apply
Guaranteed issue life insurance — requires no medical questions or medical exam to apply
Both policies have higher premiums and lower benefit amounts than term life insurance since the insurer is unable to fully evaluate the risk of insuring you. However, if you have a particularly complex medical history they’ll allow you to secure some financial protection.
Ready to shop for life insurance?
Shopping for life insurance with a chronic illness doesn’t have to be complicated. Doing some preliminary research about how underwriters will evaluate your medical history and working with an independent insurance agent can help you identify the best and most affordable policy for your situation.
Remember to be forthcoming about your health when you apply. Even if your application is denied, a policy with no medical exam may allow you to secure a death benefit for your loved ones.
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.
It depends on your illness and the severity of the condition. The milder and more well-managed your health condition, the more likely you are to get competitive coverage.
A chronic illness is an ongoing health condition that lasts more than one year and requires continual medical care, like diabetes, high cholesterol, and cancer.
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