Life insurance for people with a chronic illness

How much you pay for life insurance depends on the severity of your diagnosis and your insurer. Shop around to find an insurer that will offer the lowest rates.

Amanda Shih author photoHeadshot of Policygenius editor Nupur Gambhir

By

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.

&Nupur Gambhir

Nupur Gambhir

Senior Editor & Licensed Life Insurance Expert

Nupur Gambhir is a licensed life, health, and disability insurance expert and a former senior editor at Policygenius. Her insurance expertise has been featured in Bloomberg News, Forbes Advisor, CNET, Fortune, Slate, Real Simple, Lifehacker, The Financial Gym, and the end-of-life planning service Cake.

Updated|3 min read

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According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 6 out of every 10 adults in the U.S. live with one chronic illness, and 4 in 10 have two or more. [1] If you have a chronic illness, getting life insurance or finding an affordable policy might be complicated. But, by shopping around amongst various insurers, getting life insurance with a chronic illness is possible. 

If you don’t qualify for traditional term or whole life insurance, there are alternatives to ensure you can still get the financial protection you're looking for.

Key Takeaways

  • A chronic medical condition can increase your life insurance costs, but some providers will still offer you affordable premiums.

  • The diagnosis, date of diagnosis, treatment, and your overall health influence your premiums.

  • If you’re denied traditional insurance, you can get final expense insurance.

  • Living benefits riders can provide funds for medical care for a chronic illness while you’re alive.

How chronic illness affects life insurance prices

During the underwriting process an underwriter uses the insurer’s 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.

Every life insurance company has its own set of underwriting guidelines and treats each illness differently. Your health classification will depend 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 one of the better classifications — and low life insurance rates.

Regardless of your diagnosis, it’s important to disclose your entire health history. Intentionally withholding this information is fraud, and an insurer can refuse to pay out the death benefit if they have reason to believe you were dishonest. 

Chronic illnesses that impact life insurance rates

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 if you have...

  • Diabetes: 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 to determine your premiums.

  • 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.

  • Depression and 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 may 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 DWI. Underwriters will also look for signs of long-term health issues associated with alcoholism, like stroke and liver disease, when determining your rates.

  • A cancer diagnosis: If you were recently diagnosed with cancer or are currently being treated for cancer you will be ineligible for life insurance. After a certain amount of time, you may be eligible for coverage, but the underwriter will want to know about your diagnosis and treatment history.

  • A digestive disease: 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, 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.

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 can work with you to find the best life insurance company and lowest prices for your profile.

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Life insurance riders for people with a chronic illness

The main reason to buy life insurance is to provide financial support to your beneficiaries after you die. But, many policies offer one or more accelerated death benefits riders that pay out to you while you are alive if you have a qualifying health condition, like a chronic illness. You’ll need to provide proof of your medical need to use them to access the death benefit while you are alive.

The availability and cost of each rider varies depending on which insurer you buy coverage from.

The most common living benefits riders are:

  • Accelerated death benefit rider: This rider provides benefits when you have a life expectancy of 6 to 12 months or less.

  • Critical illness rider: Usually 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: [2] 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.

What if you can't get life insurance due to a chronic illness?

Sometimes, your particular medical history means that you won’t be approved for a traditional life insurance policy. If you are declined for a term or whole life policy, you aren’t out of options. Final expense insurance offers coverage to people in poor health.

Final expense insurance is a lot costlier and provides a much lower death benefit amount than term life insurance because you don't need to go through a medical evaluation to get coverage. Without looking at your medical history, an insurer can't determine how risky it is to insure you and instead asks for higher premiums. However, if you have a particularly complex medical history, final expense insurance allows you to secure some financial protection.

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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.

Frequently asked questions

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

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.

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, and cancer.

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

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.