Applicants with serious medical conditions pay more for life insurance than people with few health concerns. But, a consistent treatment plan can save you money.
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The process of setting your life insurance rates, known as underwriting, involves a thorough evaluation of your health history and other risk factors like old age and dangerous hobbies. The more risk factors in your history, the higher your rates will be: a high-risk applicant could pay almost $50 more per month than a similar applicant who presents little or no risk to the insurer.
You can still qualify for a life insurance policy if you have a pre-existing medical condition or other health concerns. Depending on your treatment history and severity of your diagnosis, you may even be eligible for the most competitive rates.
Your health has a major impact on your life insurance rates, but rates are based on more than just your diagnosis
The more severe your condition or inconsistent your treatment, the higher your rates will be
People with more serious illnesses, like kidney disease, may not qualify for a more affordable, traditional policy
Your life insurance premiums are based on how likely you are to die while your policy is active. Basic demographic information has an impact—a 30-year-old pays less than a 50-year-old because of life expectancy, for example—but your health history is a major factor.
During underwriting, the insurance company will evaluate your records and assign you one of several health classifications:
Substandard ratings are also known as Table ratings, and are numbered or lettered (1-10 or A-J). The healthiest and least risky applicants will get a Preferred Plus rating and the most competitive premiums. Premiums increase with each following health classification.
The chart below shows rates for 35-year-old non-smokers in different health classifications (smokers pay up to three times more). Remember that you won’t be assigned a classification based on a single medical condition. Your classification is also based on other details, like your treatment history and lifestyle.
In the chart above, the monthly premium for a policy increases an average of 19.8% for each health classification below Preferred Plus. The difference between a Preferred and Standard rating doesn’t amount to much: just $9.10 per month ($109.20 per year). The difference is much greater if you compare to a Table 2 rating: $35.68 per month or $428.16 per year.
Life insurance companies will take any pre-existing medical condition you have into consideration during the underwriting process, including:
Heart disease (such as cardiomyopathy)
Digestive diseases (such as Crohn's or celiac disease)
A family history of diseases that are inherited, like breast cancer or prostate cancer, can also count against you.
It’s unlikely any of these diagnoses will keep you from getting a life insurance policy unless your condition is severe or untreated. How much any condition impacts your rates will depend on your complete medical history.
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There are a few key details that insurers will evaluate for any health concern. Having a positive track record in some or all of the below can help lower your rates:
Severity of diagnosis: The more severe your diagnosis, the higher your risk.
Prescription history: Generally, you’ll get lower rates if you’re prescribed fewer medications and if the prescriptions and dosages have been consistent over time.
Treatment history: The length of your treatment, whether your condition has improved over time, and if you’ve been hospitalized recently all affect your rates.
Length of diagnosis: A longer diagnosis can signal that your condition is not improving or could worsen over the course of your insurance policy.
Related health concerns: Some medical conditions can become worse if you have other illnesses or unhealthy habits. If you’re an otherwise healthy person with high cholesterol, you’ll be considered lower risk than a smoker with high cholesterol. 
The specifics of what will earn you a better rate depend on your medical condition and how the factors listed above impact your diagnosis. For example, a person with mild asthma who doesn’t treat it with medicine will probably get more flexibility than someone who doesn’t treat their mild high blood pressure with medication, based on the risk associated with each condition.
Some companies consider different medical conditions and health details riskier than others. Work with an independent insurance agent or broker to find the provider that’s best for your health history.
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While most people can still find a competitive policy with a pre-existing condition, you may pay more based on your health history. And there are some health issues that will make it more difficult to qualify for a traditional life insurance policy:
Cancer: If you’re currently in treatment or received a cancer diagnosis in the last two to four years it’ll be hard to qualify for a policy.
Heart attack: Most insurers will decline coverage if you had a heart attack within the last two years or prior to age 40.
HIV or AIDS: Although modern medicine has vastly improved life expectancy for people with HIV,  most insurers remain cautious and won’t offer you a traditional policy.
Kidney disease: A health record that includes a recent or pending transplant, dialysis treatment, or kidney failure will result in a declined application.
If you’re denied a traditional policy, there are other ways to get coverage:
Annual renewable life insurance: This option makes sense if you think you’ll qualify for a traditional policy after a few years of improving your health. An annual renewable policy is more affordable initially, but rates go up each year so it’s not a great long-term choice.
Group life insurance: May be offered through your employer, often for free, and without any required medical review. However, coverage amounts are low and you lose the policy if you leave your employer.
Guaranteed issue life insurance: Offers near-certain approval and requires few medical questions to qualify, but has high premiums, age restrictions, and limits coverage to $5,000-25,000.
The majority of people should be able to get life insurance protection for their family regardless of their health concerns. If your illness is mild or well-controlled, you are likely to be offered lower rates.
In most cases, yes. You may pay more for a policy based on your medical history and you may be declined traditional coverage if you have a severe illness.
Some conditions, like HIV/AIDS, will keep you from getting traditional life insurance, but you can qualify for coverage through an employer or with a guaranteed issue policy.
It depends on your diagnosis, treatment, and your overall health. Someone with serious health issues could pay almost $50 per month more than a person without health concerns to get the same policy.
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