Shopping for life insurance with pre-existing medical conditions

Medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or even a history of cancer won’t necessarily prevent you from getting life insurance, but you’ll want to shop around to make sure you find the best rates for your health history.

Jennifer Pan

Jennifer Pan

Published January 15, 2020


  • Certain pre-existing medical conditions can raise the cost of your life insurance premiums, and, in some cases, prevent you from getting insurance coverage

  • Every insurance company evaluates each medical condition differently in their underwriting process, so it’s important to shop around to find the best rates

  • An independent life insurance agent or broker can help you find the best rates for your specific health history

When you apply for life insurance, the cost of your premiums are determined by several factors, including your age and health. Generally, the younger and healthier you are, the lower your rates will be, while certain pre-existing medical conditions — including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and depression — are likely to increase the cost of life insurance.

At the same time, having some health issues won’t necessarily disqualify you from getting life insurance. In many cases, you’ll even still be able to find very affordable rates. But because every insurance company evaluates each medical condition differently in their underwriting process, it’s important to shop around for an insurer that offers the best rates for your individual health history.



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How medical conditions affect life insurance rates

When you apply for life insurance, you’ll be required to undergo an underwriting process that typically includes a medical exam and a phone interview about your current health, lifestyle, family health history, and more.

The insurance company uses the information they collect about you during the underwriting process to assign you an insurance classification (also called a health classification) that will determine what kind of rates they’ll offer you.

Different carriers may use different classification terms, but they usually look similar to this:

Life insurance classifications

Certain pre-existing medical conditions, red flags in your family history, or lifestyle choices may move you down a classification (which in turn will raise your rates).

Learn more about life insurance classifications.

Which health conditions increase insurance rates?

There are a number of common medical conditions that life insurance companies take into consideration in the underwriting process, including:

Does that mean you’ll be denied life insurance coverage or stuck with astronomically high premiums if you have one (or more) of these pre-existing conditions? Not necessarily. Every insurance company has different underwriting guidelines and standards for evaluating these and other medical conditions.

For instance, one insurer might offer better rates for people with a family history of cancer, while another will treat a condition like high cholesterol more favorably in their underwriting. That’s why it’s important to compare rates across multiple insurers, particularly when you’re concerned about how your health could affect your insurance coverage.

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How to find the best insurance rates for your health conditions

Researching and buying life insurance can be daunting even for those who are in great health. There are dozens of insurance companies to sort through, and it’s not always easy to understand insurance jargon.

If you’re shopping for insurance with a less-than-perfect health record, the following steps could help you find better rates:

Work with an independent agent or broker

One of the most efficient ways of locating the best insurance company for your specific health history is to enlist the help of an independent life insurance agent or broker.

Some insurance agents specialize in high-risk insurance, or finding options for people with complex health histories or lifestyles. And brokers like Policygenius — which work with a number of different insurance companies — can help you compare quotes from multiple companies, advise you on the best options for your specific health status and lifestyle, and walk you through the process of applying.

You can compare quotes from multiple insurance companies right now by using the free pricing tool below:

Don’t hide your condition

If you know you have a health condition that insurers tend to penalize, you might be tempted to fudge your answers or even lie during the phone interview portion of the underwriting process. But that isn’t wise for a few reasons.

First, because underwriting usually also involves a medical exam and a close review of your medical records, the insurer will almost certainly find out about your condition at some point.

Secondly, lying on your application is technically insurance fraud. If the insurer discovers down the road that you had a previous diagnosis that you didn’t disclose or that you misrepresented yourself in any way, they could cancel your policy. And if they discover you’ve committed fraud after your death, they could deny your family’s death benefit claim.

Use your medical treatment to your advantage

If you’re actively managing your health conditions, life insurance carriers will take that into consideration when they assign you a classification.

For instance, maybe you have high blood pressure, but you take medication for it. Or maybe you have diabetes, but regularly check in with your physician and have lab work to show that your blood sugar is under control. Any documentation of effective treatment could help you geta higher health classification and lower your insurance rates.

Buy life insurance sooner rather than later

On average, life insurance rates increase 8–10% each year that you delay applying, so even if you have a pre-existing medical condition, you might still be able to lock in cheaper rates by applying for coverage today rather than waiting for your condition to change.

In some cases — for example, if you only recently quit smoking — it might be worth waiting a year or so to apply. But generally, it’s much cheaper to buy life insurance sooner rather than later.

What to do if you’re denied life insurance coverage because of your health

Unfortunately, there are some serious medical conditions that may result in a carrier denying your life insurance application. These could include:

  • Alcoholism or drug use
  • Currently undergoing cancer treatment
  • Recent heart attack
  • HIV or AIDS
  • Kidney disease

Again, every pre-existing condition will be considered on a case-by-case basis, so it’s still worth talking to an agent or broker to figure out what your options are. An agent or broker can also help you resubmit your application to other companies if one insurance carrier denies you coverage.

Depending on your circumstances, the following might also provide some coverage options if your life insurance application is denied for health reasons:

Group life insurance

Many employers offer free or subsidized group life insurance as a benefit for employees. One major advantage of participating in a group life insurance plan is that you won’t have to go through underwriting or take a medical exam, so your health status won’t be an issue.

Keep in mind that group life insurance usually doesn’t provide enough coverage for most people, and you’ll lose this type of coverage if you leave your job. But having some life insurance is better than not having any at all.

Guaranteed life insurance

Guaranteed issue life insurance is a type of whole life insurance that does not require a medical exam and, in many cases, does not require answering medical questions.

The tradeoff of guaranteed issue policies is that they are much more expensive than traditional term life insurance and offer lower benefit amounts. Generally, guaranteed life insurance should only be used only as a last resort.

About the author

Insurance Expert

Jennifer Pan

Insurance Expert

Jennifer Pan is an insurance editor at Policygenius. She covers life insurance, personal finance, and the economy. She previously worked in marketing and communications in the nonprofit sector and publishing.

Policygenius’ editorial content is not written by an insurance agent. It’s intended for informational purposes and should not be considered legal or financial advice. Consult a professional to learn what financial products are right for you.

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