Life Insurance For People With Pre-Existing Conditions

These nine pre-existing conditions can make it difficult, if not impossible, for you to obtain life insurance. Our useful tips that can help you get it anyway.

model heart

You might think that because you’ve had cancer or a heart attack, or because you’re currently dealing with diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol, that obtaining life insurance is out of the question.

Although it’s true that some of these and other pre-existing conditions can make your quest for this type of insurance more challenging than it would be if you had a clean bill of health, that doesn’t mean you should throw in the towel before you’ve weighed all of your options, made your case to a number of insurance companies, and otherwise given it your best shot.

At the end of the day, you may not be able to get the best possible rate for the type and amount of life insurance you desire, but you also shouldn’t be declined without explanation—especially if it’s been a while since you were diagnosed or treated, or if you can prove the condition in question is under control.

That’s because in most cases, says David Cuevas, a partner with Harmony SoCal Insurance Services, Inc., in Orange, California, “once someone has stabilized and can show that they are following their doctors’ treatment plans, many pre-existing conditions can be covered.”

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Specifics About 9 Common Pre-existing Conditions

Still, there’s no getting around the fact that it’s easier to obtain life insurance coverage with some pre-existing conditions than it is for others. As an example, it can be nearly impossible for you secure anything other than a guaranteed acceptance or guaranteed issue policy (more on that in a second) if you’re currently being treated for certain forms of cancer, or if your cancer has metastasized.

Should you ever find yourself in that sort of situation, by the way, the advice of Tony Steuer, author of Questions and Answers on Life Insurance: The Life Insurance Toolbook, is to not lose sight of the fact that “there’s nothing personal in the matter.”

When an insurance company reviews an application, he says, “they’re looking at the consumer as a risk, as part of a mathematical calculation related to whether or not that risk will be profitable for them to insure.”

Also, “insurance companies prefer to not pay claims,” Steuer adds, “so when they look at a risk, or when they look at any of these medical conditions, they’re specifically weighing whether or not they can write that risk and make a profit off of it.

“That’s the main thing to keep in mind here. They’re reducing all of this to math. So, if they think a claim will be coming down the road fairly soon, they’re not going to touch that risk, because the risk isn’t going to be profitable for them.”

Aside from those overly risky instances, though, you’re unlikely to encounter resistance from every insurance company you approach, even if you’ve had to deal with one (or more) of the following pre-existing conditions:

“Some companies will insure a pool of risks with a certain medical condition because they think if they’re insuring, say, 1,000 people with a specific condition, there are going to be some people with shorter than the expected mortality and some with longer than the expected mortality for that pool,” Steuer explains. “So, they might write something that other insurance companies consider risky because they’re writing a lot of those policies and they’re relying on being able to spread the risk out over a number of policy holders.”

Cancer

Whether or not cancer diagnosis or treatment will trip you up when you go to buy life insurance will depend on a number of factors. A couple of them:

  • What kind of cancer did you, or do you, have?
  • Are you still being treated for it, or has it been completed?
  • If you’ve finished treatment, how long has it been since you were treated?

Life insurance companies want to know the answers to these questions because the survival rate associated with one form of cancer can vary wildly from that associated with another form of the disease.

Which should help explain why providers often will make people who’ve had certain kinds of cancer wait, say, two years before they will allow them to purchase life insurance, while they’ll make them wait 10 years if they’ve had another kind of cancer.

Read more about Life Insurance for People with Cancer

Cardiovascular Disease

This condition, also sometimes referred to as heart disease, is a big deal to life insurance providers because the things that cause it—plaque building up within a person’s arteries—can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Given that, it’s unlikely insurers will put you in a preferred rate class if you approach them while you’re being treated for this disease. You can put yourself in the best possible position, though, by doing things like regularly seeing your doctor and following his or her advice related to your condition.

Read more about Life Insurance for people with Heart Disease

COPD

Also known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, COPD is a condition that makes it hard for people diagnosed with it to breathe. It’s most often caused by smoking, but other situations contribute to it, too, like extended exposure to air pollution or chemical fumes.

As for why COPD matters to companies that sell life insurance: that would be because it's a progressive disease that gets worse over time and winds up disabling most of the people who are diagnosed with it. 

Also, it’s the third-leading cause of death in the United States, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

As dire as that probably sounds, many life insurers have shown themselves to be pretty welcoming to people who have moderate or better cases of COPD and who are working to control their conditions through medication and other efforts.

If your particular case is more severe, or if it’s moderate or better but you aren’t doing a good job of addressing your symptoms (such as by continuing to smoke), you’re going to have a harder time finding a company that will extend life insurance to you. In fact, you may be limited to pricier guaranteed acceptance or issue policies in such instances.

Diabetes

Regardless of whether you have “type 1” or “type 2” diabetes, you should be able to obtain affordable life insurance if you can prove you’re doing a good job of controlling your blood sugar levels.

That said, there are some subtle differences between the two types in terms of how an insurance provider is likely to look at them. A case in point: if have type 1 diabetes, the age at which you were diagnosed may matter to the insurers you approach. Also, if any complications have resulted from your condition, they’re likely to play a role in the rates you are quoted.

For people with type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, issues can arise—from an insurance standpoint, specifically—if the condition is being controlled via insulin rather than with diet.

Read more about Life Insurance for People with Diabetes

Heart Attack

The key takeaway here: the longer you go without having a second heart attack (assuming you’ve already had one), the better the rate you’re going to receive from any company you apply to for a life insurance policy.

Specifically, you’re going to receive the best rate quote if it’s been seven to 10 years since you last had a heart attack and if you’re taking good care of yourself and doing what needs to be done to lower your risk of having a second or third one.

If less than seven to 10 years have passed since your heart attack, though, you’ll be offered a less desirable rate, and in some cases—such as if it’s only been a few months or a year since your heart attack—you may have to wait until you can prove your condition has stabilized before you’ll be approved for a policy.

High Blood Pressure

The good news here is that high blood pressure is an awfully common condition among Americans. As such, companies in this space are used to people in your situation approaching them for life insurance, and they’re also used to finding ways to provide those folks with policies.

That’s not to suggest you’re a shoo-in if you go to buy this kind of insurance and you have a history of high blood pressure. To make that more likely, you’re going to want to be able to show you’ve gotten your condition under control, or you’re at least working toward that goal, before you submit your application.

Learn more about Life Insurance for People with High Blood Pressure

High Cholesterol

For most of the pre-existing conditions covered here, factors like when you were diagnosed, which medications you’re taking, and how well you’re controlling the issue overall are going to be the key to your life insurance application being approved or declined.

When it comes to high cholesterol, though, your HDL ratio (that’s the ratio of your “good” cholesterol to your total cholesterol level) or even your total cholesterol figure alone probably are going to be the most important factors—especially if you want to be included in the “preferred” (or better) rate class.

HIV and AIDS

Although things are changing—and improving—in this area, it still isn’t all that easy at the moment to find life insurance if you’ve been diagnosed with HIV or AIDS.

Even then, the few companies that tend to sell policies to people living with these diseases sell them policies of the guaranteed variety—which generally means high premiums and low death benefits (the amount that’s paid out should the insured pass away).

Strangely, this is one of the few situations in the insurance realm where the older you are (when you contract HIV), the better off you are in terms of your ability to obtain some sort of life policy. In fact, most, if not all, of the carriers that sell policies to people with HIV will only do so if they’re above a certain age (such as 45 or 50).

Stroke

Finding a company that will sell you life insurance after you survive a stroke is similar to finding a company that will sell you life insurance after you survive cancer or a heart attack.

In other words, your success in obtaining a life insurance policy is going to depend on the severity of your stroke, how much damage it caused, how long it’s been since you had the stroke, and how well you’re taking care of yourself in its wake.

It’ll help, by the way, if you have no other health issues to speak of when you go to apply for life insurance after suffering a stroke.

The Importance of Impaired-Risk Specialists and Shopping Around

Two of the best ways to ensure that you’ll get the best possible life insurance policy at the best possible price, even with one or more pre-existing conditions, are to employ the expertise of an impaired-risk specialist and to not shy away from shopping around.

Impaired-risk specialists can be an important component of your success because they’re agents who are well versed as to which insurance companies tend to be more lenient or accepting when it comes to covering people with health and medical problems.

Of course, not everyone considers impaired-risk specialists to be the best option for those who are both dealing with some sort of pre-existing condition and searching to obtain life insurance.

Steuer, who also created The Insurance Consumer Bill of Rights and The Insurance Quality Mark, is a good example of an industry expert who could be said to look askance at such specialists. His reasoning: some of these men and women don’t have access to all of the carriers currently on the market.

Given that, someone with a pre-existing condition is just as likely to see positive results from working with an agent who represents multiple carriers, as “these agents usually work through a wholesaler, and those wholesalers have access to 20, 30, 40 different companies, so in most cases they’re going to be able to access many of the same resources impaired-risk specialists tend to tap into,” Steuer says.

As a result, Steuer suggests impaired-risk specialists should be looked at as a last resort.

As for shopping around, or approaching a number of insurers about your situation and your needs—with or without the assistance of an impaired-risk specialist, or even an experienced agent who has access to multiple life insurance companies—this can be key because carriers differ to a surprising degree in terms of how they react to pre-existing conditions.

While one company may turn you down for life insurance or offer you a sky-high premium because of your cancer history, another may present you with a far more affordable rate.

This is due, in part, to each insurer focusing on various niches in an attempt to attract potential customers away from the competition.

QuoteWizard has a network of experienced agents that work with a variety of insurance companies. These agents can help you find life insurance coverage even if you have a pre-existing medical condition.

Guaranteed Life Insurance

If you ever find yourself being turned down for life insurance because of a pre-existing condition, and if an impaired-risk specialist (or even just an independent agent who has access to a number of insurance companies) hasn’t proven to be of much help to you, you may want to consider a product that’s known in various circles as guaranteed acceptance life insurance, guaranteed issue life insurance, or, simply, guaranteed life insurance.

No matter what it’s called, this type of policy appeals to people in certain, specific situations—such as after they’ve been denied life insurance due to one or more pre-existing conditions—because the only detail the insurer offering it cares about is the applicant’s age. Well, that, and whether or not the applicant in question will be able to pay their premiums.

No medical questions are asked before the policy is extended, nor is an applicant’s medical history examined.

There are a few catches to this product’s streamlined nature, unfortunately, with one of them being that the premiums attached to guaranteed life policies are quite a bit higher than those tied to most other life insurance policies. In fact, sometimes their premiums cost four or five times what a more traditional policy would cost.

Also, the coverage options associated with guaranteed policies are pretty limited—as in, they’re usually somewhere between $5,000 and $50,000, rather than $100,000 or more.

And then there’s the fact that, in most cases, if you purchase guaranteed life insurance and then pass away within a year or two of the issue date, your loved ones won’t receive their full death benefit. Instead, they’ll likely get an amount equal to the premiums you paid and any interest that was earned on that sum.

As a result of all of the above, most experts—including Harmony SoCal Insurance Services’ Cuevas—recommend avoiding guaranteed life insurance if at all possible. “Guaranteed issue contracts have their place,” Cuevas says, but most people, in most situations, will be much better off if they make use of an impaired-risk specialist rather than settle for guaranteed issue. “I tend to look at it as a last resort after all other options have been exhausted.”

Steuer is similarly skeptical about the ability of guaranteed life insurance to be of much worth or to provide much peace of mind to people with various kinds of pre-existing conditions. “I would say it’s rarely worthwhile, and mainly because of how it’s priced.”

Of course, he adds, the pricing makes sense when you look at the situation from the insurance provider’s perspective. Companies that offer these policies “are taking all comers, they aren’t judging the risk, so they have to price for that.”

People who don’t have significant assets may want to consider a small guaranteed issue policy so they can cover funeral expenses, Steuer says, but other than that, he describes the product as “a hard call.”

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