Life Insurance for People with Health Issues

If you have cancer, diabetes, heart disease, or other pre-existing conditions, this doesn't exclude you from being covered by life insurance.

doctor with patient

Buying life insurance is a breeze if you're young, healthy, and you tend to shy away from risky activities. If your goal in life is to be the next Evel Knievel, though, or if you're older or you've been diagnosed with or treated for one or more medical conditions, you may have a harder time obtaining a policy.

That last situation can be an especially tricky one for folks to deal with while shopping for life insurance. But that doesn't mean current or past health problems will keep you from protecting the financial futures of your loved ones. It just means you might have to work a bit harder than most.

Give yourself the best possible chance of earning the approval of a life insurance company. Here are 12 tips that should be taken to heart before you reach out to any brokers or agents.

Don't give up

Although there are certain health issues that could keep you from being able to buy life insurance, that list isn't as long as you might think.

Yes, if you've been diagnosed with or treated for some forms of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, heart attack, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol, an insurer probably is going to take a close look at your application. Those diagnoses or treatments shouldn't make you uninsurable, though, especially if you can demonstrate that you're doing your best to control the issues in question.

Even health issues that may shorten your life expectancy “won’t always be a determining factor in whether coverage is offered,” says Tony Steuer, author of Questions and Answers on Life Insurance: The Life Insurance Toolbook. But they’re sure to be a factor in pricing.

“The bottom line when an insurance company is evaluating a ‘risk’ is if it can be profitable,” he adds, “and this is subject to each insurance company’s viewpoint and guidelines.”

So, be patient, don't give up, and shop around because the odds are in your favor that you’ll find a company that will take a chance on you.

Get to know your medical history

One reason this is important, says Steuer, who also is the creator of The Insurance Consumer Bill of Rights and The Insurance Quality Mark: if you’re familiar with your health and medical history, you’ll be in a far better position to make a case for your application’s approval.

After all, he says, “adding context and background [to your application] --such as advising the company that you follow a work-out routine or have a healthy diet—can help.”

If you don’t know your medical history all that well, Steuer recommends doing whatever needs to be done to rectify matters. “If you haven’t had a physical with lab work in a year or two, schedule that first so you can be aware of any potential issues. If your doctor has requested that you have any follow-up tests or appointments with specialists or other medical professionals, be sure to complete those prior to applying for coverage.”

The latter can be especially important, Steuer adds, as “having outstanding referrals will usually cause an application to be postponed until those are completed.”

Be honest

If you've been taking cholesterol-lowering drugs for three years, admit that on your application. (Assuming you're asked, of course.) If you've had three heart attacks in the last five years, don't tell the insurance company you've only had two.

In other words, as tempting as it can be to stretch the truth about your medical history while shopping for life insurance, don't do it.

The insurance company is going to review your medical records. If they discover that you lied about your health, you can kiss it goodbye.

Another reason to be as honest as possible is that “the more information that an underwriter has [about your health history], the more informed decision they can make,” says Steuer, who suggests disclosing “as much of your medical history as you can, truthfully and in full.”

Shop around

This is a good piece of advice for anyone looking to buy any type of insurance. But it's especially relevant for people who need life insurance but have a checkered medical history.

That's because every insurance provider has developed unique underwriting guidelines. This is the process a company uses to evaluate whether or not an applicant is insurable). As a result some are more willing to cover, or are able to offer better rates to, people with certain health issues.

How one insurer views your condition or illness may very well differ from how another insurer views it. So shop around and gather quotes from a number companies before you make any decisions. The more carriers you speak with, the greater your chance of obtaining a policy.

Wait for things to stabilize

It was suggested earlier that some health issues may make you wait a few months (or even a year) until an insurance company will agree to sell you a life policy. 

Consider letting a little time pass before you apply for life insurance if you've:

  • Only recently undergone treatment or surgery
  • Just started taking medication for an ailment or disease


Consider employing the assistance of an agent who has experience with situations like yours or at least has access to multiple life insurance companies, offers Steuer. Whether or not you should wait “depends on the condition and how it’s interpreted” by a particular provider, he says. So, “it’s a good idea to have an agent review [your situation] on an informal basis with various companies.”

That said, “if there is a condition or ailment that is not under control or stabilized,” Steuer adds, “the companies will almost always postpone until it is under control or stabilized.

Prove that you're healthy

It's important when you have an iffy medical history to show an insurer that your condition is under control before they'll cover you.

So, do what you need to do to prove that you're taking steps to improve your health and that you're a risk worth taking. That may mean taking medications as prescribed, or it may mean exercising, eating better, or losing weight.

Get your doctor involved

Before you ever set foot inside the office of your insurance carrier, talk to your physician. If she thinks you're doing a good job of controlling the health issue(s), a note on your medical record could benefit you greatly.

Talk to an impaired-risk specialist

You're probably wondering what an impaired-risk specialist is, or what someone with that title does. Basically, impaired-risk specialists are brokers who know which companies tend to be more lenient or accepting when it comes to insuring people with various health problems.

Something to keep in mind: you may not be able to work with an impaired-risk specialist directly. But you should be able to find an agent who will work with one on your behalf.

If the agent you're currently working with doesn't seem capable of, or doesn't seem interested in, helping you in this way, take your business to an agent who does.

Or, take your business to an agent who has access to multiple life insurance companies. This could go a long way toward helping you, too, because “each life insurance company has their own underwriting guidelines and views on certain medical conditions,” Steuer says. “I’ve seen instances where a client has been declined by one major company and offered a preferred rate class by another major company.”

Consider buying a group plan

One way to avoid the hurdles that can stand in the way of someone with a poor medical history being able to access life insurance is to buy it through an employer. Many businesses offer life insurance plans to each and every staffer, no questions asked.

Another option is to get it through an alumni association or professional organization. Both of which also tend to offer so-called group plans that don't require applicants to undergo physicals or share their health records.

Look into guaranteed life insurance

This type of life insurance cost a lot more and offers lower payouts than comparable plans that use medical underwriting. But it's worth considering if you've struck out everywhere else.

After all, Steuer says, “it’s better to have this coverage than to not have any, and it can be replaced if and when [your] health issues improve.”

Ask for your policy to be reviewed

Did you buy life insurance before you were diagnosed with a health issue? And did the diagnosis make your premium go up? Ask your insurer to review your case after your health has improved. Doing so could result in your premium being lowered once again.

If you don't already have life insurance, buy it when you're young and in good health

Purchasing life insurance when you're still healthy is vastly preferable to waiting until after you have an ailment, illness or injury or are aged.

If you have a pre-existing condition and would like to learn how you can save money on life insurance, request life insurance quotes from top companies to get your best rates.

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