According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 1 in 3 American adults have high blood pressure (hypertension). Many of these people will be shopping for a life insurance policy at some point.
The problem is that it can be quite a bit harder and more expensive to get life insurance with a pre-existing health condition like hypertension. We’ve gathered the most common questions about purchasing a policy with this condition, and we’ll discuss how you can find affordable rates.
High Blood Pressure 101
Before we discuss the insurance implications of this condition, let’s go over what it is.
Blood pressure is the act of blood pumped by the heart pushing against the arteries. Hypertension, is where blood pushes against the arteries more intensely than normal.
There are two ways to determine blood pressure, which are systolic and diastolic pressure. Systolic measures the pressure of the blood when the heart is pumping it. Diastolic measures the pressure when the heart rests between beats.
If your systolic is above 120 mmHg (millimeters of mercury), and your diastolic pressure is above 80 mmHg, you have prehypertension. This is means you are at an increased risk of developing hypertension.
There are two types of high blood pressure. They are primary and secondary hypertension. People tend to get the former as they age. The latter is rarer, and results from causes other than aging. It’s also more readily minimized or reversed.
Hypertension can eventually result in damage to blood vessels and the heart. It can also lead to heart attack, heart failure, stroke, kidney failure, and other major health problems.
Because the life insurance business operates on the premise of risk, the higher the risk of passing away, the harder it will be to acquire a policy affordably. Luckily, there are ways to get around this.
Life Insurance 101
Before we get into the nitty gritty of how to obtain a policy, let’s quickly review what life insurance is.
There are two main types of policies. One is term life, and the other is whole life, also known as permanent life. Term life covers you for a pre-determined period of time, such as 10, 20, or 30 years. If you pass away within that period, your beneficiaries will receive death benefits. And if you don’t, your beneficiaries don’t receive anything.
A whole life policy covers you for the rest of your life. It also builds up a cash value over time, which you can borrow against. This type of policy is generally much more expensive than a term policy.
So we’ve covered the basics of what high blood pressure and life insurance are. Now let’s discuss how they’re connected.
Q: Why is it so much more difficult and expensive to obtain a life insurance policy if you have high blood pressure?
A: Your life insurance company pays your beneficiaries a large sum of money when you die. For this reason, they might deny you coverage or charge you higher premiums if you have a higher risk of death. If your blood pressure is uncontrollable and very high, you’ll have a higher mortality risk and therefore higher life premiums.
But 1/3 of Americans have this condition. Life insurance companies can’t deny a third of Americans coverage. Instead, they tend to charge higher premiums, but this isn’t always the case.
Mike Raines of Raines Insurance Group specializes in insurance for people with pre-existing medical conditions. He states, “In most cases where an individual has a history of high blood pressure, but is controlling or maintaining good blood pressure readings and no other medical problems, policies can be written sometimes with no extra premium increase at all.”
He advises individuals to use an independent broker when seeking out a policy. Because they’ll know which insurance companies underwrite hypertension history the most favorably. Independent brokers don’t have ties to a specific company, so they don’t come with underlying biases.
You might also choose to shop around for policies from different companies, because every company evaluates risks and premiums differently.
We also asked independent life insurance agent Chris Huntley about factors affecting rates. He said maintaining your health is key.
“Blood pressure is something which many people alter through lifestyle changes such as cessation of smoking and alcohol consumption, [and] changes in diet and exercise,” Huntley said.
He said if an applicant can improve their overall health, and reduce their blood pressure they may qualify for reduced rates.
The bottom line is: the better you can keep your condition under control, generally the lower your rates will be.
Q: How much more could someone with high blood pressure expect to pay for life insurance than someone without it, all other things being equal?
A: Life premiums are customized for each person, and insurance underwriters base it on many variables. Some factors include height and weight, medical history, family medical history and more.
Because it’s so personalized, no two people will receive exactly the same premiums. This makes it difficult to measure how much more a person with high blood pressure will pay than someone without it.
However, many insurance companies have adopted a standard risk classification system that helps determine rates. They’ll place you in one of the following categories: preferred select, preferred, standard plus, standard, preferred smoker, or standard smoker.
Preferred select is the category for the insured who are in overall strong health, and standard smoker is the category for those who are in the least. If you have a pre-existing condition like hypertension, you may not fit into these standard categories.
In this case, underwriters may use an additional table rating system to determine your rates. How it works is you’ll get a rating in the form of a letter or number. Based on the rating, you’ll pay an additional amount or percentage, on top of your original premiums.
“Insurers base their ratings on your age and medical exam/reports. So people with lower blood pressure readings and a good prognosis may qualify for a “standard” rating. While others may receive a below standard rating due to a poorer prognosis,” Huntley said.
Huntley also said the difference from one rate class to the next is about a 25 percent increase in premiums. The better health you’re in, the better the rate class you’ll be in, and the less you’ll have to pay.
According to Raines, if you control the disease with medication, have no other medical history, no family history, and don’t smoke, you might only have to pay 5-10 percent more than someone without the condition.
Q: What are the options that are available for someone with this condition to obtain life insurance?
A: In the past, it was much harder to get a policy if you had hypertension. And it wasn’t uncommon for the underwriter to raise your rates by 50 percent just on the basis of having it.
But with all of the medical advancements in recent years, it’s become much easier to obtain insurance at similar rates as a perfectly healthy individual.
However, if your readings are far above normal when you apply for a policy, your insurer could deny you coverage unless it returns to normal levels.
Fortunately, there are alternative options for people in this situation. You’ll want to shop around for a life insurance provider that will cover you affordably. This is the best method for finding a provider, because every insurer uses different criteria to determine your premiums.
According to Huntley, “For those who have more severe problems, there are other options such as Guaranteed Issue life insurance and other various types of no-medical exam life insurance policies.”
There are also other policies such as a Guaranteed Insurability rider, as well as Graded Benefit whole life insurance. For more information of these, check out our article on Life Insurance for People with Cancer.
Q: What is the biggest misconception about getting life insurance if you have high blood pressure?
A: Many people hold onto the notion that if they have a pre-existing condition like high blood pressure, they won’t be able to obtain life insurance. This is false. Many people also believe that if they do get a policy, it will be at much higher rates than most. This is also untrue.
People often get discouraged after getting denied by one company. The truth is, you need to shop around. Speaking with an independent agent or broker who doesn’t have ties to one particular company is a great first step. Use one that specializes in coverage for people with this condition.
Q: What are some clinically proven ways that people can lower, or at least manage their blood pressure?
A: There are many lifestyle changes you can make to improve your heart health, while simultaneously reducing your insurance rates.
By maintaining proper exercise and a proper diet, you can greatly reduce your blood pressure. Quitting smoking, reducing your caffeine intake, and reducing the sodium in your diet can also cut pressure and rates.
According to Laurie Endicott Thomas of thindiabetes.com, by correcting your diet, your blood becomes less thick and your arteries will relax. It will in turn be able to circulate more easily, and the heart won’t beat as hard. This results in a reduction in blood pressure.
- Understanding Life Insurance Ratings
- High Blood Pressure Fact Sheet
- Life Insurance and Pre-existing Conditions
- 10 Health Conditions on Insurers' Radar
- Underwriting Hypertension
- Description of High Blood Pressure
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