If you live with a chronic or pre-existing condition, caring for yourself and your family takes on new meaning. Life insurance can help protect your loved ones after your lifetime—even if you’re in less-than-perfect health.
According to the National Health Council, around 40% of Americans currently have a chronic condition. If you live with a medical issue like diabetes or asthma, you may have already dealt with logistical headaches when applying for health insurance or advocating for your own medical care. It’s understandable to be wary of the life insurance process, but having a pre-existing condition doesn’t automatically disqualify you from getting covered. You have options when it comes to life insurance, and you may be able to find competitive rates in some cases.
Not all life insurance companies treat chronic conditions the same, so knowing what to expect can help you find a plan that fits your needs. Here’s what to keep in mind when you shop for a life insurance policy.
How can pre-existing conditions affect your life insurance application?
Chronic conditions include any medical diagnosis that lasts three months or longer, and pre-existing health conditions are defined as any health issue you have before your insurance coverage begins. You’ve likely heard about pre-existing conditions when it comes to buying health insurance, and these same conditions factor into the underwriting process for life insurance.
When you apply, life insurance companies will look at conditions like:
- Anxiety and depression
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
Since these companies are actually insuring your life, they consider anything that may impact your life expectancy when determining your eligibility and the price you pay.
All life insurance companies have unique underwriting processes, meaning that some life insurance companies may be better for people with certain conditions than others. It’s important to research your options based on your own medical needs.
What do life insurance companies consider when reviewing your application?
A life insurance company will generally consider several main factors in the underwriting process:
- The type of condition. The severity of your condition, and your overall life expectancy, can impact eligibility and rates. For example, a manageable case of arthritis or generalized anxiety disorder is easier to cover than heart disease.
- Your current health. Insurers may ask if the condition limits your ability to work or perform other day-to-day activities. If your condition is under control, you can usually qualify for traditional life insurance policies, like term life insurance.
- How long it’s been since your diagnosis. Generally, the longer you’ve had the diagnosis, the greater the risk for complications, which can mean higher rates.
- Your age and lifestyle factors. If you’re young and healthy, you have a better chance to qualify for lower rates. Keep in mind that lifestyle habits, like smoking and alcohol consumption, can factor into determining your rates and eligibility.
- Your family history. If your condition runs in the family, insurers may ask about the health of your immediate family members or any history of early death.
Life insurance options for people with pre-existing conditions
If your condition is mild and you’re generally healthy otherwise, you can often qualify for term or permanent life insurance:
- Term life insurance is often the best option for families. It’s the most affordable type of coverage and comes in term lengths of 10 to 30 years, so you can customize your plan based on your family’s financial needs. If you die while the policy is in force, your family will receive a tax-free cash payout to cover whatever they need.
- Permanent life insurance covers you for your entire lifetime, as long as you keep up with your payments. It’s more expensive than term life but can be a good fit if you have long-term financial needs. It also accumulates cash value, which you can tap into as needed during your lifetime.
Both term and permanent life insurance often require a medical exam. If you have a more serious health condition and are worried about passing a medical exam, there are also no-exam options available:
- Simplified issue, which has a short application process and a health questionnaire instead of a medical exam. This kind of insurance often offers higher coverage amounts than final expense insurance.
- Guaranteed issue, which is designed for people who may not qualify for other insurance options because of their health or age. Payouts are lower and costs are higher than other plans, but it can help offset end-of-life or funeral costs for people who have been turned down elsewhere.
What if I develop a health condition after I buy life insurance?
Good news: Once you’re covered, you’re covered. Your life insurance company cannot cancel your policy once you buy it and make payments—no matter what happens with your health.
That’s why it’s best to buy sooner rather than later, in case a new or worsening health issue prevents you from qualifying for insurance. Insurance rates also go up with age, so buying now can help you save on payments.
Tips for getting covered
Apart from securing coverage while you’re young, there are other steps that can help keep your rates low and support your overall health:
- Be mindful of when you apply.The timing of your application can make a big difference. With some conditions, like cancer, you may need to wait a certain period of time after a diagnosis to qualify for coverage.
- Monitor your health.If your condition improves after you buy life insurance, some insurers may allow you to take a new medical exam to improve your rates.
- Focus on what you can control. Improving your diet, exercise and sleep habits, and quitting smoking can all help your overall health, translating into more options and lower premiums.
- Shop around. A life insurance agent that works with multiple carriers can help you compare insurance options and find the most favorable underwriting guidelines.
The bottom line: Even if you have health challenges, life insurance is within reach. Skipping life insurance because you’re worried about getting turned down can put your family at financial risk. Exploring your options can provide the peace of mind that your loved ones are protected financially when they need it most.