Buying Life Insurance After Breast Cancer

If you've emerged on the other side of this disease, you have a good chance of qualifying for life insurance.

Barbara MarquandJun 4, 2015
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Thanks to advances in screening and treatment, life insurance is available more quickly and at better rates for breast cancer survivors than ever before.

If you’ve come out the other side of this harrowing disease, you have a good chance of qualifying for various types of life insurance.

“Many breast cancer survivors will qualify for coverage, some immediately after treatment, and others after a few years,” says Dr. Valerie Kaufman, vice president and chief medical director at MassMutual.

What has changed?

Life insurers have offered coverage to breast cancer survivors for many years. MassMutual has done so since 1964. But now many more survivors can qualify today than even just a decade ago.

“At a time when treatment has improved, better screening and earlier detection of breast cancer has increased the number of individuals whose cancer is found when treatment is more likely to be successful,” Kaufman says.

In addition, she says, medical advances have enabled life insurance companies to gauge risk in a more comprehensive way for different breast cancer scenarios. That’s resulted in more rating categories as well as shorter waiting periods and lower premiums in many cases.

Whether you qualify for coverage immediately and how much you pay for life insurance depend on a variety of factors, and each person’s situation is unique.

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all deal,” says Jeff Root, founder of independent life insurance agency Rootfin based in Austin, Texas.

Root, who specializes in helping people with health issues find coverage, says the most important factors life insurers consider for breast cancer are:

  • The type of breast cancer.

  • The stage and grade of the cancer.

  • When the cancer was diagnosed and when treatment ended.

  • How the cancer was treated, such as lumpectomy, mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation or other methods.

  • Whether there was any metastasis or any lymph node involvement.

  • Size of the tumor.

The lower the stage, the lower the grade, the longer amount of time since treatment ended, the better chance you have at qualifying for coverage at lower rates, Root says.

Preferred rates — the best possible for life insurance — are available in some instances. At MassMutual, Kaufman says, customers with noninvasive cancer (stage 0), “favorable risk markers” and appropriate treatment may qualify for preferred rates.

Others may qualify for preferred life insurance rates several to 20 years after completion of successful treatment, she says, and those who may not qualify for the best rates may qualify for standard — the usual — rates.

Root says that in some cases, life insurers attach a temporary extra charge to standard rates for a certain number of years. This is called a “flat extra.” You might qualify for standard rates plus a $5 flat extra per $1,000 of coverage for five years. On a $100,000 life insurance policy, you would pay $500 a year on top of the standard rate for the first five years of the policy.

Preparing to buy

Don’t despair if you get turned down for coverage by one company. The underwriting process varies among insurers, which is why it’s so important to compare life insurance quotes from different carriers.

Root suggests working with an independent life insurance agent who has experience working with clients in your situation. An impaired risk specialist is an insurance professional who focuses on helping people with health conditions or risky hobbies or livelihoods buy coverage.

“There are so many variables with breast cancer,” he says. “A lot of agents don’t know what to ask.”

When you apply for coverage, be prepared to list all your doctors and their contact information, Root says. This will help the process move more quickly, so the insurance company won’t have to come back and ask for more information. A copy of your pathology report will help the agent gather prequalified quotes on your behalf. These are quotes based on your information without your name attached. The quotes insurance companies provide are binding if you decide to buy, unless other information comes to light.

Fear not

Finally, don’t be afraid to apply for life insurance.

“The most important thing that we cannot stress enough is that in addition to taking every precaution to protect your health, do the same to protect your financial health for yourself and your loved ones,” Kaufman says. “Do not put off your mammogram, and do not put off your financial planning and preparedness for life’s curveballs.”

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