Buying Life Insurance After Cancer

If you've emerged on the other side of this disease, you can still qualify for life insurance.
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Written by Georgia Rose
Lead Writer
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Reviewed by Tony Steuer
Life insurance expert
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Edited by Katia Iervasi
Assistant Assigning Editor
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If you have a history of cancer, buying life insurance may not be as tricky as you might think. However, the type of cancer you have, the prognosis and whether you’re in remission can affect the types of life insurance you can get, as well as the cost.

Can you get life insurance with cancer?

It depends. In general, insurers look at your medical history to get a better idea of your life expectancy and determine cost and eligibility. Diseases such as cancer can reduce your life expectancy and increase the risk to the insurer, so your premiums are typically higher. In some cases, you may be denied coverage altogether.

But don’t let this deter you from applying. Eligibility requirements vary among insurers, which is why it’s important to compare life insurance quotes from different companies. Some insurers are more lenient than others when it comes to pre-existing conditions, including cancer.

You may want to work with an independent life insurance agent or broker who has experience with clients in your situation. An impaired risk specialist is an insurance professional who focuses on helping people with health conditions or risky hobbies buy coverage.

Life insurance for current cancer patients

If you are currently undergoing treatment for cancer, or if it has metastasized or reached advanced stages, you most likely will not qualify for traditional policies that use medical histories to set rates. But there are policies that don’t require information on your health.

Guaranteed issue life insurance policies offer coverage regardless of your medical history. These policies are a type of permanent life insurance, which means coverage usually lasts your entire life. The only requirement is that you are within the eligible age range to apply for a policy, which is typically 40 to 85. 

The downside to this type of insurance is the cost. Without any information on your health, life insurance companies are taking a bigger risk insuring you, which means the premiums tend to be higher compared with policies that require a life insurance medical exam. Guaranteed issue life insurance also generally has a "graded death benefit," which means that if you die of natural causes in the first one to three years of the policy, the insurer doesn’t pay out the full death benefit.

Basic group life insurance through work is typically guaranteed, which means you don’t need to provide any information about your health to qualify for coverage, and employers often pay all or part of the premiums. If you have access to this type of insurance, you can get coverage despite a cancer diagnosis. However, many basic group life policies limit coverage to a few times your annual salary, which may not be enough for your family. Buying supplemental life insurance through your workplace plan could require that you provide information on your health. It’s also worth keeping in mind that group policies are typically tied to your job, so if you leave, you may lose the coverage.

Life insurance for cancer survivors

If you’re in remission, you may be able to qualify for traditional term or permanent life insurance policies. In general, the longer you’re cancer-free, the better your chances of getting a competitively priced policy.

Term life insurance covers you for a specific number of years, such as 10 or 20. It’s typically cheaper than permanent coverage and pays out if you die during the term only. Term life may be a good choice if you need coverage for a set period of time, such as the years your children rely on you financially.

Permanent life insurance typically covers you for your entire life and pays out regardless of when you die. These policies often include a cash value component, which can grow over time. Whole life insurance is the most common type of permanent coverage. Permanent policies can be a good fit if you want to leave an inheritance for your beneficiaries when you die or help them cover final expenses such as funeral costs. 

Did you know...

An insurer may require you to be in remission for five years before you can qualify for coverage. Even if you do qualify, you may still be subject to higher premiums. And, based on your diagnosis, the insurer may impose a waiting period to pay out a claim after your death.

Be aware that each insurer has its own life insurance underwriting standards, and companies differ widely on how they rate a history of cancer. They may consider the type of cancer, length of time since remission, adherence to follow-up treatment and other factors.

What if I have a family history of cancer?

When you apply for life insurance, insurers may ask whether your immediate family members, such as your parents or siblings, have a history of certain diseases like cancer. Insurers look for patterns to determine the likelihood of you getting the disease. For example, if several close family members have had lung cancer, an insurer may assume you are also at risk. A single cancer diagnosis in your family won’t likely have a big impact on your life insurance application, unless a close relative like a parent had cancer at a young age, such as before 55. This also varies by company.

Regardless of the type and severity of the cancer, you must submit truthful information on your application. Insurers can deny claims to your life insurance beneficiaries if the application contains false or misleading information. You'll want to make sure you are as accurate as you can be when applying for life insurance.

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