Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.
Shopping for life insurance during the pandemic? Be aware that insurers may have changed their products and policy applications. For the latest information on how to cope with financial stress during this emergency, see NerdWallet’s financial guide to COVID-19.
It’s no secret: The younger and healthier you are, the cheaper your life insurance quote will probably be. As such, a pre-existing health condition can have adverse effects on your coverage options. While having a medical issue doesn’t automatically disqualify you from buying life insurance, it may result in less choice and higher premiums.
What is a pre-existing condition?
A pre-existing condition is a medical issue you were diagnosed with or treated for before applying for life insurance.
Each insurer has its own underwriting process, meaning some look more kindly on certain conditions than others. In general, you’ll raise a red flag if you have one or more of the following pre-existing conditions:
Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD.
High blood pressure.
How pre-existing conditions affect life insurance
Insurers typically group applicants into rate classes based on their health, such as standard, preferred or super preferred. The name given to each class can vary among insurers, but the goal is the same: to categorize the risk of insuring you based on your health.
Most people qualify for super preferred life insurance quotes, according to data collected by Quotacy, a life insurance broker. But if you have a serious health condition, you may qualify only for standard rates. Why? Depending on the situation, a pre-existing health condition might cause an early or unexpected death, which increases the risk for the insurer. As a result, the cost of the policy is higher. If the risk is too high, the insurer may deny coverage altogether.
The good news is that medical advances have improved outcomes for many patients and, in turn, led to better rates. If you’re in remission or your chronic condition is well-managed, you might be able to score standard or even preferred rates.
Best life insurance options for pre-existing conditions
Don’t assume you’ll be turned down for life insurance just because of a chronic health condition. Insurers may quote a higher premium, but coverage is still obtainable. Here are a few coverage options for applicants with pre-existing conditions.
Tailored life insurance policies
Some insurers offer unique policies that cater to applicants with specific health conditions. For example:
Guardian Life offers a whole life insurance product for people with HIV.
Prudential offers coverage to HIV-positive applicants on a case-by-case basis.
John Hancock’s Aspire™ with Vitality policy is specifically designed for people living with diabetes.
Fidelity Life offers life insurance solutions for applicants with cancer. The type, stage and treatment prognosis can affect your eligibility for coverage.
Guaranteed issue life insurance
If your pre-existing condition stops you from securing a competitively priced term or permanent life insurance policy, you might want to consider types of life insurance that don't require medical exams, such as guaranteed issue life insurance.
These policies guarantee acceptance as long as you are within a certain age range. You’re not required to take an exam or answer questions about your health to qualify. As a result, you often pay much more for less coverage. For example, a 50-year-old woman buying guaranteed issue whole life insurance could expect to pay $673 per year for $25,000 of coverage, compared to $364 a year for a 20-year term policy with $250,000 of coverage. Many guaranteed issue life insurance plans cap death benefits at around $25,000. In general, this type of life insurance has a graded benefit, which means the insurer won’t pay out if you die within a few years of buying the policy.
Group life insurance through work
Many people, including those with health problems, can buy group life insurance through their employers. Coverage is typically limited to one or two times your annual salary, but you won’t have to take a health exam to qualify. Keep in mind that you may lose the coverage if you leave the job.
Accidental death and dismemberment insurance
If you don’t qualify for a term or permanent life insurance policy, you may want to consider accidental death and dismemberment insurance. The death benefit is paid out only in the event of an accidental death, which means your medical history is not used to determine eligibility. However, if your pre-existing condition contributed in any way to the accident, your beneficiaries may not receive the payout.
Tips for buying life insurance with a pre-existing condition
Be mindful of when you apply. An insurer will likely turn you down if you apply shortly after a cancer diagnosis or a heart attack, but you can always reapply, especially if your medical records demonstrate that your treatment has been effective.
Take advantage of improvements in your health. If you are accepted but are being charged a high rate, you can ask for a new medical exam (and a lower premium) once your condition is under control.
Focus on the things you can control. The first step to finding affordable life insurance with a pre-existing condition is to take care of yourself. If you have medication, take it. If you can exercise, do it. Eat responsibly and try to keep your weight down. If you lead a healthy lifestyle outside of your condition, your premiums might reflect that.
Find the right agent. It’s important that you look for an independent agent who works with an impaired risk specialist. An impaired risk specialist is a broker who’ll know which insurance companies are more likely to provide a good rate for your particular condition. This could save you a lot of denied applications.
What to do if you’ve been denied life insurance
Even if you’ve been declined for life insurance, or can’t find affordable premiums for the coverage you want, don’t give up.
One option is to invest the money you would have paid in premiums yourself. If your goal is to help your beneficiaries cover final expenses, a well-managed investment account may help you achieve this. You may also want to consider waiting and reapplying for life insurance at a later date, once your condition has improved.
The worst strategy is to conceal your condition from your insurer. Life insurance companies use many methods to identify fraud. Misrepresenting your health on your application could cause the insurer to reject a life insurance claim, jeopardizing the benefit for your beneficiaries. If the insurer discovers fraudulent information, it typically records the incident in the Medical Information Bureau database, which is shared with other insurers. This might hurt your chances of buying coverage from another company.