Which health conditions affect life insurance?

Some health problems may preclude you from getting life insurance coverage. They include certain cancers that have metastasized and indicate a short life expectancy, cocaine use and severe alcoholism.

Other conditions that life insurance companies may put under the microscope include:

  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol

But simply being diagnosed with these conditions – or having been treated for them – doesn't mean you can't get life insurance, especially if the condition is well-controlled.

Depending on the insurer, a woman whose breast cancer was caught at an early stage might be eligible for life insurance six months after completing treatment. A man with prostate cancer might have a 12-month wait.

Those with other types of cancer might have to wait longer for coverage or they might pay more depending on the type of cancer and its stage when diagnosed.

How can you get life insurance with a health condition?

Patience and flexibility also are virtues if you have heart disease or another heart ailment. Someone who recently suffered a heart attack might have to wait for approval because insurers don't know if they'll take care of themselves or not."

However, if you've had a heart attack – or other serious health problems – you'll have a much greater chance of getting insurance if you quit smoking, lose weight and start exercising.

Meanwhile, conditions like diabetes, sleep apnea and depression that are well-controlled aren't considered a terrible risk. People can get life insurance at reasonable rates. The key is that the condition is under control or the policy holder is trying to improve health. For instance, a diabetic who's losing weight to improve health. 

Smoking can also lead to health problems. Life insurers charge much higher rates for smokers. Young smokers can play twice and middle-aged people may play four times the rates if they're smokers. 

You also might have an easier time getting term life insurance rather than a permanent life policy like a whole life plan. Term life has an end date, so an insurer may feel you're still a low risk if you only take out a 10-year policy.  

Shopping for life insurance with a health condition

It's important to shop around if you have a health condition that makes getting life insurance a challenge.  Insurers have all developed their own underwriting guidelines, and some are able to offer better rates for applicants with certain medical conditions.

Guaranteed life insurance is another option if you're looking for coverage with no health questions asked and no physicals required. But the amount of coverage offered is usually quite limited, the premium will be very high and if you die within the first year or two, your loved ones will likely receive only the premiums you've paid and any interest earned. Simplified issue is another option. These policies require you answer a few questions about your health, but you avoid a medical exam. 

Your best bet is to get life insurance when you're young so you don't have to deal with these issues. However, if you're middle-aged and have health problems, you may still find a policy that's right for you.