Even if you have a pre-existing medical condition, you can usually still find life insurance. That's true if you've been treated for heart disease or some types of cancer.
"It's a mistake people make, thinking they can't get life insurance. They may not be able to get it at the ultra-preferred rate, but only 10 percent of applicants get ultra-preferred rates," says Jack Dewald, past chairman of the LIFE Foundation, a nonprofit designed to help consumers with life and health insurance issues.
Your ability to obtain insurance depends on your medical condition, and how well it's controlled.
Control your condition – and life insurance options
Some health problems may preclude you from getting any type of 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:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
But simply being diagnosed with these conditions – or having been treated for them – doesn't mean getting life insurance is out of the question, 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.
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 have an ailment, but only take out a 10-year policy.
Other ailments and life insurance
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 down the road if you quit smoking, lose weight and start exercising, you'll have a far greater chance of getting insurance down the road, Dewald says.
Meanwhile, conditions like diabetes, sleep apnea, and depression that are well-controlled are not 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.
Shop around for insurance
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, Dewald says.
"That could be a measure of last resort," says Dewald, who is now president of Agency Services Inc., a life and health insurance agency in Memphis, Tenn.
Instead, he urges consumers to get life insurance when they're young and in good health.
"You can't insure a house once it's on a fire, so don't wait till you're sick to buy your insurance," he says.