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LIFE Insurance

Sleep apnea is a factor when it comes to life and health insurance costs.

sleep apnea and insuranceBothering a spouse with loud snoring or being tired during the day are two consequences of sleep apnea. But can it affect your insurance rates? 

During episodes of sleep apnea, oxygen levels in the blood drop. Episodes can be caused by obstruction of the upper airway (obstructive sleep apnea) or by a failure of the brain to initiate breathing (central sleep apnea). Symptoms often include excessive daytime sleepiness and loud snoring. More than 50% of people who have sleep apnea are overweight.

The condition is serious, and if not treated, can lead to hypertension, lung damage, heart problems, lack of concentration and a high risk of car accidents. Mortality increases when combined with other disorders like cardiac diseases. A recent CDC study shows a link between obstructive sleep apnea and depression.

Life insurance and sleep apnea

A sleep apnea diagnosis can lead a life insurance company to decline coverage. Even if you get coverage, the insurer may charge a higher rate with limited coverage. 

But there's some good news. Some insurance brokers say that you can get equitable coverage, depending on your particular medical condition and how you treat it. 

Much depends on the severity of the sleep apnea -- mild, moderate or severe -- and compliance with treatment, says Ed Hinerman of the Hinerman Group, which specializes in impaired risk life insurance underwriting.

One effective treatment is the use of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), which uses a mask and air pump to provide airflow during breath inhalation to prevent collapse of the airway.

People who have a mild to moderate condition and no other risk factors, and who undergo an effective treatment, such as CPAP, would not be assessed a surcharge for an existing medical condition and would be considered by some insurers for preferred plus classification, says Hinerman.

When you're getting life insurance quotes, your rates will be set in part by your "risk class." That's defined by an insurer's "underwriting guidelines." (Your policy amount and length are the other pricing factors.) The better your risk class, the lower your premiums. A "preferred plus" classification means you pay less than if you received a "preferred" or "standard" risk classification.

A severe condition with good compliance and no other risk factors could be anywhere from preferred to standard rates. Your rating depends on the severity as measured by your sleep study, says Hineman.

The key is treatment. If you're managing the disease, the payoff isn't just for your health, but in your wallet. Premiums could double, triple, or even quadruple if you're not compliant, such as not using a CPAP device after being prescribed one. (See: Will a health condition kill your life insurance options?)

Your life insurer will want to review your sleep study test, which your health insurance will most likely cover. If your medical records indicate that you should have a sleep study performed and you haven't done one, some life insurance companies will not consider you for a policy until you do. The test reveals respiratory patterns, chest muscle activity and oxygenation, among other things.

Also top-of-mind for insurers are factors like your age at time of diagnosis, what you're doing for treatment, your blood pressure rate, your weight, whether you are a smoker or not, and other health problems you may have.

Treatment can include weight loss, avoidance of stimulants and alcohol prior to going to bed, avoiding sleeping on your back, and using CPAP or bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP). If you go the CPAP or BiPAP route, the best results come from using the devices every night for several hours. There are also surgical options, such as surgery to change the shape of the jaw or the tongue.

Health insurance and sleep apnea

Typically, with group health insurance, individual underwriting isn't performed. That's an advantage if you have sleep apnea. Previously, an insurer could deny your claim if you had a pre-existing condition.

However, the Affordable Care Act ended that practice. Now, an insurer must provide coverage and approve claims regardless of the pre-existing condition. 

Sleep apnea and auto insurance

Sleep apnea affects life and health insurance, but car insurance isn't directly impacted. However, if your sleep apnea causes you to drive poorly and get into accidents, this would lead to high rates.

"Since fatigue is a factor in accidents, sleep apnea can put you indirectly at a higher risk of getting into a car accident," says Scott Hoffman, an agent and principal of the Howard & Hoffman Insurance Agency. A study by the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute and the University of British Columbia found that people with sleep apnea are at double the risk of being in a car crash.

So, sleep apnea can affect your insurance, but make sure you follow guidance, such as following prescriptions, to make sure you protect yourself against running into a problem with your insurer.