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Life Insurance for Cancer Survivors

Kimberly Lankford

I recently started a job that doesn't include group life insurance, and I'd like to buy my own policy. But I'm worried that I might not qualify because I'm a breast cancer survivor. What should I do?



I recently started a job that doesn't include group life insurance, and I'd like to buy my own policy to provide coverage at least until my kids go to college. But I'm worried that I might not qualify for insurance because I'm a breast cancer survivor. My treatment ended three years ago and I've been cancer-free since then, but I'm still concerned that it might make it impossible to get life insurance. What should I do?

Start shopping around now and get help from an insurance broker who works with several companies. They'll usually know from experience which ones are more likely to accept someone with your medical condition and how to present the strongest case.

You might be very surprised by the results. A few years ago, most insurers would reject people who had breast cancer or require them to wait a few years before covering them, then charge very high rates. But because of medical advances, a handful of insurance companies now make it much easier for people with certain medical conditions -- such as breast cancer, prostate cancer and well-controlled diabetes -– to get coverage.

Last year Hartford Life Insurance Company, for example, started offering policies at standard rates for women age 40 and older who have had breast cancer –- as long as the patient had a small, localized Stage 1 condition and has a strong prognosis for survival. Candidates must also have completed treatment and the first follow-up visit with no evidence of the disease. But they don't need to wait years before getting coverage, as they would have needed to do in the past. Several other insurers now have similar rules for breast cancer survivors.

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And some insurers are now making it easier for people who had prostate cancer to get coverage soon after their treatment. Hartford will offer standard rates, for example, to prostate-cancer survivors who are age 60 or older and have been surgically treated (biopsy or radiation alone doesn't' qualify), have a Gleason score of 6 or less, have a pre-treatment PSA of 10 or less, and have the cancer confined to the prostate.

People with diabetes may be able to get coverage from some companies if they have good test results and can show that they're controlling the disease.

The rules can vary a lot from company to company, and the way you present the case can makea difference. Byron Udell, CEO of AccuQuote, a brokerage that works with dozens of insurance companies, generally puts together a package for the insurer that emphasizes the applicant's strengths, beyond just the information on the application -- such as a letter that details how well the person is controlling their condition and highlights key information from their doctor.

It's essential to tell the broker or insurer up front about the condition -- they'll find out through your medical records, anyway, so it's better to tell them at the beginning so they can only focus on insurers they know tend to offer the best deals for someone with your health history. And if you get rejected by one insurer, keep trying. Each one has very different rules for certain medical conditions, and one company may reject you entirely while another offers a decent rate.

Got a question? Ask Kim at askkim@kiplinger.com.



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