Getting Life Insurance When You Have a Chronic Condition

You can get an affordable policy even if you have asthma, depression, high cholesterol or other treatable condition that's under control.

Purchasing a life insurance policy is one of the most important moves you can make if someone depends on you financially. However, many people believe that they cannot buy an affordable policy -- or even qualify for coverage -- because they have a chronic health condition. A recent study by Genworth Financial found that between 39% and 54% of adults with pre-existing conditions, including anxiety, asthma, depression, high cholesterol, hypertension, weight problems and sleep apnea, have no life insurance. The fear that the price of a policy will be too high because of their impairment prevents them from buying life insurance, says Ray Dinstel, senior vice president of underwriting at Genworth.

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These conditions aren't a barrier to an affordable policy, though. Genworth's research found that anxiety, asthma, depression, high cholesterol, hypertension, weight problems and sleep apnea don't carry a higher mortality rate if they are controlled by medication or other treatment, Dinstel says. So the insurer changed its underwriting guidelines, and now the majority of its applicants with medically controlled chronic conditions actually get the preferred rate (which is Genworth's second-best rate). Dinstel says many other insurers have followed Genworth's lead and have changed their guidelines, too.

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If you have one of these chronic conditions, here's what you need to know about searching for and buying a life insurance policy:

The key is control. Dinstel says that people with these impairments must be taking medication, not have any significant symptoms or be otherwise healthy to receive an insurer's preferred rate. Most Web sites that offer life insurance quotes, such as Accuquote, will ask whether you have a chronic condition, but not all will ask if it's controlled, Dinstel says.

People with impairments "shouldn't stop at disclosing their condition," he says. "They need to get on the phone with a company representative to provide their full information." Otherwise, they could be quoted a rate that's much higher than what they would qualify for if they had disclosed that their condition was under control. For example, a 50-year-old man who received the preferred rate on a $100,000 term-life policy from Genworth would pay $252 annually. If he received the standard rate, he would pay $348 for that same policy.

You should prepare for the medical exam you will have to take during the application process. There are a few things you can do to improve the exam's outcome -- or at least not make your medical condition appear worse than it really is. Fast 24 hours before the exam because this might help lower your cholesterol slightly. Avoid alcohol and fatty and salty foods before the exam, and don't have any caffeine the morning of the exam. Take your medications to ensure your cholesterol, blood pressure or any other condition you might have is under control. Don't do a heavy workout the day before. You'll end up with an elevated protein level, which would make you seem sick. And get a good night's sleep so you're rested and relaxed when you take the exam.

You can't get the preferred rate with some conditions, even if they're controlled. If you have diabetes or a history of cancer, you cannot get the preferred rate, Dinstel says. However, you can qualify for the standard rate (see Life Insurance After Cancer). If you currently have cancer, you can't even get the standard rate. For more, see 5 Medical Conditions That Raise Life Insurance Rates Most.

You'll pay a lot more for life insurance if you smoke. Even if you have a treatable medical condition that is under control, you won't get the preferred rate -- or even the standard rate -- if you smoke. In general, smokers pay twice as much for life insurance as healthy non-smokers do, Dinstel says. When impairments are involved, the rates are even higher. However, you can improve your chances of getting a better rate by quitting. You many qualify for an insurer's best rate after being smoke-free for three to five years.

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Cameron Huddleston
Former Online Editor,

Award-winning journalist, speaker, family finance expert, and author of Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk.

Cameron Huddleston wrote the daily "Kip Tips" column for She joined Kiplinger in 2001 after graduating from American University with an MA in economic journalism.