Life insurance pays out a lump sum if you die during your policy term. This means that when insurers are considering your life insurance application, what they’re really doing is weighing up how likely you are to die during the life of your policy. If it’s likely, they’ll think of you as high risk; if it’s unlikely, as low risk. It’s this level of risk that’ll determine whether or not you’re eligible for cover and, if so, how much they’ll expect you to pay each month to be insured – the higher the risk to them, the higher the premiums for you, and vice versa.
If you’ve already got a health condition, the first thing to say is that it’s very important to declare it when applying for life insurance. The most common reason for policies not paying out is people not being accurate and honest in their application. Next, it’s reasonable to assume that having a health condition might make it more expensive to get covered – or difficult to get covered at all (as it would if you had a risky job or hobby). As far as both of these are concerned, it entirely depends on a number of factors about your condition, which we detail later in this guide.
Last up, getting help from an adviser is highly recommended if you’re trying to buy life insurance but you have an existing medical condition. They’ll have the tools and know-how to point you towards the insurers most likely to cover you – so you won’t waste time on applications that won’t be accepted.
Every life insurance application goes through a ‘risk assessment’. This helps determine how eligible you are for the cover (i.e. how much of a risk you are) and how much you should pay to be insured (i.e. the higher the risk, the higher the premiums). This process, knowing as ‘underwriting’, usually involves the insurer asking questions about your:
- Personal health history
- Family health history
- Height and weight (BMI)
- Smoking status
- Alcohol consumption
- Job and hobbies
- International travel
If you apply for life insurance online – as you can with Anorak – part of the underwriting process happens straight away, in the health and lifestyle questions you answer when you apply. In a straightforward case (e.g. for someone who’s young and healthy), this level of underwriting usually suffices, and an insurer will accept the application based on those questions and answers alone. For more complicated cases (e.g. someone older or with a pre-existing condition medical condition), the application will usually be handed over to an underwriter for further review.
What insurers want to know about pre-existing health conditions
If your life insurance application gets handed over to an underwriter because you’ve stated that you’ve got a health condition, these are the kinds of things they’d need to know before making a decision:
- When you were diagnosed
- What your symptoms are and how often you have them
- How severe your condition is
- What treatment you have (or have had)
- Whether it’s led to you claiming benefits/allowances
- Whether it’s caused you to take time off work
- Whether it’s caused you to retire early
Throughout this process, insurers will also take timings into account – i.e. being hospitalised for your condition once, eight years ago, might be deemed less of risk than if you were hospitalised this year, for example, or have been hospitalised several times. The specifics of what they need to know will also vary according to what the condition is – but whatever the condition, it’s very important to disclose it during the application process, as not doing so could invalidate your policy and lead to it not paying out in the future.
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Life insurance for people with cancer
If you try to apply for life insurance while you have cancer, it’s likely that insurers will postpone making a decision about your application until your treatment is completed (or even longer, until a certain amount of time has passed). If you’ve had cancer in the past, insurers will seek extra information from you during the underwriting process. This is likely to include what type of cancer you had, how long ago you had treatment, whether you were told you were in remission, whether the cancer spread to any other part of the body – and other details, depending on the type of cancer you had.
Life insurance for people with asthma
Having asthma could affect you when applying for life insurance, but it very much depends on the severity of your condition. Mild asthma might not affect your application at all; moderate asthma could lead to it being more expensive; and severe asthma could lead to it being more expensive, or you being ineligible. Insurers will want to know about the frequency of your symptoms and hospital stays, what medication you're on, and how your asthma affects your working and daily life.
Life insurance for people with stress, anxiety or depression
If you have a mental health condition – such as experiencing stress, anxiety or depression – it’s likely that insurers will require extra information before making a decision about your application. This is because mental health conditions can affect your motivation or ability to lead a healthy lifestyle, and may be accompanied by a propensity towards self-harm or suicide. During underwriting, insurers will look to ascertain things like the frequency and severity of your symptoms, what treatment you have (or have had), and what affect the condition has on your daily life.
Life insurance for people with heart conditions
Having a heart condition – e.g. having angina or having had a heart attack – will make it more expensive to get covered and may even affect how eligible you are for cover with certain insurers. During the underwriting process, insurers will try to ascertain the extent of your underlying condition. This includes how old you were when you were diagnosed, what treatment you’re having, how frequently you experience symptoms, whether you’re making any lifestyle changes to manage your condition, and whether it’s causing or related to any other conditions (like high blood pressure or diabetes).
Life insurance for people with diabetes
If you have diabetes, insurers will need to know about your diagnosis, however long ago it was. In many cases, if your diabetes is well-controlled, a decision can be made about your application based on a quick online assessment. In other cases, where the diabetes is less controlled or causing other complications, insurers may require extra information from your GP in order to make a decision.
Life insurance for people living with HIV
You can still buy life insurance if you’ve been diagnosed with HIV, though as with many pre-existing conditions, it could make getting covered more expensive and you may be ineligible for some products. During the underwriting process, insurers will simply be looking to ascertain how well you’ve responded to HIV treatment and whether any other medical complications have been caused by your condition.
Life insurance for people with multiple sclerosis
You should be able to buy life insurance if you've been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, but it will make it more expensive to get covered. The success of your application will depend on whether you've got relapsing-remitting MS or progressive MS, and on the current pattern of your condition – i.e. whether you're symptom-free, or your symptoms are intermittent, continuous or worsening.
Life insurance for people with a low or high BMI
Having a low or high BMI could make you higher risk to insure – because being underweight or overweight can increase the likelihood of you developing other health conditions and affect your life expectancy. You should be able to buy cover, but the success of your application will depend on how low or how high your BMI is (all insurers have different thresholds for what they will and won't cover, and how much it'll cost) and whether or not you have any other health conditions at the same time.
How a pre-existing condition could affect your application
Depending on what the insurer discovers about your condition during the underwriting process, there are four things that could happen:
- Your application will be accepted as normal, with standard pricing rates (i.e. the same as they’d be for someone without your condition)
- Your application will be accepted but with a ‘loading’ on the price (i.e. your rates will be between 50% and 200% higher than they would be for someone without your condition)
- Your application decision will be postponed (this happens if the insurer thinks your condition poses too much of a risk right now, but has the potential to improve in the future)
- Your application will be declined (this happens if the insurer thinks your condition means you'll always be too high risk to insure)
Medical information required during underwriting
Extra medical information is often requested during the underwriting process if you’ve disclosed a pre-existing condition during the application process. Other times it’ll be automatically requested, if the applicant is over a certain age, for example, or buying a large amount of cover. This information could be gathered through means like:
- GP report
- In-person mini-screening (with a nurse)
- Video call screening (with a nurse)
- Medical examination (with a doctor)
- HIV test
- Urine test
- Lipid profile test
- Blood test
- Electrocardiograph (ECG)
- You can apply for life insurance even if you have an existing health condition
- You should always disclose pre-existing conditions during the application process, otherwise you risk invalidating your policy in the future
- Extra medical information may be required during the underwriting process if you disclose a pre-existing condition
- Depending on the nature of your condition, insurers may accept your application as normal; accept it but charge a higher premium; or postpone or decline it
This post is intended for informative purposes only and does not constitute advice.