Can I Buy Life Insurance With a Pre-Existing Medical Condition?

Quick Answer

You can get life insurance if you have had an illness, but you may be faced with sign-up time limitations, higher premiums and lower policy face values.

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Even if you have had a serious illness in the past, you may be eligible for a life insurance policy. You could, however, face some limitations on when you can sign up, possibly get less coverage and potentially pay higher premiums. Here's what to know about getting life insurance after an illness.

What Impact Does Health Have on Life Insurance?

In most cases, life insurance companies consider the health of a person purchasing a policy. They may require a medical exam as part of the underwriting process. As part of the exam, tests may include:

  • Blood and urine tests to look for things like blood sugar issues, high cholesterol or diseases such as HIV
  • Blood pressure measurements
  • Height, weight and BMI measurements

Applicants may also be asked questions about tobacco or drug use and be asked to provide their history.

If you've recently been treated for an illness, you may be worried about passing this kind of medical exam when applying for life insurance. Luckily, getting life insurance may still be possible even with these concerns.

How Pre-Existing Conditions May Affect Life Insurance

A pre-existing condition does not automatically preclude you from getting life insurance, but you may pay more for premiums—possibly up to 10% more per year—and be approved for a reduced death benefit. You may also need to wait until you are well past treatment before you can sign up for life insurance.

Some common illnesses and conditions that come into play with getting life insurance include:

  • HIV
  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Obesity
  • Mental health
  • Diabetes
  • Asthma
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol

Because qualifying for life insurance and getting good rates depends on you being a "good risk," the risk level your pre-existing condition carries may affect your premium cost and your ability to get life insurance.

Some health issues—such as obesity or high cholesterol—may not greatly impact your cost or access to life insurance. But some insurers have specific waiting periods that apply after receiving final treatments for serious illnesses, such as cancer. It may be just one year or a decade before an insurer may be willing to insure a survivor.

Similarly, chronic conditions like diabetes could even lead to a denial of coverage. Terminal conditions may limit you to only guaranteed issue life insurance policies, detailed below.

Even if you have had an illness or are living with a pre-existing condition, you may be able to increase your chances of getting life insurance by making some lifestyle adjustments. These include making sure that you are participating in and receiving proper medical care, continuing to exercise as allowed and possibly losing weight if applicable. Each positive step you take to preserve your health may increase your chances of getting life insurance coverage.

Different Types of Life Insurance to Consider

Whether you're shopping for life insurance with a pre-existing condition or not, the many different types of life insurance can be confusing. Finding the right life insurance means shopping for the most affordable policy that grants your beneficiaries the maximum death benefit.

Some different types of policies to consider are:

  • Guaranteed issue life insurance: Guaranteed issue life insurance typically has broad qualifying criteria, such as simply meeting age limits even if you have a serious or terminal illness. Though this is a more expensive type of insurance, it is guaranteed to pay out a modest death benefit. There are no medical exams, making it ideal for someone who has already been diagnosed with a serious illness. There is one catch, however: if you were to pass away within the first few years of having the policy, your beneficiaries might only get the money you paid in with added interest, rather than the policy's full death benefit.
  • Term life insurance: Term life insurance is purchased for a set period of time, from a single year up to 30, and pays out if you were to pass away during the policy term. Term insurance is typically the most affordable life insurance option. A medical exam may be required, particularly during renewal periods, which may make it more difficult for someone diagnosed with a serious illness currently or in the past to take out a policy. There may also be a waiting period of five to 10 years after a serious illness before consumers can buy term life insurance.
  • Group term life insurance: Group term life insurance is typically offered by an employer. It is a limited policy with lower coverage, generally offered as an employment benefit. It may end if you leave your job, or you may be able to take it with you as an individual policy. There is not usually a medical exam, so this type of insurance is easier to get even if you've been diagnosed with a serious illness.
  • Whole life insurance: Whole life insurance is a form of permanent life insurance. It is designed to last your whole life, pay a death benefit at any point and accrue a cash value as you pay premiums. This cash value can be used to loan yourself money later in life. But whole life insurance policies have more expensive premiums, up to 15 times as much as term life insurance. There may be a waiting period after remission of serious illness before consumers may purchase whole life insurance.
  • Universal life insurance: Universal life insurance is another form of permanent life insurance. It offers more flexibility than whole life, letting you adjust your premium payments or modify your desired coverage while still offering a death benefit throughout your life. Like other permanent life insurance policies, you may face higher premiums after a recent diagnosis of a serious illness.

You can ease the chore of shopping for life insurance by calculating how much you can afford to spend on premiums and how much your beneficiaries would need after you pass, then target plans that come close to both numbers. Even if you have had an illness, you may be able to find policies that meet your needs.