Buying Life Insurance After Being Diagnosed With Cancer

The American Cancer Society estimates doctors will diagnose over 1.4 million new cases of cancer in the U.S. in 2007, with more than 559,650 cancer-related deaths. If you are among the majority of cancer patients and survive for at least five years following your diagnosis, you may face another fight: buying life insurance.

Buying life insurance for cancer patients is challenging, but not necessarily impossible. Your chances for securing a policy depend greatly on the type, stage and grade of the cancer, and even on the treatment plan. There is a relationship between the rate you’ll receive and the curability of your cancer. Certain types of skin cancer, for example, are considered very low risk by life insurance companies and a skin cancer history may not even impact premiums.

Applicants with common and treatable forms of breast and prostate cancer may be able to get a “standard” rating under ideal circumstances. But patients with a history of leukemia or colon cancer may fall into a “substandard” or “high substandard” rating at best, or receive declines. Anyone with cancer that has metastasized likely won’t be able to obtain a policy.

Dr. Charles Levy, senior vice president and chief medical director of AIG American General Domestic Life Insurance Cos., says, “We’re better and better able to differentiate the risks of individual cancers.” Life insurers like AIG American General have sophisticated tables to determine premiums, where they can factor in cancer types and treatments. The end result is better premiums because applicants aren’t lumped together as an “average.”

Most insurers will not offer a policy to someone who is still undergoing treatment for cancer. Depending on your type of cancer, the life insurer may also want to add a surcharge, also called a temporary flat extra. For example, AIG American General sometimes charges temporary flat extras for two to five years, depending on the applicant’s cancer and treatment. The good news is that although these extra premiums can be expensive, they will automatically disappear after a set period of time.

Cancer insurance risk specialists

While a dedicated life insurance agent will search cancer insurance companies to find insurers that will sell you a life insurance policy, in some cases you may be better off seeking out a broker who specializes in finding life insurance for people who have a history of cancer.

These brokers will know the specific questions underwriters will want answered when considering your application. Many brokers have developed relationships with several insurers, so they know which companies offer the best-priced life insurance policies for cancer survivors. Some brokers have experts who specialize in gathering your medical records and organizing them.
By directing your application to life insurers that will view your application most favorably, these brokers will help you find the most accurate price quotes and the lowest premiums for life insurance. Always check the financial strength of the insurer before you buy any policy and be sure that the agent or broker you choose is licensed in your state.

Life insurance strategies for cancer survivors

If you are a healthy cancer survivor, life insurance is even more feasible. There are things you can do to ensure you’re getting the best premium offers possible for your situation.

1. Gather all possible medical records before you apply, from the first pathology report to medical records to treatment records. That ensures medical underwriters have the most complete picture of you, your health, and your cancer history. Having all those records before you apply for cancer insurance will reduce delays in your application process, because your life insurer is going to request them and will wait for them. The information you provide can garner you better premiums in the end: The less life insurer underwriters knows about you, the more likely they are to have to assume you are the highest risk and offer you high premiums accordingly. According to Levy, “If it’s fuzzy, we’re more likely to err on the side of conservatism.”

2. Make sure you have complied with your doctor’s treatment plans. For example, says Levy, if your doctor asked to see you back in one year and you haven’t been back in four years, get to your doctor for your check-up before you apply for life insurance. Your life insurer is not going to offer you a policy without before seeing the results of that check-up. Similarly, if you’ve had breast cancer and you’re due for a mammogram in December and you apply for cancer insurance in October, your life insurer will likely wait for the results of your next mammogram.

3. Get prices from several companies. Policy costs can vary a great deal among companies.

4. See if you can get group life insurance through a professional, fraternal, membership, or political organization to which you belong.

5. Consider a “graded” policy (one with limited benefits) if you cannot get full death benefits. In the first few years of a graded policy, the company pays only the premiums and part of the face value if the insured person dies of a condition, such as cancer, that existed before the policy took effect. If the insured person dies after the specified grading-in period, the company will pay the full face amount of the policy.

If your cancer has been successfully treated, and you are otherwise in good health, you can likely obtain a cancer life insurance policy. If you can show that you are healthy and your treatments have gone well, several insurers may compete for your business.