How to obtain life insurance when you have heart disease

A history of heart disease won’t necessarily flatline your chances of obtaining life insurance at reasonable rates, insurance experts say, provided you have the condition under control and you’re following doctor’s orders.

Take “Jeff” for instance. Obese and a smoker, he needed a bypass and a couple stents to keep his arteries open. His doctor told him to lose 100 pounds and kick the habit if he wanted to live, relates his insurer, Ryan Pinney, a brokerage director with Pinney Insurance Center Inc. in Roseville, Calif. Jeff lost 140 pounds, stopped smoking and takes his cholesterol medicine faithfully.

“I was able to get him life insurance at a preferred rate,” Pinney says. “He’s healthier now than he was back then.” A preferred rate would cost around $60 for the same policy that would cost $100 at a standard rate, he says.

Dr. Robert Pokorski, chief medical strategist for The Hartford’s Individual Life Division, says in general, life insurance can be offered six months after bypass, angioplasty, or use of stents, usually at a small to moderate additional premium.

Whether one is insurable depends on the type and severity of the heart disease, their age, their lifestyle habits and if they’re healthy now, Pokorski says.

“For someone with congestive heart failure, it is nearly impossible to get insurance,” Pinney concedes. “The doctor is saying this person is going to die soon.”

Pokorski says children born with an atrial septal defect (hole between the upper chambers of the heart) could get insurance at the same premium as a healthy child because it is corrected via surgery. In the event the defect cannot be corrected, the child can still get life insurance, but the insurer would charge a higher premium.

He says higher premiums are usually required for adults with coronary heart disease as well. The premium would go up even more if the person is overweight, smokes or is a diabetic. Pinney says a standard $100 policy could now cost as much as $400 to $600 a month.

If you were turned down for life insurance in the past because of heart problems, Pokorski encourages you to try again as insurance companies are responding to medical advances. “The premium charged at the time you were accepted would be based on your risk going forward, not on your risk in the past,” he says.

Heart disease by the numbers

Although the death rate has dropped 29.2 percent from 1996 to 2006, heart disease continues to claim millions of American lives every year, according to the American Heart Association and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Here are some of the latest statistics.

 Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S.

26 percent of all 2.4 million deaths in the U.S. in 2006 were caused by cardiovascular disease. This comes to 1 in every 2.9 deaths.

Women make up 50 percent of the total number of deaths caused by a heart attack.

2,300 Americans die of cardiovascular disease every day.

470,000 Americans had a recurring heart attack in 2010.

631,636 of Americans died of heart disease in 2006.

785,000 of Americans had a new coronary heart attack in 2010.

7,235,000 inpatient cardiovascular disease operations and procedures were conducted in 2006.

In 2010, the estimated direct and indirect cots of cardiovascular disease and strokes in the U.S. was $316.4 billion.

Yet we still don’t take care of ourselves, according to the latest estimates.

18.3: Percent of U.S. women 18 and older who smoke.

23.1: Percent of men 18 and older who smoke.

33.6: Percent of U.S. adults ages 20 or older with hypertension from 2003 to 2006.

51: Percent of U.S. adults responding to a survey who said they do no vigorous activity or have an exercise routine.

66.3: Percent of U.S. adults 20 or older who are overweight or obese.

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