Life Insurance with Pre-Existing Conditions: Applicant Guide

Verified by Laura McKay, Life Insurance Expert, COO & Founder at PolicyMe

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In This Article

Wondering if you can get life insurance with pre-existing medical conditions? You might think you're not eligible if you have a chronic health condition, like diabetes, high blood pressure or obesity. But in many cases, getting life insurance coverage at a reasonable price is still possible.

Can you get life insurance with a pre-existing condition?

You can still get life insurance in Canada if you have pre-existing conditions or an illness. Your life insurance company will assess you with a medical exam and health questionnaire to determine the type of policy and premiums they'll approve you for.

Sometimes life insurance for pre-existing medical conditions can mean longer processing times and higher premiums, but it doesn’t mean you’ll be rejected outright.

But you always have the option of applying through another company if one denies your application.

What is a pre-existing condition?: Life insurance definition

A pre-existing condition is a medical issue you've been experiencing before you apply for life insurance. It can be a condition you've been diagnosed with or one you're showing symptoms for. Many of these conditions under this definition are mild and easily managed. It's unlikely you'd be denied life insurance because of diabetes, for example.

How to find life insurance when you have a medical condition

Even if you have a pre-existing health condition, you can still get coverage with an affordable life insurance plan.

1. Shop around

Life insurance may not be as expensive as buying a new home or car. But it's still worth shopping around for insurance coverage to find the best policy for your needs at the best rate.

Shopping around for a policy is especially important if you have pre-existing health issues or a critical illness. Why? Because different insurance providers will treat a given medical condition differently in their underwriting process.

For example, some insurance providers offer better rates to applicants with diabetes, and others may offer better rates to people with a family history of heart disease. For this reason, it's worth comparing quotes from a few insurers to find the one that will give you the best deal based on your health history.

2. Buy sooner rather than later

Some perks to getting older include being more financially stable and getting the seniors’ discount at the movie theatre. But securing a cheaper insurance rate isn't one of them. That's because you're more likely to die when you're older than younger. So if you buy a life insurance policy when you're 40, you'll pay more than if you buy the same life insurance policy when you're 25.

Waiting to buy life insurance coverage can get even more costly when you have a pre-existing condition because your condition might worsen as you age. That's why it can pay off to buy coverage early and lock in a cheaper rate when you're younger and in better health.

3. Consider no medical life insurance as your "Plan B"

It's always best to apply for coverage through a traditional insurer first. Even with a health exam, you might find that you qualify for coverage at a reasonable cost.

When you apply for a no medical life insurance policy, your insurer won't dig as deep into your medical history or, in some cases, request a medical exam. So it can be easier to get life insurance coverage if you’re not in perfect health.

But there’s a trade-off and it’s a pricey one: in exchange for collecting less information about your health, your insurer will assume you’re a higher-risk applicant and charge you higher premiums. There’s always a catch, right?

So unless you’re looking to burn a hole in your pocket, exhaust your other options for getting life insurance coverage before applying for no medical life insurance.

Ready to see what you could save on life insurance?

As a last resort for life insurance coverage, you can look into guaranteed issue life insurance if you can't get approved elsewhere.

As the name suggests, you're guaranteed coverage with this insurance product. But the monthly premiums can be very high, and there's a minimum required waiting period of 2 years before the coverage begins.

What conditions can disqualify me from life insurance?

The conditions that can disqualify you from life insurance are usually serious, chronic and life-threatening. They can include:

  • Substance use (e.g., alcoholism or drug use)
  • Heart disease
  • Kidney disease
  • HIV or AIDS
  • Recent cancer diagnosis or current cancer treatment

These are examples of conditions where you’ll likely still be approved for fully underwritten policies:

  • Mild depression / bipolar
  • History of drug abuse over 7 years ago (not marijuana)
  • Arthritis
  • Asthma 
  • Basel cell carcinoma 
  • Diabetes
  • Marijuana use
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
  • Gout
  • Etc.

But even if you have one of the health conditions listed above, being outright disqualified for life insurance is rare.

Even if you have a condition on this list, it doesn't mean you'll be automatically denied. It's worth looking into your options to see if a company is willing to sell you a policy based on your health history.

In most cases, pre-existing conditions might make your insurance premiums more expensive. But it won't disqualify you for coverage altogether.

But some health conditions, like the ones in the list above, can make getting approved for a traditional life insurance policy challenging.

Recommended reading: Can I buy a life insurance policy as an overweight person? 

Family medical history impact on premiums

Your family's health history can be a factor when life insurance companies determine your premium rate. This is because certain medical conditions can be hereditary, meaning there's a chance you might develop them too. By understanding your family's medical background, life insurance companies can assess the potential risk of insuring you.

Here's how family history life insurance can impact your premiums:

  • Conditions that raise premiums: If you have a close relative (parent, sibling, child) with a history of certain conditions like heart disease, diabetes, or some cancers, your premiums might be higher. The severity of the condition, the age at which your relative developed it, and your overall health will all be considered.
  • Conditions with no impact: Not all health conditions in your family history will affect your premiums. For instance, if your uncle had a broken leg as an adult, it likely won't impact your rate.

It's important to be honest about your family health history when applying for life insurance. While some conditions may raise your premium, they won't necessarily disqualify you from coverage entirely.

How Insurance Companies Evaluate Medical Conditions

Life insurance companies consider a variety of factors when assessing your medical conditions to determine your eligibility and premium rate. Here's a breakdown of some key considerations:

1. Symptoms & Severity of Diagnosis

The presence and severity of symptoms associated with your medical condition significantly impact your insurability. Generally, conditions with well-controlled symptoms and a good prognosis have a lower impact on your premiums compared to those with uncontrolled or severe symptoms.

2. Prescription History

The medications you take can be an indicator of your health status and the severity of your condition. Medications for chronic conditions or those with serious side effects may raise your premiums.

3. Treatment History/Plan

Your past and planned treatments provide insight into managing your condition. A history of successful treatment and a well-defined future plan can improve your insurability compared to having no treatment plan or a history of unsuccessful treatments.

4. Length of Diagnosis

The duration you've had a medical condition can influence your insurability. Recent diagnoses with limited information might lead to higher premiums or require further tests. Conversely, having a well-managed chronic condition for an extended period can demonstrate good control and potentially lower your premium.

5. Related Health Concerns

The presence of other health conditions alongside your primary diagnosis can affect your eligibility. Often, related health concerns can worsen the prognosis of your main condition, leading to higher premiums.

6. Overall Health

Your overall health beyond your diagnosed condition is important. Factors like weight, lifestyle habits (smoking, alcohol consumption), and family history are all considered. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can positively impact your insurability, even with a pre-existing condition.

Term Life Insurance with Pre-Existing Conditions

Term life insurance offers guaranteed coverage for a specific period (term), typically 10, 20, or 30 years. It's generally the most affordable type of life insurance, and it can still be an option for those with pre-existing conditions. However, you may pay higher premiums compared to someone with a clean bill of health.

The approval process for term life insurance will likely involve a medical exam to assess your health and determine your risk profile. Depending on the severity of your condition and how well-managed it is, you may qualify for a standard term life policy or a rated term life policy with a higher premium.

Learn more about PolicyMe's Term Life Insurance options.

How to apply for life insurance with a pre-existing condition

1. Be upfront

Having a pre-existing condition is stressful as it is. So we know that the last thing you need is to pay sky-high premiums for a policy or be denied coverage altogether. But at the same time, you definitely don’t want to lie about your health history on your life insurance application.

After all, when you buy an insurance policy, you’re shelling out money every month to protect your family financially if you die and your income disappears. So you don’t want your insurance provider to cancel your policy or deny a death benefit claim because they discover that you lied about your health on your application.

If you’re honest, your term life insurance rates may increase. And yes, there’s a chance that you could get denied coverage. But if you do secure a life insurance policy, you’ll be able to breathe easier knowing that your family will be able to count on the coverage if they end up needing it; that makes it worth it.

2. Manage your health condition and re-apply

Even if you get stuck paying a high premium for insurance initially, don’t assume that it needs to stay that way. About 80% of Canadians have a risk factor for chronic disease that they can control to improve their health (like eating better, exercising more and moderating their alcohol consumption). 

Your insurer is rooting for you to get healthier. After all, it reduces the chance that they’ll have to pay for your death benefit. That’s why many insurers will let you get assessed again within a year or two of buying your policy. If they find that you’re significantly healthier because you’ve been managing your condition effectively, they might drop your premiums for the rest of your policy term. Pretty sweet, right?

Keep in mind that this advice also applies to smokers. If you can show your insurance provider that you’ve quit smoking for at least 12 months straight, you might be able to lower your monthly premiums. So if you need another reason to quit, think of all the money you could save by paying less for insurance.

3. Just go for it

There's only one way to find out if you're insurable: just apply! For example, when you apply with PolicyMe, you'll get an instant decision. So you find out if you're approved, if we need more information, or if you're denied right away. Laura McKay, Life Insurance Expert (and COO & Co-Founder at PolicyMe), says: "If instead, you need to complete more requirements (nurse visit or APS), ask your advisor for more information on what your underwriter “tentative decision” is. It is common for underwriters to give tentative decisions after reviewing your case a first time.

"If you really want to dive into the weeds, most insurance companies publish underwriting handbooks like these. This will give you an idea of what life insurance companies are looking for. Note these might be hard to follow if you are not an advisor or underwriter! But if you like to jump into research mode, this might be helpful."

4. Review your options

Whether you apply with your condition or try to improve your health first, it's a good idea to compare quotes with a few different insurance providers. You can also find out if, and how much, they'll reduce your premiums if you can achieve a better baseline with your condition. Here's a breakdown of the different types of life insurance: 

  • Fully underwritten policies: highest bar for insurability – but also the most coverage for the least cost.
  • Simplified (no medical) policies: Approval rates are higher, may have limits on coverage amount.
  • Guaranteed issue policies: 100% of people who apply can get coverage. This type of coverage tends to be very pricey. And note there is a 2 year deferral period.
  • Other policies that might be easier to get: Mortgage insurance (usually little underwriting, but very expensive) or group insurance.

In some cases, pre-existing conditions don't get better with time. If that's your situation, you can also consider how much a no-medical policy will cost. If the premiums are comparable to those from a traditional insurer, and you don't want to wait for approval, it may be worth choosing the no-medical option.

What happens if I get denied life insurance?

If you're denied life insurance through one company, you still have options.

Laura explains: "Approval rates for fully underwritten policies hover around 70%. That may seem bad but if you think about the fact that that most people go through a few health scares in their lifetime. The bottom line is that you don’t need to be in perfect health to get life insurance."

If you do get denied coverage by a provider, there's a few options for you to get a life insurance policy:

1. Try a different insurer

Remember, different insurance providers treat the same medical condition differently. So even if you’ve been denied coverage by one insurer, it’s worth checking to see if there’s another life insurance company that would give someone with your condition more of a break.

Laura on how times have changed, it's less of a big deal to get denied now: "In the old days, people thought that if you applied multiple times or if you get denied in the past, you will never get approved in the future, but that is not the case. You can certainly get approved for life insurance after being denied."

2. Apply for no medical life insurance

As we mentioned earlier, no medical life insurance lets you get coverage without completing a detailed medical review. This makes it easier to buy life insurance if you have a pre-existing condition.

For Canadians, Canada Protection Plan is the leading provider of no medical life insurance. Their policies may be a good fit for you if you haven’t been able to secure a traditional life insurance policy.

2. Apply for joint life insurance

First to die life insurance, also known as joint first-to-die life insurance, is a type of life insurance policy that covers two people and pays out the death benefit upon the first person's passing. This type of policy can be particularly beneficial for couples, offering financial protection for the surviving spouse or partner. With first-to-die life insurance, premiums are typically lower than for two separate policies, making it a cost-effective option for those looking to protect their loved ones' financial future. This type of insurance is often used to cover mortgages, outstanding debts, or other financial obligations. By investing in first-to-die life insurance, couples can take steps to ensure that their loved ones are provided for in the event of their passing.

3. Get coverage through your employer

The life insurance that you get through work usually isn’t enough to fully protect your family. And you’ll lose the coverage if you leave your job. But because it gives you insurance through a group plan, you can typically get coverage without undergoing any kind of health review.

So if you’ve exhausted all other options for getting life insurance, it’s a good way to give your family at least a partial financial safety net. And that’s always much better than having no safety net at all.

In summary: You can still get life insurance with a pre-existing condition

Finding life insurance with health problems and a medical condition can be easier than you think, although premiums will likely be more expensive.

  • Most insurers will still extend coverage to individuals with pre-existing conditions.
  • Compare quotes and rates from a few different insurance providers before making a decision.
  • You can opt for no-medical, guaranteed issue or group life insurance through your employer if you're denied coverage from a traditional insurer.

Affordable life insurance with a medical condition? Yes, it's possible! Find out how much your premiums might be in a few clicks:

FAQ: How to find life insurance with a pre-existing condition

How do life insurance companies know if you have a pre-existing condition? 

Life insurance companies will know you have a pre-existing condition because you're required to disclose this information. Hiding your medical history is a form of insurance fraud and can result in your coverage being revoked.

In many cases, you may have to undergo a medical exam anyway. The results could reveal any existing health problems or issues, even if you don't mention them on the application.

Can a life insurance company cancel your policy if you get sick? 

Life insurance companies cannot cancel your policy if you get sick, assuming you were truthful in your policy application. Life insurance aims to provide financial protection for your family in case of an unexpected death. 

If you declared your pre-existing conditions and were still approved for coverage, a life insurance company cannot end your policy if your health deteriorates from the same condition or a new one.

Can a life insurance company deny you for having pre-existing conditions? 

Life insurance companies can deny you for a pre-existing condition if they feel your circumstances make it too risky or that they are taking on a high risk to insure you. For most mild to moderate conditions, you should be able to find life insurance coverage through a traditional insurer, although your premiums will be higher when compared to someone without health problems.

However, if your medical issues are complex, life-threatening and chronic, you may be denied coverage through conventional life insurance products.

Laura McKay

COO & Co-Founder
About the Author

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