Life insurance provides a certain amount of money after a person's death to a beneficiary, a person chosen in advance by the policy holder. Not everyone needs life insurance, but understanding how cancer affects your ability to qualify for policies can help you make decisions about coverage.
Life Insurance: Detailed Information
This information is meant to be a general introduction to this topic. The purpose is to provide a starting point for you to become more informed about important matters that may be affecting your life as a survivor and to provide ideas about steps you can take to learn more. This information is not intended nor should it be interpreted as providing professional medical, legal and financial advice. You should consult a trained professional for more information. Please read the Suggestions and Additional Resources documents for questions to ask and for more resources
A life insurance policy is a contract between a life insurance company and the person who purchased the policy. The policy pays a specified amount of money after the death of the policyholder to beneficiaries that were designated in the contract. The amount of money paid depends on the type of life insurance that was purchased. The premium, or amount paid to the insurance company, depends on the policy that was purchased.
Today more than 200 insurance companies write life insurance policies in the United States. Not all insure cancer survivors. Those offering life insurance policies for cancer survivors usually require survivors to pay a higher premium.
You may not want life insurance now or you may not be able to afford life insurance. However, life insurance might be helpful to you or your family. There are options for cancer survivors. This document can help you understand the different types of life insurance that are available and how having had cancer affects the type of life insurance that can be purchased.
What are the different types of life insurance?
- Term Life
Term life is a contract to insure your life for only a specified period of time--usually 10, 15, 20, 25 or 30 years. It is the most affordable form of life insurance. The shorter the term of policy coverage, the lower the cost. Premiums are paid on a regular basis such as monthly, quarterly or annually. If the policyholder dies during the specified period of coverage, the beneficiaries receive the amount of money specified in the policy contract.
At the end of the term coverage, the policyholder may be able to renew the policy for an additional term by paying more money. However, in order to renew the policy, the insurer may require a physical examination or ask that the insurer be provided with updated health information. If a survivor has had a cancer recurrence or another medical condition, the life insurance company may not be willing to renew the policy.
- Universal Life
Universal life is a fairly new type of life insurance. It is also called permanent insurance because the price stays the same throughout the life of the policyholder. The policy cannot be cancelled as long as the required payments are made on time. There is some flexibility in that the policyholder may be allowed to pay less than the full amount and keep the insurance at a lower coverage level. In some cases, you may be able to increase the amount of insurance by paying more.
- Whole Life
Unlike universal life insurance, once the premiums for whole life insurance are set, they cannot be changed. Whole life insurance also has cash value, which allows the policyholder to borrow from the policy. The money is not just for the beneficiary after the death of the policyholder. It can be used while the policyholder is living, providing an extra source of money if needed. Borrowing can lower the amount the beneficiary receives following the death of the policyholder.
- Guaranteed Issue Whole Life
Guaranteed life insurance is for people with severe health problems. It is not available in all states. Most insurers require that the policyholder be at least 40 years of age to purchase guaranteed issue whole life insurance. Most policies only offer up to a $25,000 death benefit. A policy is priced based on age and gender, and is available to cancer survivors. It is expensive, and most policies do not pay a full death benefit if the policyholder dies in the first three to five years after the policy is purchased.
How can cancer survivors get life insurance?
You must be completely honest with life insurance companies. Before writing a life insurance policy, all companies carefully review the medical records of the prospective policyholder. If you are not honest with the life insurance company, you can be denied some or all of your life insurance benefits and an existing policy can be canceled.
Generally, in order to purchase life insurance, you must:
- Be in remission or cured
- Be at least three months past the date of your last treatment, or in some cases as long as five years
- Be in general good health
- Be between 21 and 90 years old
A life insurance company is more likely to insure the following types of cancer survivors:
- Stage I breast cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Low grade, localized testicular cancer if you are at least five years from your last treatment
- Cancers that were caught and treated early
There is likely to be more difficulty getting life insurance if you:
- Smoke or use tobacco products
- Had cancer at Stage 2 or higher
- Have had a recurrence or new diagnosis of cancer
- Have cancer that has spread or metastasized
- Had diagnoses of multiple cancers
- Had cancer combined with heart, kidney, or other diseases
Do all cancer survivors need life insurance?
Not everyone needs life insurance or can afford to purchase a policy—especially if the cost is higher because of a cancer diagnosis. However, survivors may be willing to pay higher costs if they:
- Have young children that will need to be provided for
- Are married and the spouse will need help financially
- Are supporting an elderly parent or other dependent
- Have a mortgage or other major financial obligations
If you have loved ones who live with you, it may be a good idea to hold a life insurance policy that would cover the mortgage. For example, if you have a 30-year mortgage for $250,000, consider getting a 30-year term policy to cover the amount of the $250,000 mortgage. If there is another wage earner in the household, he or she should also purchase the same type of policy for this amount, if possible. That way, if either of you dies, the mortgage will be paid in full.
If you have been in complete remission for at least five years, you may be able to again get reasonably priced life insurance. Even if you are single and have no dependents, you may want to consider purchasing a life policy. If you wait and another serious medical problem occurs, that is likely to affect your ability to get life insurance coverage that is affordable.
Can life insurance be purchased through an employer?
Medical underwriting is the process that insurance companies use to decide whether or not to accept an insurance application. The insurer also uses medical underwriting to determine how much to charge and whether to add a waiting period for pre-existing conditions (if the state law allows it).
If you own or work for a small business, it may be possible to get life insurance through work. In most states, insurers are not allowed to use medical underwriting with groups of 2 to 50 people (such as 2-50 employees). If an insurer cannot do medical underwriting, they cannot reject a member of the group for health reasons.
Insurers can use medical underwriting for groups of more than 50 people in some states. In very large groups, there is often no underwriting, but there may be a delay in coverage for pre-existing conditions. Contact your state insurance department to learn about the regulations in your state—they may vary from state to state.
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Life Insurance: Suggestions
The suggestions that follow are based on the information presented in the Detailed Information document. They are meant to help you take what you learn and apply the information to your own needs. This information is not intended nor should it be interpreted as providing professional medical, legal and financial advice. You should consult a trained professional for more information. Please read the Additional Resources document for links to more resources.
- Obtain copies of all of your medical records to be certain that you have the information that is needed.
Most insurers will require copies of all of your medical records. The process can take the insurance companies up to three months. You have a right to copies of all of your medical records, and can save time by getting your medical records and forwarding a copy to the insurer. Be certain to also keep one copy of each record for yourself.
To get copies of your medical records:
- Contact each doctor, hospital or treatment provider that has been involved in your care.
- Request your medical records using a signed release forms that are required.
- Turn release forms into your health care provider in person or fax or mail them.
- Make a follow-up call to each health care provider to be certain that the signed release is on record.
- Follow up with the health care provider to ensure that processing your request begins in a timely manner.
- Continue to follow up until you have received the requested copies of all of your medical records.
Life Insurance: Additional Resources
The resources listed below provide more detailed information and support services to help you with life insurance. Please read the Detailed Information and Suggestions document for more information and questions to ask.
LIVESTRONG Navigation Services
Online: Complete an intake form through the LIVESTRONG website.
Phone: 1.855.220.7777 (English and Spanish)
Navigators are available for calls Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Central Time). Voicemail is available after hours.
LIVESTRONG offers assistance to anyone affected by cancer, including the person diagnosed, loved ones, caregivers and friends. The program provides information about fertility risks and preservation options, treatment choices, health literacy and matching to clinical trials. Emotional support services, peer-to-peer matching and assistance with financial, employment and insurance issues are also available. To provide these services, LIVESTRONG has partnered with several organizations including Imerman Angels, Navigate Cancer Foundation, Patient Advocate Foundation and EmergingMed.
Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education
The Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education (LIFE) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping consumers make important insurance decisions to safeguard their families' financial futures.
myPHR.com (Personal Health Record)
The American Health Information Management Association provides myPHR.com as a free public education service to help you better understand and manage your personal health information. The website includes an explanation of your health information rights, information on how to obtain, access, and maintain copies of your health records, and lists all of the important information your personal health record should contain.
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