Buying Life Insurance after Being Diagnosed with Cancer



By: Brendan McKenna

Cancer is the second-leading cause of death in the United States today with almost 1.3 million new cases expected to be diagnosed in 2002, according to the American Cancer Society. But if you are one of the 62 percent who survive the battle with cancer for five years, you may face another fight: buying life insurance.

Unfortunately there are no infallible strategies for finding life insurance after being diagnosed with cancer. Insurance companies' procedures and philosophies on offering life insurance policies to cancer survivors vary from insurer to insurer and depend greatly on the size, type, and location of your tumor. A woman who had breast cancer might be able to get insurance as soon as one to three years after her treatment, but a person who survived lung cancer might have to wait as many as 10 years before being offered a policy.

While most insurers will not offer a policy to someone who is still undergoing treatment, in most cases if you have been cancer-free for a few years you should be able to buy life insurance, although you may have to pay an extra premium for that protection.

Most insurers will offer life insurance policies to cancer survivors, but they will often impose a waiting period and a temporary extra premium — also known as a "flat extra" — for a number of years on top of the premiums charged for your other health and risk factors.

"The concept that all people with a history of cancer are uninsurable is ridiculous," says Dr. Steven Zimmerman, chief medical director for the American General Life Companies. "Insurance companies will charge additional premiums for the period of time when the risk of recurrence is the highest, but the premiums then return to the base rate."

The good news is that although these extra premiums can be expensive — anywhere from an extra $5 to $20 in annual premiums per $1,000 of face value on both term and permanent life insurance — they will automatically disappear after a given period of time.

Cancer Risk Specialists

While a dedicated life insurance agent will search the insurance marketplace 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 that they know where to get you the best-priced life insurance policy. Some even have experts who specialize in gathering your medical records and organizing them so that the medical underwriters have the most complete picture of you, your health, and your cancer history.

By directing your application to life insurers that will view your application most favorably, these brokers will be able to get you the most accurate price quotes, and probably the lowest final premiums for which you are eligible.

SpecialRiskLifeInsurance and are two Web sites that specialize in finding life insurance for people with a history of cancer.

Always check the financial strength of the insurer before you buy any policy (you can use the Insurance Company Guide), and be sure that the agent or broker you choose is licensed in your state.

Some insurers prefer to account for the risk of cancer recurring by charging larger flat extra premiums for only a few years — until it has been six to eight years since the last treatment — while others will charge less for a longer period of time or until the applicant has gone 10 years from the last treatment.

So what can you do?

One of the most important things you can do to keep your life insurance premiums manageable is to give the insurer the names of all of the doctors who treated you for the cancer. This will allow the medical underwriters to find the most complete records of both your cancer and your treatment.

When the insurance underwriters can see your pathology report and find out the extent and stage of your cancer, as well as how it was treated and what follow-up procedures you have undergone, they can make decisions based on your condition and not the general expectations of those who have had a similar type of cancer.

It is also important that you see your doctors regularly after your treatments. In addition to the health benefits, experts say that if you are going to follow-up appointments, taking your medication regularly, and there is no sign that your cancer is recurring, many insurers will either shorten the postponement period — allowing you to buy a policy sooner than you might otherwise be able to — or shorten the length of time the flat extra premium is charged.

The key thing to remember is that if your cancer has been successfully treated, and you are otherwise in good health, you can get a life insurance policy. And if you can show that you are healthy and your treatments have gone well, insurers will probably compete to be the one from which you buy your life insurance.

Also remember that the risk of cancer recurring is assessed differently by various insurers, so when you're shopping around for the best rates for the insurance, shop around for the flat extra premium that best suits your situation. In general, a history of cancer will not make you uninsurable; it only adds another factor to the list of things you should consider when buying life insurance.