We humans are all different, like snowflakes. Life insurance companies see us as very different from each other, too, and quote us premiums for coverage that can vary quite widely. They take into account our age, our gender, and sometimes even our occupation, driving record, hobbies, or credit score. One of the most important factors considered, as you would imagine, is our health.
The logic here is that the longer you live, the longer you'll pay premiums to the insurance company, the longer the company can keep and invest that money before it has to pay anything out, and therefore the lower quote you'll likely receive. To be able to get a sense of how long you might live, an insurer will typically be very interested in your health -- as measured, among other things, by your height and weight, whether you smoke, and any conditions you might have. Simply being a smoker can double your life insurance rate!
Smoking is a major consideration for insurers, but some other health conditions are also big red flags, either resulting in your getting a higher quote or perhaps even being denied coverage. Let's review them.
A medical history that includes a heart attack is not good news to an insurer (or, of course, to you). It suggests a weakened heart and a greater possibility of further heart issues and potentially a shorter lifespan as well. If you have heart disease (and there are many different forms of it), your age when it first appeared will matter, too.
Insurers will be interested if you have asthma, how severe it is, and if you only have it seasonally or have dealt with it chronically since childhood. It's a red flag because asthma can sometimes lead to more serious, and potentially life-shortening, lung conditions such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
High blood pressure
Having somewhat elevated blood pressure that's being kept under control by medication will not normally be a big deal, but insurers are interested in it because when it's not controlled, it can lead to lots of bad things, such as strokes, kidney disease, artery disease, and more.
When it comes to diabetes, insurers will be interested in what kind you have and how well it's controlled. Adult-onset, or type-2, diabetes is generally less worrisome than type-1 diabetes, which people often develop early in life and live with chronically. Adult-onset diabetes can often be controlled by losing weight and/or taking medication, with insulin not always necessary. Insurers can view insulin-dependent diabetics less favorably, and and they'll often be quoted higher rates. Type-1 diabetics may be rejected or may face steep rates. When diabetes is not controlled, it can lead to a variety of vascular diseases, blindness, and kidney failure.
There are lots of different kinds of cancer, with widely varying prognoses, and if you have a kind of cancer, the stage it's at will make a big difference in the rates you're quoted, too. Some diagnoses, such as pancreatic cancer, are far more problematic in the eyes of insurance companies than others, such as prostate cancer in an older man.
This is a tricky one, because it's possible to be quite overweight and still not have an insurer penalize you much -- if you're also healthy, with blood pressure, cholesterol, and other readings in the desired ranges. Many obese folks are not that healthy, though, and obesity is tied to many serious diseases, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, sleep apnea, arthritis, and so on. Thus, it's a red flag.
This list isn't comprehensive, as insurers will be very interested in other conditions you might have and might boost the rates they offer you accordingly. Other conditions of interest include sleep apnea, high cholesterol, and even depression. People who have had organ transplants may be rejected, but it depends on the insurer and what was transplanted. Corneal transplants in eyes are far less likely to affect a lifespan than a liver or heart transplant, and many insurers will cover kidney transplant recipients.
Remember that none of these conditions is necessarily a deal-breaker if you're looking for life insurance. While any or all of them might boost your rates, some might not, if they're managed and under control.
Automatic rejection -- or postponement
There are a bunch of conditions that can earn you an automatic rejection from a life insurer. These typically include AIDS, Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig's disease, cerebral palsy, Huntington's disease, and stage 4 cancer. Other conditions can earn you a rejection -- for now. Some insurers will be willing to hold your application and reconsider you later -- if your condition improves. Remember, many unwelcome medical conditions can be temporary (such as obesity) or can be reduced (such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol). They may also reconsider you if you've had cancer but have had a certain number of cancer-free years. Simply spending a year losing weight and getting in shape can make you a much more attractive potential customer -- and can give you more years to enjoy, too.
When you need life insurance, it's always smart to shop around, especially if you have some troublesome health conditions. Each insurer weighs different conditions differently in its pricing formulas, and some will give you bonus points for positives in your health profile, such as having a favorable height-to-weight ratio. You might also consider tapping the services of a special-risk advocate or impaired-risk specialist, someone who can help you find the best value given your conditions.
What to do
The risk of developing problems later in life is why many opt to buy insurance while still relatively young and healthy. Alternatively, many seek out insurance that requires no medical history -- but such policies tend to be modest in size and costly.
Finally, remember that when it comes to securing life insurance, you actually have a lot of influence over the situation, through how well you manage any conditions and how you maintain your health.