Last Updated: July 2020
Respiratory complications can affect just about every aspect of your life, including your ability to buy quality life insurance.
Emphysema, Cystic Fibrosis, COPD: These and other respiratory diseases often lead to coverage denials or inflated premiums you couldn’t afford.
Many people with respiratory problems turn to guaranteed issue policies that offer minimal coverage and high premiums, or they simply give up on buying coverage.
In many cases, a high-risk life insurance specialist can help you find coverage to protect your loved ones.
This expert guidance, combined with sustaining or improving your health as much as possible, can help you find quality life insurance coverage with respiratory illness.
Life Insurance and Respiratory Illness
From a life insurance company’s point of view, respiratory illnesses can create some of the riskiest chronic health problems. The ability to breathe, after all, is essential to good health.
When insurance underwriters detect this greater risk in your application, they tend to deny coverage or set high premiums. This protects the insurance company from the risk of paying your death benefit in the near future.
Not all respiratory issues complicate life insurance equally. Viruses, for example, can run their course without affecting your long-term health. An occasional infection can be treated with antibiotics and won’t make a huge difference to underwriters, although chronic infections will affect your ability to buy coverage.
COPD is a chronic condition that impacts your overall health every day. As a result, it will impact your life insurance choices, making it harder to find affordable, quality coverage.
Getting Life Insurance With COPD
About 3 million Americans a year get diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or COPD.
The disease can be caused by other lung conditions including asthma, emphysema, or chronic bronchitis.
COPD causes shortness of breath, wheezing, and a chronic cough, especially during periods of exertion such as exercising or working. According to the American Lung Association, COPD is the third leading cause of death for Americans.
Life insurance underwriters are particularly afraid of COPD because:
- It can cause other serious diseases such as chronic pneumonia.
- It’s degenerative, which means it gets worse over time.
- There’s no known cure.
It is possible to manage the condition with proper medical care and better lifestyle choices such as giving up tobacco. Life insurance applicants whose COPD is less severe will usually have more life insurance choices.
How Insurance Companies Measure COPD
Doctors, and by extension, insurance underwriters, measure the severity of COPD in part through a battery of pulmonary function tests (PFTs) which patients can take each time they visit the pulmonologist.
One test in particular, the FEV1, measures a patient’s pressure of exhalation during one second. Healthy people usually exceed 80 on a scale of 0 to 100. Someone with COPD usually measures 70 or lower.
The severity of COPD can be connected to FEV1 test results:
- Mild COPD: A FEV1 score between 60 and 70 signifies Mild COPD. Usually, Mild COPD patients still have options for life insurance coverage as long as your condition doesn’t require regular medications, and as long as your lung X-rays show no abnormalities.
- Moderate COPD: A FEV1 score between 50 and 60 points reflects Moderate COPD. Symptoms include more shortness of breath and coughing at lower levels of exertion. Someone with Moderate COPD may use an inhaler on his or her worst days. Some life insurance companies deny coverage to people with Moderate COPD.
- Severe COPD: FEV1 scores between 40 and 50 accompany Severe COPD, which impacts normal activities such as walking across a room. You’ll depend on medications such as steroids to get through the day. Most life insurance companies deny coverage to people with Severe COPD. You can find approval but it will usually come with the highest premiums.
- Extreme COPD: Someone with Extreme COPD needs supplemental oxygen and has FEV1 scores below 40. At this point, a guaranteed issue life insurance policy with a graded benefit will be your only option.
Lifestyle Choices Can Improve Your Condition
Advances in medicine have helped COPD patients manage their conditions; however, depending on more and more medications may not help your life insurance situation.
It is possible to improve your insurability by making lifestyle changes to improve your health.
Smoking causes and exacerbates COPD. Quitting tobacco should improve your health and your ability to get insurance. Exercising more can help, too.
Insurance agents should never give medical advice, and if they do, you shouldn’t listen. Instead, talk to your physician and get his or her approval and input before starting a new exercise regimen.
Since COPD initially makes it harder to exercise, you’ll want to follow a doctor-approved program.
Lifestyle changes can lead to sustained improvements in your symptoms and pulmonary function tests. These sustained improvements can put you in a better position when you apply for life insurance.
How Other Respiratory Illnesses Affect Life Insurance
So far we’ve focused on COPD because the disease affects so many adults.
Life insurance also gets more complex when you’ve dealt with conditions such as:
- A history of lung cancer
- A history of pneumonia
- Acute, chronic bronchitis
- Cystic fibrosis
- Sleep apnea
Just like with COPD, the severity of your condition matters to insurance companies.
If you successfully manage your health with help from a doctor, you’ll have higher chances of finding quality, affordable coverage.
Even simplified issue, no-medical-exam policies which rely on questionnaires to learn about your health, will check pharmaceutical databases and may seek access to your health records. They’ll use the information they find to assess your risk as an applicant.
For example, underwriters can find out:
- Whether someone who had lung cancer 10 years ago has followed up with the cardiologist on a regular basis to monitor the condition.
- Whether a sleep apnea patient has needed increased CPAP settings which could indicate a worsening condition.
- Whether you regularly depend on medications like Albuterol or Salmeterol to open airways.
- Whether you’ve been hospitalized and for how long.
- Whether you’ve gotten X-rays or other scans. They may even be able to read the radiologist’s report.
It feels like an invasion of privacy, but as an applicant, you give the insurance company permission to analyze your personal medical history. Since the underwriting process is key to having life insurance protection in place for your family, applicants usually consent to it without so much concern for their privacy.
That being said, when you work with a high-risk life insurance specialist, you can avoid unnecessary applications. Taking this approach can limit the number of times someone tours your medical history.
How to Shop for Life Insurance with Respiratory Issues
It’s a familiar cycle for many people with respiratory illnesses who have tried to buy life insurance:
- You apply for coverage.
- You undergo a medical exam or fill out a lengthy questionnaire about your health.
- Underwriters analyze your personal health records.
- You get a coverage denial, or you get approved with astronomical premiums.
- Your captive agent suggests one of the company’s guaranteed issue policies.
- You either accept or start the entire process over at another insurance company.
The shopping process works differently with an independent insurance agent who specializes in high-risk coverage.
An independent agency like ours will not simply start your application and see how it goes. Nor will we suggest inferior coverage just to keep your business.
What an Independent Agent Will Do
Our process works like this:
- We listen to your concerns.
- We gather information about your diagnosis.
- We start researching the broader insurance marketplace for options.
Often, we can find an obvious solution through one of the dozens of quality insurance companies we work with. If we can’t, we can still do a little trial and error but without using your personal data as the guinea pig.
Instead, we can create an imaginary applicant whose health, age, and other underwriting criteria resemble yours. That way we can see how insurance companies would respond to your application without you having to actually apply.
In many cases, these methods produce results. This process works well because we have so many different insurance companies in our stable of products. We’ve worked with these quality companies long enough to notice trends that can help you.
A captive agent, in contrast, works for one insurance company. If that company denies your application, the agent usually has only one more option: sell you a lower quality, higher premium guaranteed issue policy.
Guaranteed Issue: The Last Resort
People knock guaranteed issue policies for good reason: They offer low coverage amounts, usually no more than $25,000, and they cost a lot.
Guaranteed issue policies also can delay your coverage for two to three years. As a result, you’d be paying premiums without having a full death benefit in place for the first couple of years of the policy.
But if you needed a guaranteed issue insurance policy because you can’t qualify for a simplified issue or a traditional medically underwritten policy, you should buy one. Some coverage beats no coverage, especially if you’d like to leave money for final expenses.
Bottom Line: Don’t Give Up Until You’ve Tried All Options
You shouldn’t opt for a last resort policy until you actually have no other options. If you can get more coverage with lower premiums, you should seek those options first.
We’d like to help. Give us a call or reach out in the comments section below.
Yes, respiratory issues will complicate your life insurance application, but the right kind of help can guide you to a solution.