Heart disease has a way of giving you perspective. Goals that once seemed important fade to the background, and you focus on what really matters: caring for your family and preparing for the future.
For many people, this means laying a solid foundation with life insurance to protect your loved ones financially. If the worst happened, a life insurance payout could replace lost income or fund your children’s college savings accounts.
It could even finance a legacy gift to a charity or alma mater.
However, having a heart attack or a diagnosed heart condition can limit your life insurance options, creating a Catch-22: The reason you need coverage is the reason you can’t find it.
Heart Disease and Why It Matters to Insurers
Heart disease comes in many forms. It affects men and women almost equally, and it contributed to 1 in 4 deaths in America in 2017.
Such a staggering statistic explains why people diagnosed with a heart condition struggle to find quality, affordable life insurance coverage.
Insurers calculate risk into every policy they write. When underwriters see your heart condition, they tend to respond to the heightened risk by raising your premiums or, in some cases, denying your application.
People who have had heart attacks, or just blockages in coronary arteries without a heart attack, may find it most difficult to get quality life insurance. Congestive heart failure also limits your options.
Even irregular heartbeats, heart valve abnormalities, and genetic conditions affecting the heart can bump your application into a less favorable rating class. In these cases an independent life insurance agency with access to dozens of carriers and knowledge about each company’s underwriting tendencies can help.
By knowing which insurance companies’ underwriting processes favor your specific challenges — and by helping you lower your risk to underwriters — an independent agent can connect you with the right policies, saving you time and money.
First: Reduce Your Risk of Future Heart Problems
When you seek the help of an independent insurance agent, he or she should give you access to a wide variety of carriers. But there’s another side to the equation: The agent should also tell you how to reduce your risk to underwriters.
As you already know, even the best insurance agents typically do not have medical degrees. So the advice you get relates only to increasing your insurability and shouldn’t be confused with medical advice.
Improving Your Overall Health
Even when you have heart disease, insurance underwriters consider a variety of other factors when you apply for coverage:
- BMI: Your body-mass index combines your height and weight into a convenient number. A BMI rating over 30 classifies you as obese. By shedding some pounds, you can reduce your BMI and get into a better overall rating category for many insurers. Ideally, your BMI should be lower than 25.
- Exercise: An active lifestyle also can lead to better rating categories and lower premiums. You don’t have to join a gym; taking the stairs or walking at lunch will be steps in the right direction.
- Eat better: Fitness apps have made it easier to track calories and keep a food journal. By eating less red meat and more plant-based proteins and cutting back on processed snacks you can reduce health risks.
- Avoid tobacco: This is a huge factor. Even healthy people with active lifestyles, low BMI numbers, and no heart conditions will pay significantly more for life insurance if they smoke or use other forms of tobacco. (This includes vaping for most insurers.)
As we’ll discuss below, not all types of insurance will require a medical exam. But even some no-exam policies can ask some detailed health questions.
It’s nice when you can give answers that steer you into a healthier pool of applicants.
Managing Your Heart Condition
Managing your heart condition by keeping regular appointments with your cardiologist and following your specialist’s advice may be the biggest way you can help yourself access better coverage.
Insurers fear the unknown. If you had a heart attack three years ago and stopped following up with your cardiologist, underwriters could decide you’re too much of a risk to cover.
Routine tests measuring your heart’s health can help your case.
For example, your left ventricular ejection fraction ratio (LVEF) can tell doctors (and insurance underwriters) how well your heart is pumping blood through your body. The higher your reading, the better off you’ll be for insurance purposes.
A string of test results over the course of a couple years, showing steady improvement in your heart’s health, will strengthen your case even more.
Of course, the tests may show bad news, but at least you’d be working with data and not navigating the unknown.
Each will be treated, and each may end up affecting what additional questions might be asked on your application, or on the phone interview from the insurance company, if required.
Being Honest On Your Application
When applying for something as important as life insurance, it can be tempting to slant your answers on the questionnaire in a favorable way.
Other times, people simply don’t remember their prescription details or their last blood pressure reading.
Regardless of the reasons, putting less-than-truthful information in an application will likely backfire. Underwriters routinely check your answers against other sources, such as:
- Medical Information Bureau (MiB): This insurance-specific database may have information from your previous insurance applications or health exams. Even your family health history answers could be recorded here.
- Pharmaceutical Database: Underwriters can find more and more of your prescription history, including doses and frequency of refills. This can tell the insurance company how well you follow medical advice. It can also reveal likely diagnoses.
Even after you have been approved for coverage, insurance companies often reserve the right to waive your coverage during a two-year contestability period. You can save yourself a lot of time, trouble, and money by being as upfront as possible throughout the process.
Other Insurance Options for Heart Patients
If you’re dealing with more than one chronic health condition, or if you need a smaller amount of coverage immediately, you may be willing to pay more for less coverage through plans such as:
- Guaranteed issue: A guaranteed issue policy will be available to almost everyone regardless of health. The elevated premiums and low, graded payout make this somewhat of a last resort, though. Some risks, like a angina pectoris will almost always fall into this type of coverage.
- Simplified issue: A simplified issue policy will ask a series of health-related questions to help underwriters classify your application. Your death benefit shouldn’t be graded, but these policies still cost more and offer less coverage than traditional policies.
- No-exam life: More and more companies offer higher coverage amounts — in the $250,000 to $350,000 range — without requiring a medical exam by checking databases such as the Medical Information Bureau and the Pharmaceutical Database. If you’re in pretty good health other than your diagnosed heart condition, you may qualify.
However, you could still possibly save money and get more coverage with a medical exam.
Even when you’re looking for alternative coverage types, an independent life insurance agent can save you a lot of time and effort by helping you find companies most likely to classify you favorably.
Do You Need Insurance?
Then there’s this question which many insurance agencies don’t think to ask:
Do you even need coverage?
Some older people who have saved money and built a variety of financial assets may be able to provide for their loved ones in other ways. If you’re not sure, a financial advisor can help.
If you don’t have much in savings, you have a lot of debt, and you have financial dependents, life insurance offers an efficient way to plan for the future. In fact, you may be the perfect candidate for coverage.
Independent Agents Specialize in Heart Conditions
We have helped hundreds of people with a history of heart disease find life insurance solutions. Many of them had been told by other insurance agents that they’d never find quality coverage.
They were advised to seek guaranteed issue life insurance which does not consider your health.
Guaranteed issue policies have their place, and they can be valuable tools for clients who actually need them. But they cost more and have coverage caps so low they may not accomplish your goals.
Because of graded benefits, they often won’t pay anything until you’ve had the policy for a few years.
The reason people with heart conditions get this kind of advice from agents is simple: When you work with a captive agent who sells policies from only one or two insurance companies, you have limited choices.
It’s kind of like shopping for groceries. The market on the corner may have your favorite soda, plenty of milk, and a few good choices for deli meat. But if you need a specific kind of spice to add magic to your curried lentils, you’ll need to shop a specialty store.
Life insurance for people who have heart conditions is also a specialty.
The special attention an independent agent can give your case can go a long way. And with so many insurance carriers on the shelf, independent agents have a lot more options to help you search.