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Life insurance for cancer patients

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A cancer diagnosis is incredibly difficult to cope with. When your health is on the line, the last thing you want to think about is your finances. But if your life is at risk, it’s necessary to consider your family’s current financial situation and whether your surviving family members will be able to manage your debts, medical bills, and burial expenses without your income. 

Life insurance can provide your spouse and children with the money they need to stay afloat when you’re not around. However, life insurance for cancer patients is not as straightforward as it is for those in good health. 

Can you get life insurance if you have cancer?

It’s definitely possible to be approved for a life insurance policy if you have a current cancer diagnosis, but it’s typically going to be expensive, and it might be challenging to find a provider willing to give you enough coverage. Most insurance companies measure the risk to insure you in part by looking at medical issues that could result in your early death. 

Cancer patients typically won’t qualify for inexpensive term life insurance, which covers policyholders for a specific length of time. Instead, your best bet will likely be a guaranteed issue life insurance policy. Insurers that provide these policies provide guaranteed coverage regardless of your medical records or health. 

Anyone can purchase a guaranteed issue life insurance policy with automatic acceptance, but these policies are typically designed for seniors or people with serious illnesses, and can cost several dollars per day or more. These policies also provide limited coverage that often caps out at $25,000 or $50,000 and there may be restrictions on benefits for the first few years that you hold the policy. 

Life insurance for cancer survivors

After you’ve survived your cancer treatment and been in remission for some time, you may be able to get approved for more affordable and comprehensive life insurance — assuming you don’t have any other existing health issues or a type of cancer that is considered high-risk by your insurance company. You may also need to wait a few years after you’ve beat cancer to get the best rates. 

Buying life insurance after cancer

It’s important for anyone with dependents to have a life insurance policy in place, so even if your rates will be higher due to your recent medical issues, it’s usually worth purchasing life insurance after cancer. Just know that it could take two to five years of remission for an insurance provider to approve you for coverage. While evaluating you to determine your premium, your insurance provider will have a lot of questions about your past cancer diagnosis, including:

  • How long ago were you diagnosed?
  • Do you have a family history of cancer?
  • What type and stage of cancer did you have?
  • Where was the cancer and did it affect your lymph nodes?
  • Did the cancer metastasize (spread) to other parts of the body?
  • When were you last treated and how long have you been in remission?
  • Have you had any relapses?
  • What current medications do you rely on?

It’s important to keep detailed medical records so that you’ll be able to answer these questions accurately. 

How your type of cancer affects life insurance

Certain types of cancer are considered to have different levels of risk, and people with localized cancer tend to have an easier time acquiring life insurance than people with cancer that spread to other areas. Here are some examples of cancer types and their implications, in order of least to most risky in the eyes of the insurer:

  • Non-melanoma skin cancer: After a few years in remission, you should be able to purchase a term life insurance policy at a standard rate. 
  • Breast cancer, prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and thyroid cancer: These are considered a little more risky, so you might be subject to more scrutiny and have to wait longer to be approved for a policy. 
  • Melanoma, lung cancer, etc.: Most other types of cancer will result in higher premiums, even if you’ve been in remission. The longer you’ve been healthy, the more likely you’ll be approved for a policy. 
  • Metastasized cancer, bone cancer, leukemia, etc.: You’ll likely need to wait five to ten years of remission before an insurance company will provide you with a policy if you have one of these more serious cancers. In fact, some insurance companies might refuse to underwrite a policy for you if you’ve had these cancers, even if you’ve been cancer-free for some time. 

Every insurance company is different, which is why it’s important to get quotes from multiple providers, especially if you have a history of cancer. 

Life insurance for cancer patients

If you’re currently undergoing treatment for cancer as opposed to in remission, you can still purchase life insurance, but you’ll likely have fewer options. You probably won’t be able to get a regular term, whole life or universal life policy. Guaranteed whole life insurance is another option, but you should be aware that it’s significantly more expensive and provides limited coverage. 

Guaranteed Whole Life Insurance / Burial Insurance

Insurers guarantee acceptance for these policies regardless of current health issues and age, which is why they’re usually much more costly than other types of life insurance. In addition, the maximum death benefit is usually capped at $25,000 or $50,000, so it won’t help your dependents with larger expenses. There’s also a two to three year waiting period to receive benefits, which is why life insurance for terminal cancer patients often isn’t a great option. If you die of cancer during the waiting period, your family will only receive the premium amounts back with interest. Only if you die in a covered accident or after the waiting period is over will they receive the maximum payout. 

Life insurance ratings for former cancer patients

When applying for life insurance, carriers will provide a rating to determine your premium amount. Your rating is determined not only by your medical history, but also your credit report and other information. Here are the common ratings you might be given after surviving different types of cancer:

  • Preferred Plus: cervical cancer, nonmelanoma skin cancer, papillary thyroid cancer and stage 1 seminoma testicular cancer.
  • Preferred: prostate cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid cancer and uterine cancer.
  • Standard: bladder cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, leukemia, lung cancer and renal cancer.

Generally, you’ll only achieve these ratings if you have been in remission long enough and are otherwise in good health. Alternatively, you might end up in a substandard table rating, which will have a correlating impact on your premium. But remember that your rating will vary depending on the insurance provider you choose, so shop around before you select a policy. 

Paying for cancer treatments and other costs with life insurance

The average cost to treat a cancer patient runs around $150,000, according to the AARP. Prescription medications, radiation therapy and other imaging can be costly. You may even require surgery or a hospital stay, which can increase costs exponentially. 

Health insurance often covers costs in excess of your deductible; otherwise, out-of-pocket costs can be covered with an Flexible Spending Account or Health Savings Account. 

It’s also possible to get access to a portion of the death benefit in your life insurance policy if you’re diagnosed with certain chronic or terminal conditions. Living benefits could come standard with your guaranteed issue life insurance policy, or you could take advantage of a purchased rider added to your term life insurance. If your life insurance policy has a cash value, you could also access some of that money in the form of a loan. The terms and conditions of each of these options vary by insurance company. 

Life insurance for people with a family history of cancer

Even if you’ve never had cancer yourself, a family history of cancer could impact the premium amount for a term or permanent life insurance policy. The extent to which your cost will be affected depends on the type of cancer, which of your relatives were diagnosed and the age at which they were diagnosed. Each insurance company also weighs these factors differently in assessing your risk, so it’s helpful to compare insurance quotes from multiple providers. 

The best life insurance companies for people with a family history of cancer

Every insurance company has a different underwriting process, and some may be able to provide more favorable rates to people with a family history of cancer than others. Certain insurance companies may ignore specific types of cancer in your family history, or cancers that occurred after a certain age. Here are a few life insurance providers that can still offer you a good rating even if you have a family history of cancer:

  • VOYA Financial: VOYA offers workplace life insurance benefits, including term life insurance and critical illness coverage, neither of which require a health evaluation. VOYA also offers a whole life insurance policy. 
  • Legal & General America: Legal & General offers both an affordable term life insurance policy and a universal life insurance policy with cash value. Legal & General is reputed to disregard a family history of cancer when determining your premium. 
  • Lincoln Financial Group: Lincoln offers a term life, universal life and variable universal life insurance policy. Lincoln considers a number of factors when underwriting its policies, including your present health conditions and your family history of cardiovascular disease, but the provider doesn’t look for a family history of cancer when assessing your rating. 

The takeaway

  • Current cancer patients don’t typically qualify for life insurance policies that aren’t guaranteed issue or burial expense policies. These options can be expensive, but may help as a last resort. 
  • Former cancer patients who have been in remission may be approved for traditional life insurance policies, such as term life insurance policies, but they still may pay higher rates for a period of time. 
  • People with a family history of cancer may also pay higher rates, but it depends on the insurance company. 

Anyone with dependents can typically benefit from purchasing a life insurance policy. If you wait until you’re ill to buy life insurance, expect much higher rates. It’s best to secure life insurance while you’re young and healthy to lock in your low premium amount. 

However, if you’ve been diagnosed with cancer and want to provide your family with some financial help upon your death, you have options. A guaranteed issue life insurance policy can at least help cover your funeral costs. And once you’ve been cancer-free for a number of years, you should be able to purchase a life insurance policy with a lower premium, depending on the provider.

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