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Being recently diagnosed or treated for cancer will typically impede your ability to purchase traditional life insurance.
“Depending on the type of cancer and if it spreads to other parts of the body, you may not be able to get a traditional term or whole life insurance policy for many years,” says Zachary Pugh, chief underwriter for Legal & General America.
However, a cancer diagnosis is not always a guaranteed barrier to obtaining life insurance.
Can You Get Life Insurance if You’ve Been Diagnosed With Cancer?
You can buy some types of life insurance if you currently have cancer, but it might be limited and expensive.
“It depends on the type of cancer,” says Jeremy Hallett, founder of Quotacy, a national online life insurance agency based in Minneapolis. “Non-melanoma skin cancers usually don’t affect the price of life insurance at all, while a pancreatic cancer diagnosis might make it nearly impossible to get coverage. A malignant cancer diagnosis will typically prevent your ability to get a policy.”
Travis Price, an independent senior market insurance agent in Manton, Michigan, agrees that most insurers do not place limits on basal cell carcinoma (skin cancer).
“However, if you had small cell lung cancer, there would be a high probability that they would never place life insurance with you because of the nature of the cancer,” says Price.
What Are the Types of Life Insurance For Cancer Patients?
“Following a cancer diagnosis, you will likely be able to qualify for guaranteed issue, group life and final expense life insurance coverage, which provides coverage for final expenses and funeral costs,” says Mark Friedlander, a spokesperson for the Insurance Information Institute (Triple-I). “However, the two most common types of life insurance—term and whole—may not be available to you after a cancer diagnosis.”
You generally can’t be rejected for these types of life insurance, and the applications don’t require a life insurance medical exam or usually even any health questions.
One trade-off is that coverage amounts can be low. Another downside is that guaranteed issue and final expense life insurance usually have graded death benefits, so if you pass away within two or three years of buying the policy, your beneficiaries won’t get the full payout. (The exact timeline depends on the policy and will be spelled out.)
Wilson Coffman, an independent life insurance agent in Huntsville, Alabama, was diagnosed with colon cancer three years ago while trying to obtain his own life insurance. Coffman cautions that guaranteed issue life insurance policies only provide low payouts, usually from $5,000 to $25,000.
“The specifics of your diagnosis will also factor into what coverage you may qualify for,” says Friedlander.
How Long Does it Take to Qualify for Life Insurance After Cancer?
While every insurance company is different, Friedlander of Triple-I says that you typically need to be in cancer remission for a minimum of five years to qualify for newly issued term life insurance, whole life insurance or other types of coverage.
A waiting period for life insurance after cancer can vary based on the cancer type, invasiveness and chance for recurrence.
Pugh of Legal & General offers an example: “Our company can typically cover breast and prostate cancer survivors if they are three years post-treatment, although the cost can be significantly higher.”
Waiting periods for life insurance after cancer vary from insurer to insurer. “Some insurers have stricter underwriting standards for certain cancers that would require remission for a minimum 10-year period,” says Friedlander.
Life insurance waiting periods after different cancer types
Here are sample waiting periods for various types of cancer from Trusted Choice, a network of independent insurance agents:
- Bladder cancer: 2 years
- Bone cancer: 5 years
- Breast cancer: 2 years
- Cervical cancer: 1 year
- Colon cancer: 2 years
- Kidney cancer: 3 years
- Leukemia: 10 years
- Lung cancer: 3 years
- Lymphoma : 2 years
- Metastatic cancer: 5 years
- Ovarian cancer: 3 years
- Prostate: 1 year
- Rectal cancer: 2 years
- Skin melanoma: 1 year
What Is the Best Life Insurance After Cancer?
“If you have been in remission for at least five years, traditional life insurance could still be an option,” says Friedlander of Triple-I. Here are some possible options.
Term life insurance
If you can qualify for term life insurance, it’s generally the most affordable way to buy coverage. You’ll likely need to take a life insurance medical exam, and be prepared to answer questions about your previous cancer diagnosis and treatment.
With term life insurance, you lock in rates for a certain period of time, such as 10 or 20 years.
Permanent life insurance
Permanent life insurance types may be an option, such as whole life insurance and universal life insurance. These policies can provide life insurance as long as you live, assuming you pay the premiums.
Simplified issue life insurance
While there is no medical exam with simplified issue life insurance, you may have to fill out a short health questionanaire.
According to Friedlander, “If you are cancer-free but not in perfect health, simplified issue can be a good choice.”
Guaranteed issue life insurance
With no medical exam, health questions or medical history requirements, you can’t be turned down for guaranteed issue life insurance. That sounds appealing, but you’ll face a high cost for the amount of coverage you get and the policy will have graded death benefits.
Burial life insurance
Designed for life insurance buyers over age 50, burial insurance is meant to pay for end-of-life costs, such as funeral expenses and outstanding medical bills.
“No medical exam is required to obtain this coverage,” Friedlander points out.
How Does Cancer Affect Life Insurance Cost?
Most life insurance companies use a classification system to determine the rates for life insurance for all policies, including those for cancer patients and survivors. According to Triple-I, the most common tiers in this rating system are:
- Super preferred
“Policyholders designated as ‘standard’ or ‘substandard’ typically pay the highest rates,” Friedlander explains.
Depending on your age and type of cancer, you could pay four times more for a life insurance policy for several years, depending on how long you have been cancer-free, Pugh cautions.
“I had a $500,000 life insurance policy in place before my cancer diagnosis. It cost me $100 a month, even after being diagnosed and treated for cancer,” says Coffman. “I got quoted for a second identical $500,000 life insurance policy after having cancer, but the cost went to $800 per month, which would have been unattainable to purchase.”
Hallett of Quotacy agrees that five years after a cancer diagnosis and successful treatment, you can probably expect to pay two to four times more for a term life or whole life insurance policy than a healthy individual without cancer.
What Is the Best Life Insurance for People With a Family History of Cancer?
When you’re buying life insurance, your family’s medical history is often a factor in quotes. (This means your parents and siblings.) If your family has a history of cancer, but you personally don’t, there is no specific life insurance policy that is more recommended than another, according to Coffman.
“But be aware that with traditional life insurance, which requires you to share your family medical history, a previous cancer diagnosis in the family could affect your rates and eligibility,” says Friedlander.
In general, the best type of life insurance for you is the type of policy that covers your needs.
“Is it coverage that needs to last an entire lifetime? If so, purchase whole life. Is it coverage you need to protect your family as they grow up? Then buy term insurance,” suggests Hallett.
Tips to Increase Your Chances of Getting Life Insurance After Cancer
Most importantly, work with an experienced independent life insurance agent. Independent agents work with several insurance companies and will know which ones are more willing to insure cancer survivors. In particular, look for an independent agent specializing in impaired risk underwriting.
Regardless of when you qualify for life insurance after cancer, you may find cheap life insurance with these strategies.
- Improve your overall health by eating healthy and exercising.
- Don’t use tobacco. Life insurance quotes for smokers typically are much higher.
- Work in a low-risk profession. Friedlander says, “Police officers, firefighters, pilots and construction workers are among the occupations that may experience higher premiums.”
- Don’t do risky hobbies like mountain climbing, skydiving and scuba diving. These will factor into your quotes and cause higher rates.
- Keep a clean driving and criminal record. “DUIs, previous arrests, and other criminal convictions may affect your rate or even disqualify you from coverage,” says Friedlander.
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Life Insurance for Cancer Patients FAQ
How much does life insurance after cancer cost?
Be prepared to pay two to four times more for a term life insurance or whole life insurance policy than a healthy individual without cancer.
Work with an experienced life insurance agent who can shop around for you and target companies likely to be the most cost-friendly for cancer survivors.
What are the types of life insurance for cancer patients?
When it comes to life insurance for cancer patients, it’s easiest to obtain guaranteed issue life insurance or a final expense life insurance policy if you have not yet entered remission.
If you have been in remission for at least a few years, you may qualify for a traditional term or whole life insurance policy. If you are cancer-free but not in perfect health, you may also be eligible for a simplified issue policy.
When can I buy life insurance after cancer?
The longer you’ve been in remission, the better chance you’ll get approved for traditional life insurance. Life insurance companies may want to wait three or five years—or longer—after your treatment ends before they’ll offer you coverage. This time period will vary by company, which is another reason to work with an experienced life insurance agent.