16 ways to get better
Thinking about your health in the new
year? Chances are, so is your insurance company.
If you're buying
life, disability, long-term care or health insurance, your insurance company wants
to know more about you. Depending on the type of policy, it could inquire about
your habits, medical records and family history. Based on the answers, it will
slot you in one of several categories that will help determine just how much you
pay for coverage.
What you say and
how you say it can make a difference in how your insurance company sees you and
what it charges.
"It's not enough to say you got a good rate,"
says Randy S. Herz, senior vice president of Herz Financial, an insurance advisory
firm in Farmington, Conn. "You have to look at what their classifications
are. Then you have to understand your own health. Health is one of the biggest
factors in determining the cost of your insurance."
are some tips from insurance insiders to help you get the best health ranking
-- and the lowest rates:
1. Tell the
truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth
leaving something shady out of your health history might help? Wrong -- for two
reasons. First, the insurance company will likely find out (it is reading your
records, after all) and it will assume the problem is severe because you didn't
mention it. Even worse, if you withhold information that the company regards as
material, it could cancel your life policy within the first two years, says Bob
Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America.
your complete health story, but do it on your own terms and give the complete
picture. Don't just say you have high blood pressure. Say you were diagnosed with
high blood pressure five (or however many) years ago and have successfully controlled
it with medication.
"The consumer should think about
it from the side of the insurance company," says Robert Hoyt, head of the
risk management and insurance program at the University of Georgia and president
of the American Risk & Insurance Association. "To the extent you give
them good, complete information and reduce the uncertainty, then ultimately you're
going to get a fairer price."
If your agent or broker
knows what wrinkles might give you a problem, he can shop you to the companies
most likely to take you on at a good rate.
Watch your language
Sometimes incomplete answers can paint
a bad picture. And insurance underwriters are trained to assume the worst. So
be clear and complete in your answers. If you had a non-aggressive cancer removed
from your face one time several years ago, don't simply say you had cancer removed,
says David Johnson, an insurance agent and board member with the Georgia Association
of Health Underwriters. List the specific type -- basal cell, for instance --
and that it was done once with no recurrence.
application will ask the ever popular question, "Which of the following conditions
have you been treated for?" Instead of just checking "chest pains,"
include the fact that it turned out to be indigestion and no follow up was needed.
Know the rules of the game
"You need to ask what the [health]
ranking is based on," says Hunter. "There should be objective criteria.
And you really should shop a little. The criteria vary."
out what your ranking is with a specific company and why, says Hunter. It could
be that something they don't know will improve your ranking and decrease your
4. Shop around
It's common consumer advice, but it can be even more important with insurance.
Two different companies can view a person's health and the risk he or she poses
"Most companies try to put you in the
right slot," says Hunter. "But if they make a mistake, you don't want
that to be the only one you talked to."
Even the lingo
varies from company to company. A ranking of "preferred" or "standard"
might mean two very different things, with different rates, at two different companies.
shopping is very important for smokers, especially people who only occasionally
smoke a cigar or pipe. While some companies will automatically put you in a less-desirable
category with a higher premium, others won't penalize you for that once-a-year
5. Alert your doctor
Insurance companies want to talk with your doctor's office and look at your most
recent records. Failing that, they might have to use only the records from the
Medical Insurance Bureau (a repository for medical records used by insurance companies),
which might not be to your advantage. Sometimes a doctor can give some perspective
to a condition that might look worse in black and white (for example, a high cholesterol
condition that's being treated successfully).
But a busy doctor's
office can sometimes drop the ball, says Dave Evans, CFP, vice president and publisher
for the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America. And the insurance
company will only try so many times before it gives up.
let your doc know you're applying for insurance. A little advance notice can insure
the call isn't overlooked and give you the best chance at a good rating.
Make sure the company gets all of your records, not just some
the most complete, up-to-date picture of your health, the company needs all of
"If you've moved or migrated doctors, the
fact of the matter is you probably have to be more proactive," says Evans.
Similar to a lot of inquiries on your credit, a lot
of inquiries on your insurability can throw up a red flag, says Herz. Instead,
choose an agent or broker who can quietly do some informal shopping to narrow
your options before you do anything official.
you getting declined or rated," says Herz.