Life insurance for cancer patients

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An estimated 1.9 million cancer cases will be newly diagnosed in 2021, according to the American Cancer Society. If you have been diagnosed with cancer and are searching for life insurance, you’re not alone. During your search, it’s important to know that just as car insurance providers are wary of insuring high-risk drivers, life insurance companies are typically averse to insuring those with high-risk medical conditions. Still, it is possible to find life insurance after a cancer diagnosis.

Below, Bankrate outlines what types of life insurance cancer patients can choose from, whether the type of cancer matters and whether survivors can get life insurance.

Key takeaways
  • Group life insurance, burial insurance and guaranteed life insurance may be the easiest life insurance policies to get following a cancer diagnosis.
  • The type of cancer you have will influence your ability to get insurance. Insurance underwriters know certain types of cancer have a higher survival rate. If you have a higher chance of surviving, you have a better chance of being approved for life insurance.
  • Make sure to answer truthfully on your medical evaluation forms. If you don’t, your insurance provider could deny you, increase your rates or even accuse you of fraud.

Can you get life insurance after a cancer diagnosis?

You will likely be able to qualify for burial, guaranteed and group life insurance with a cancer diagnosis – whereas term life insurance and permanent life insurance will likely be off the table. However, approval for any policy depends on the specifics of your cancer and how risky you are to your insurance provider. Underwriters will analyze your rate of survival and other characteristics to make the determination.

Although it sounds harsh, your insurer doesn’t want you to die while your policy is in force, because then it will be required to pay out on your death benefit. It would much rather have you alive and paying your premiums regularly.

The specifics of your diagnosis matter. If you have a form of cancer that’s easily treated and has an excellent long-term recovery record, you’re more likely to be approved then if you are given a terminal diagnosis and expected to live for only a year or so. Your general health aside from the cancer matters, too. The younger and healthier you are, the more likely your insurer will see you as someone who can beat cancer and go on to live a long and happy life.

What are the types of life insurance for cancer patients?

The two most common types of life insurance policies, term and permanent, will most likely not be available to you as a cancer patient — though there is no rule against applying for coverage, and you may find a company that is generous in their underwriting process.

There are several different types of life insurance that may be available for cancer patients. The easiest types to get are those that don’t go through a medical analysis during the underwriting process, and that includes the following:

Guaranteed issue life insurance

Guaranteed issue life insurance may be the easiest type of life insurance for terminal cancer patients to get, because it does not require any health screening or medical exam. It is a type of whole life insurance policy, which means it builds cash value over time and stays with you as long as you live. In many cases, however, there is a wait time of two years or more before your beneficiaries can make a claim on the policy. Is there a catch? Yes, in fact there are two: first, guaranteed issue tends to be more expensive than other types of insurance, and second, there is usually a cap on how much of a death benefit you can have, often around $25,000.

Burial insurance

Burial insurance, also known as funeral or final expense insurance, is a type of guaranteed issue life insurance, which means that most people will qualify for it without undergoing a medical exam. Burial insurance is intended to finance end-of-life expenses which can be astronomical. The median cost of funerals in the U.S. is an eye-popping $7,640, and many families choose to spend much more. Burial insurance allows your loved ones to focus on mourning your death rather than organizing their finances for your funeral. Typically, the premiums and payouts associated with burial insurance are relatively low.

Group life insurance

If you or your spouse are still working, you may be able to access a group life insurance policy through work. You may also be eligible for a policy if you are a veteran or a member of an organization that offers this benefit. There is usually no medical exam needed for group life insurance, and the benefits may not be very high, but if your employer pays all or part of the premium, it’s certainly worth having.

Does the type of cancer matter?

With the advent of today’s medical technology, cancer is no longer always a death sentence. Non-melanoma skin cancer, for example, is highly treatable and those who experience it have an excellent chance of surviving until old age. Advances in treatment, in fact, have meant that survival rates for all cancers combined are nearly 70 percent, up from 30 percent in the early 1960s.

Underwriters know this, and have access to data that allows them to judge how likely it is that you will die from cancer during the period when your policy is in force. When you apply for life insurance, your company will want to know as much as possible about your health issues, including as much information as you can give them on your cancer:

  • The type of cancer, and its stage
  • When you were diagnosed
  • What your treatment plan is, and how you have responded to it
  • If it has metastasized — that is, if it’s contained in one organ or has spread throughout your body
  • Whether this is your first experience of cancer
  • Your family history of cancer
  • Your medications

Can cancer survivors get life insurance?

Life insurance after cancer can also be challenging, but you are more likely to be able to purchase a life insurance policy than if you currently have cancer. But once again, there are multiple factors at play. Your current overall health is one of the biggest. If you’ve been cancer-free for five or more years, and are in good general health otherwise, your chances are higher than they would be if you’re in remission after radiation six months ago.

And again, the underwriters will want to know everything you can tell them about your cancer experience, as well as your family history and any other information related to the type, duration and other health factors. If you are currently involved in any cancer after-care or treatment, that’s important to note also.

Even though you may want to avoid including information about past cancers in your application, your best bet is to be thorough and informative, backing up your answers with medical records whenever possible. You may believe it’s best to avoid mentioning it, especially if it happened decades ago, but your insurance company can withhold the death benefit if it’s found that you lied on your application.

Life insurance ratings for cancer survivors

If you do qualify for a life insurance policy, your provider will use a rating system to determine the premium that you will pay. The rating tiers are:

  • Super preferred (Preferred plus)
  • Preferred
  • Standard (Regular)
  • Substandard

If you are diagnosed with a form of cancer that has a lower death rate, you may be accepted for life insurance but placed in a lower tier. For instance, if you are diagnosed with melanoma, which has a 91% survival rate, you may be accepted for a policy but rated as “substandard” in terms of health. Substandard customers pay the highest premiums. A regular or substandard rating means a higher premium.

Does a family history of cancer have an impact?

If there is cancer in your family, it may impact your insurance premium rates, but there are several factors to consider here as well. The type of cancer is important, since some cancers are more likely than others to be passed on to others in the family. Whether the person with cancer was in your immediate family — a parent or sibling — or more remote, such as a second cousin or great aunt, also matters, as does the age of the relative when they were diagnosed.

Frequently asked questions

What is the best life insurance company?

There is no one life insurance company that is best for everyone, since each person’s situation is unique. We recommend that you start your search for insurance with our list of the Best Life Insurance Companies.

Can I get life insurance if I’m currently undergoing chemotherapy?

You may be eligible for a guaranteed issue or burial policy, but you won’t be able to purchase a term or permanent policy. You may be better off saving the money you would have spent on premiums until some time passes following your treatments.

Are there any riders I should add to my policy if I’ve had cancer?

You might want to consider adding a long-term care rider, in case your cancer (or another illness) returns and you require extended care in an assisted living facility. An accelerated death benefit gives your beneficiaries access to your benefit before your death if you’re facing a terminal diagnosis.

What happens if I lie on my life insurance application?

Lying on your life insurance application, even by accident, could result in the insurance company rejecting your application, increasing your rates or even accusing you of fraud. It is important to make sure you are as truthful as possible and that you answer all questions to the best of your ability.

Written by
Mary Van Keuren
Insurance Contributor
Mary Van Keuren has written for insurance domains such as Bankrate.com, Coverage.com and Thesimpledollar.com for the past five years, specializing in home and auto insurance. She has also written extensively for consumer websites including reviews.com and myslumberyard.com. Prior to that, she worked as a writer in academia for several decades.
Edited by
Insurance Editor