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Life insurance is designed to protect survivors against the financial burden that might come from a loved one’s death.
Coverage is easily purchased by low-risk individuals who are young and in good health; but what about those who have a spotted medical history – specifically, those who have been diagnosed with breast cancer?
It is no secret that many people have been denied coverage due to pre-existing medical conditions, but you may be surprised to find that insurance companies are extending life insurance to women who have been diagnosed and successfully treated for breast cancer.
An astounding 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetimes, making it the most commonly diagnosed cancer in American women next to skin cancer. For those who are uninsured, all hope is not lost for insurability. Greater survival rates are putting insurance within reach for more cancer survivors than ever before. Depending on the stage of cancer at diagnosis and other risk factors, survivors may qualify for a term or whole life insurance policy as little as 1 to 5 years after treatment.
Breast Cancer Mortality Rates are Declining
Great news! Breast cancer is no longer a death sentence.
Over the past six decades, the survival rates for women diagnosed with breast cancer have tripled. These statistics are based on data made available from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, which reviewed the medical records of women diagnosed with any stage of breast cancer between 1944 and 2004. Researchers reviewed the data and sorted women into three ‘stages’ – local, regional, and metastatic – according to disease progression at initial diagnosis.
Out of the more than 12,800 women who were treated by the facility over 60 years, 10-year survival rates increased remarkably in all stages of cancer thanks to:
- Advanced treatment protocols
- Improved coordination of care
- Development of hormonal therapies designed to prevent recurrences
Even more notable is the fact that survival rates improved decade-by-decade, indicating that a multi-disciplinary approach to treatment, rather than a single medical breakthrough, has led to improved outcomes and prognosis.
MD Anderson and other organizations like the National Cancer Institute have maintained detailed oncology records over the years. With meticulous information about prevalence and mortality rates for breast cancer patients, there is a better understanding of what life looks like for breast cancer survivors long after treatment is complete.
Life Insurance for Breast Cancer Survivors
This information has NOT gone unnoticed by life insurers, who recognize the decreased risk of breast cancer-induced death in recent years.
The practices of life insurance companies are well-known, with most insurers being very selective about the risks they are willing to assume when insuring someone. In the past, selective risk preference all but eliminated breast cancer survivors from insurability. Today, insurers are providing coverage to more applicants than ever thanks to better standard screenings, earlier detection, and better survival odds across the board.
Personal Risk Factors
It is important to understand that improved breast cancer survival rates are not enough to determine your insurability or the price you might pay for coverage. Many personal factors can also contribute to your ability to find coverage, such as your current age and your age at the time of an initial invasive breast cancer diagnosis. When researchers from the National Cancer Institute’s Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics reviewed Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) databases in 2015, it found that survival rate patterns differed according to age of diagnosis, year of diagnosis, tumor size, cancer stage, lymph node status, and whether the cancer was estrogen receptor-positive or negative.
In addition, other ailments may also be considered high-risk. Systemic diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease, for example, may be perceived a bigger risk than a previous cancer diagnosis. For that reason, you can expect a good independent insurance agent to ask a wide range of questions when applying for coverage, such as:
- What stage of breast cancer were you diagnosed with?
- Are you currently cancer-free?
- How long have you been in remission?
- Are you still undergoing treatment?
- If not, how long ago was your last treatment?
- Have you followed all of your doctor’s treatment guidelines and recommendations?
- Do you have records to verify your diagnosis and treatment?
- Do you have any other medical conditions or risk factors?
Can You Purchase Life Insurance with Breast Cancer?
While not impossible, it is highly unusual for an insurer to extend new coverage to an applicant who has recently been diagnosed with breast cancer or is currently undergoing treatment.
Although the majority of breast cancer patients do reach the five-year survival point (the time in which most breast cancer survivors apply for life insurance coverage), underwriters are less likely to approve coverage before this time. Once your cancer has been successfully treated, you may find that multiple insurance companies compete for your business if you are in good health.
If you are declined for standard coverage during the treatment or early remission stage, you may be able to qualify for other types of coverage, such as a guaranteed issue policy or group life insurance through your employer.
Keep in mind however, that guaranteed issue policies tend to be more expensive and provide a smaller benefit than traditional whole life and term life insurance policies. These policies do not require a medical exam, as they are typically designed to cover final expenses only. Group life insurance – if available to you – may cost less for more coverage than a guaranteed issue policy. However, it does not follow you if you change employers or quit your job. Take advantage of an independent life insurance policy if or when it becomes possible.
Improving the Odds of Insurance Approval
No one wants to apply for life insurance only to be declined for coverage; and breast cancer survivors who do qualify for life insurance hope for the best premiums possible.
If your prognosis is good and you have been cancer-free for several years, you should not have to pay the same high rates as someone who has a history of recurrence or advanced stage diagnosis. To improve your odds of approval and ensure you obtain the best possible rates, gather all of the information you can about your diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis. The more an underwriter knows about your medical history, the better he or she can assess your risk.
Be prepared to provide as many medical records as possible, from the initial pathology report to your doctor’s notes throughout your treatment. In most cases, insurance companies will ask for these documents anyway, so providing them in advance can prevent delays in the application process. If you have had any follow-up appointments or will have one in the near future, be prepared to provide the results of those visits as well.
Besides providing medical records, you will also need to undergo an exam. During this process, the insurance company will send someone to your home to weigh you, check your height, obtain a urine sample, and take a blood sample. The insurer will use this information along with a search of your current prescriptions to determine your rate class and insurability.
Because standard life insurance policies are fully underwritten, it can take several weeks to find out if you are approved and for your policy to become effective. In some cases, this process can take even longer – especially if the insurer wishes to wait until your next follow-up appointment to make a decision.
Cost of Life Insurance after Breast Cancer Diagnosis
An applicant’s personal risk factors, as well as the type of cancer they were diagnosed with, all contribute to the price paid for coverage.
In most cases, a cancer survivor will be ‘rated’, meaning they are assessed as a higher risk than other applicants. A rated applicant may need to pay higher premiums during the years they are rated. That does not mean, however, that several years of remission might not eventually earn a standard rate. In fact, insured breast cancer survivors can ask for a re-evaluation after several years of treatment or remission. If a review of your doctor’s records turns up a positive prognosis, costs for coverage may go down.
Finding affordable life insurance after breast cancer diagnosis is NOT impossible. It helps to shop for coverage with an independent broker who specializes in finding insurance for people who are considered higher risk. When an insurance agent is free to shop and compare quotes from multiple companies, you increase your odds of finding quality coverage at a price you can afford.
If you are a breast cancer survivor in search of life insurance coverage, we can help. Contact our office today to speak with a helpful member of our staff and request your free quote. We look forward to serving you soon.