Heading into 2017, my wife and I were discussing our finances. We came across our life insurance policies we bought years ago when we first got married. We started talking about getting additional life insurance since our current policies expire in a few years.
This got me thinking – I’ve got atrial fibrillation; will I even be able to get life insurance? And if I can, will I pay an arm and a leg for it? These questions led me to do some research on the topic and I stumbled upon a company called JRC Insurance Group of San Diego, CA.
I interviewed Cliff Pendell, the VP of Operations for the company. We talked about life insurance and how it impacts those who have been diagnosed with afib. Here is an audio of the interview. Enjoy!
Following is an article I wrote based on my interview with Cliff of JRC Insurance Group. If you want the raw, unedited full transcript of my interview with Cliff, click here to download it.
Before we dive into life insurance for people with afib, I want to provide information on life insurance in general for those that might not be familiar with it.
There are 4 Common Types of Life Insurance
- Term Life Insurance
- Whole Life Insurance
- Guaranteed Issue Life Insurance
- Universal Life Insurance
Term Life Insurance
This is the most popular type of life insurance policy. When people talk about getting life insurance, they are usually talking about a term life policy. This type of policy allows you to lock in a set amount of coverage for a set amount of time. Usually, with term life insurance, it’s sold in five-year increments and typical term lengths are 10, 15, 20, 25, and 30 years. Typically, the way that works is, if something happens to you during that period of time, there’s guaranteed coverage for your loved ones, your family, your business partners, whoever you set up the policy for.
Whole Life Insurance
This policy is designed to lock in coverage for your entire life, but typically, whole life insurance policies are reserved at $50,000 of coverage or less. Primarily, they are purchased for burial expenses, final expenses, anything like that.
Guaranteed Issue Life Insurance
In whole life insurance, there’s another type of insurance, which is also considered whole life but it’s a little bit different; that’s what’s called guaranteed issue life insurance. Traditional whole life insurance, basically, they’re going to evaluate your health, they’re going to take a look at your medical records, they want to do their due diligence to make sure you’re insurable.
With guaranteed issue life, however, there’s no health questions and there’s no health exam. Basically, anybody that qualifies for the policy can purchase it. The only caveat with guaranteed issue life insurance is, because they’re willing to accept anybody regardless of their health, they limit your coverage amount to 25,000 and there’s what’s called a two-year waiting period.
What that means is that, during the first two years of that policy, you’re not going to be fully covered; your beneficiaries will only be entitled to all the money you’ve paid into the policy plus 10% interest. After that two year qualifying period or waiting period is up, at that point, you’re fully covered for the face amount of the policy.
Universal Life Insurance
There’s two types of universal life insurance. There is universal life insurance that has an investment value built into it and there’s universal life insurance that does not have an investment value built into it. Those are the most common policies on the market just because your life insurance is tied into either the stock market or an index. What happens is sometimes these policies perform well, but more often than not, they don’t so we tend to tell people to stay away from these policies.
However, the guaranteed universal life insurance works just like a term policy except you can lock in your coverage until the age of 90, 95, 100, or later. The only difference there is, of course, no investment value, your premiums are fixed just like a term policy, the amount of coverage you have and the costs of your coverage doesn’t change.
Understanding Rate Classes in Life Insurance
Within each policy there are different rate classes that ultimately determine how much your premium is going to cost. Most companies have anywhere from 12-16 different rate categories.
What determines your rate class is your health and lifestyle. What I mean by lifestyle is, if you have a dangerous job, it might preclude you from getting some of the best rate categories.
Getting Discounts on Your Life Insurance Premiums
You can pay your policy premiums monthly, quarterly, semiannually, or once a year. Monthly is the most expensive. If you pay it on a semi-annual basis, most companies give you about a 2-4% discount on your premiums. If you pay it once a year, most companies will discount at about 4-8%.
Why Men Pay More Than Women
Men pay more for life insurance than women because insurance premiums are based off of lifetime expectancy. Since women live longer than men do, they pay less for their life insurance.
Life Insurance for Atrial Fibrillation
I wrongly assumed that because I had atrial fibrillation I wouldn’t qualify for life insurance or if I did, I would pay an arm and a leg for it.
This is not the case. JRC Insurance Group has had tremendous success getting their clients with atrial fibrillation affordable life insurance. There’s 1400 life insurance companies in the nation. Every company has its own specialties in terms of the type of clients they’re most lenient with approving. And believe it or not, there are a handful of companies that actually specialize with applicants who have atrial fibrillation.
Your Age and When You Are Diagnosed Affects What You’ll Ultimately Pay
Life insurance companies prefer to see that your atrial fibrillation was diagnosed before the age of 60 and, for whatever reason, they’re more lenient in that situation. Part of it is because they have a longer period of time to evaluate your treatment and whether or not the treatment is working, but also, as we get older, we tend to have other health risks as well that go hand-in-hand.
The younger you are when you were diagnosed, in general, the more leniency the companies are with their approvals.
A Comparison of Life Insurance Rates for People with Afib
Following are charts provided by JRC Insurance Group to see how insurance rates vary between men and women and the type of afib they have.
How Afib Treatment Options Affect Your Life Insurance Premiums
There are two primary treatment options for people with atrial fibrillation: drug treatments and procedural treatments such as ablations and surgeries. Do insurance companies look at these treatment options differently or do they look at them all the same in regards to defining your rate class and premium?
All insurance companies want to see is if whatever treatment option you’re using is successful. It doesn’t matter whether your atrial fibrillation is controlled with medication or if you have a procedure done, the bottom line is whether or not it works.
For example, take blood pressure medication. Most insurance companies don’t care if you’re on a blood pressure medication or not. They just want to make sure that with the medication your blood pressure is in the normal range. Atrial fibrillation works the same way. If you have a procedure done (i.e. ablation) or you take a medication, as long as you’re following your doctor’s advice and the treatment is successful, the insurance companies are going to look at the treatments the same.
How Do Life Insurance Companies Define “Successful Treatments” for Afib?
If someone is taking drugs to treat their afib, they might go from having monthly episodes to just one episode a year. Likewise, someone that’s had an ablation may go from having monthly episodes to just one episode a year. Do insurance companies consider these treatment scenarios a success?
Insurance companies define success by the frequency of episodes. The more successful the treatment is, theoretically, the less episodes you’ll have. That’s another reason why the insurance companies prefer to see that you’ve had tests performed with your doctor to evaluate the condition of your heart. Usually, they will prefer an ECG or an echocardiogram. Basically, that just allows them to refer to the baseline and see if you’ve had any changes over time.
As long as you’re having follow-ups with your doctor and you’re episodes are kept to a minimum under treatment, that’s what the insurance companies prefer to see. The other things they look into is if you have any symptoms. A big red flag to the insurance companies are people who have chest palpitations or chest pain.
Generally, in that case insurance companies won’t consider the treatment successful. As long as you’re not having any serious side effects like that and you’re following up with your doctor periodically, if the frequency of your atrial fibrillation episodes is annual or less, that’s what insurance companies want to see. To them, that means that the treatment was successful.
How Heart Palpitations Affect Life Insurance Rates
It’s very common for people with afib, even after treatments (particularly with ablations), to have palpitations like PVCs or PACs. I, myself, suffer from PVCs and PACs frequently on and off throughout the year but I haven’t had afib in over two years. Because I haven’t had afib since my ablation, you would assume the life insurance companies would deem my treatment as a success.
However, on the other hand I am having more palpitations than a normal person. My doctors says they are totally benign because I’ve had heart monitors, echos, and EKGs to confirm that. Will life insurance companies take this into consideration or will they tend to automatically bump me into a lower rate class because of my palpitations?
It can work that way. Basically, what they want to see is that the afib is basically resolved and the only underlying issue at that point is the palpitations. They’re probably going to underwrite you as if you’re only symptom is palpitations. They actually have their own underwriting guidelines for that. It’s the combination of things, though, that tend to cause insurance companies to shy away. What I mean by that is, if you have underlying heart disease, palpitations, atrial fibrillation, and, let’s say, diabetes, that’s where they start to say, “There’s too many issues going on here.”
But, if it’s just one issue, typically they’ll just rate for that issue. It may cause you to fall into a standard or substandard category, but in that situation, they’re going to look at the overall individual and their overall health rather than just singling them out. Most insurance companies will try to find any way they can to approve an applicant, so they’re always looking for…
Is this applicant overall healthy?
Does the applicant have any other health issues going on?
Do they have a healthy lifestyle?
Most of the time when all of these issues check out they’re going to find a way to approve your policy. Applicants, however, that have multiple compounding health issues and don’t have a healthy lifestyle have the most problems getting approved for life insurance.
Does Having Afib Automatically Mean You’ll Pay More for Life Insurance?
No, there are situations where people with atrial fibrillation can get the top rate class and pay the same as someone that is healthy without afib. Paroxysmal afib is one of the ones where that happens quite often. That’s usually where someone has less than five episodes a year and the episodes resolve themselves within a day or two with or without medication. In that situation, the insurance companies are pretty lenient and clients get approved at preferred best rates.
If it’s persistent or ongoing, that’s when the insurance company is going to take a closer look at your overall health. In that situation, most of the time, expect standard rates at best.
Just to put it in perspective for you, standard is considered the fourth best rate category. That’s basically saying you are in average health for someone your age. Here are how the classes rank:
- Preferred Best
- Standard Plus
- Substandard Categories
Only about 5-8% of the population qualifies for the “preferred best” category. They don’t want to see any unfavorable family history and they want you to be well within the weight guidelines. It’s not common for someone to get in a preferred or preferred best rate class. It is possible, but it doesn’t happen very often.
Standard’s usually where most clients get approved, and that’s what they consider is the average rate category. Most people with resolved or treated atrial fibrillation will fall into the standard category. In some situations, you may end up in a substandard rate category.
After preferred best, preferred, standard plus, and standard, there’s the substandard categories, and that’s where somebody may be standard table 2 or standard table 4. What they’re saying is that you’re in the sixth or eighth best health category out of 16. If you look at the grand scheme of things, you’re still in the top 50%, but it’s all relative.
What is The Premium Increase Going From Standard to Substandard Rate Classes?
Each subcategory after standard will increase your rates about 20-25%. If you came back as, let’s say, a table 2, which is pretty common, that’s 6 out of 16 on risk, you’ll probably pay about 40-50% more than someone who’s in average or standard health would pay.
What Type of Afibber is Going To Pay The Most for Life Insurance?
Older applicants that have compounding health issues are usually the ones that will pay the most, if they qualify at all. In terms of affordability, after the age of 50, life insurance rates increase about 12-15% per year. You take a look at the age, keep in mind these insurance companies are basing this off of your mortality risk. Somebody that’s in their 70’s that has Afib is more likely to have an issue than somebody in their 40’s or 50’s.
People past the age of 60 tend to pay the most for their life insurance, and those are also the clients that have a harder time getting approved.
With that being said, JRC Insurance Group has seen it all over the years. The company has 60 collective years of life insurance experience, and they have literally worked with thousands of clients – many with atrial fibrillation. They’ve seen situations where it didn’t seem likely that the applicant would get insured and they did, and they’ve seen situations where maybe an applicant should have been insured and they didn’t. In that situation, if it happens where they think there’s a chance that the company will pick up this applicant, they will re-shop for them until they find a company that can provide them some form of insurance.
If term options don’t exist and they can’t find any affordable options at that point, they’ll usually recommend what’s called the guaranteed issue policy that I explained earlier. In some situations, that’s the best case. JRC Insurance Group has an 80% success rate getting applicants with atrial fibrillation approved – even when they have compounding issues like diabetes or a history of heart problems!
How Blood Thinners Affect Your Life Insurance Rates
A lot of afibbers have to take blood thinners. Do life insurance companies look unfavorably on applicants who are on blood thinners?
If you’re taking warfarin, insurance companies will usually assign what’s called a standard table 2 rate, which is basically the sixth best rate category. Although warfarin will help prevent the chances of having a stroke because it prevents blood clots, there’s the concern of internal bleeding from long-term use. Insurance companies take all these issues into consideration but in general if you have atrial fibrillation and are taking warfarin, you can expect to probably see the sixth rate category in that situation (see info on this earlier in this article).
What about NOACs such as Eliquis, Xarelto, and Pradaxa? Do these types of blood thinners affect your rates?
If a new drug comes out and it doesn’t have the same health risk that one of the older, traditional blood thinners, like warfarin has, the insurance companies will adjust their rates. It’s possible that, in the future, we could see people getting approved at standard rates or maybe even standard plus rates if they’re taking a blood thinner that doesn’t present any of the challenges that some of the traditional blood thinners do. For the time being, though, I haven’t seen anybody come back better than a substandard rate when they’re on a blood thinner, but that’s not to say that won’t change in the future.
Do insurance companies take into account how long you’re on a blood thinner? Someone might be on it temporarily because they’ve just had an ablation. For example, when I had my ablation I was on Eliquis for just a few months.
Once an applicant is no longer on a blood thinner, the insurance companies aren’t going to hold it against the person.
The Life Insurance Application Process
When it comes to applying for life insurance when you have afib, your rate class and what you’ll ultimately pay will depend on how many afib episodes you have. This was talked about earlier in this article. Afibbers usually don’t know the exact number of episodes they have. And if they do, they may or may not share this with their doctor. Furthermore, doctors may not make an “official note” of the number of episodes a patient reports they are having. With all this said, do insurance companies verify how many episodes you’re having, or is it based on honesty?
When you apply for life insurance, the insurance company will have some basic questions that they ask you about your situation and how often you have episodes. Typically, the only time that a doctor would know about an episode is if it required hospitalization or if it required treatment other than what your normal treatment is. In that situation, they basically rely on you to be honest and let them know how often your episodes occur.
When you apply for life insurance with JRC Insurance, they will do a brief phone interview with you to figure out which company is your best match. Once they’ve determined who your best match is, they’ll set you up with a basic application. This application gets your information like your beneficiaries, your address, occupation, etc.
From there, that application is sent over to an application processor who is basically going to give you a call, do a brief phone interview with you, and set up a time for a free medical exam. The medical exam is paid for by the life insurance company. Someone will come out to your house unless you prefer to go into one of their offices. At that time, they will typically check your weight, your height, and they’ll take a small blood and urine sample. They may ask you a few additional questions about any treatments you’re having or any medications you’re on.
In some situations, if you’re applying for more than $500,000 of coverage, they will request an echocardiogram (ECG), but very few companies do that. That requirement is more common for policies above $1 million of coverage. Usually what they’re referring to is just what’s in your medical records, and that’s why the insurance companies prefer to see that you’ve had an echocardiogram done in the last three years. They just want to make sure that you’re keeping up with what your doctor is asking you to do.
You’re not responsible for getting any of those medical records yourself. The insurance company will actually use what’s called the Medical Information Bureau. All of your medical records are there. Anytime you’ve applied for insurance before, they’ll pull that information and any records from your doctors that are pertinent to your condition. Once the insurance company has all that information, an underwriter will be assigned to your case and they’ll review all of it and determine what your risk is.
For an applicant, it’s a pretty easy process. It’s basically two phone calls and a 15 to 20-minute in-home exam. The whole process from the initial phone call to final approval usually takes 4 to 8 weeks.
The reason for the delay is it’s not the insurance company, it’s actually the doctor’s offices. When the insurance company requests records, most doctors will take 10 to 12 days to send them back. Once they have a chance to retrieve all records and evaluate them, that’s where that 4-8 week time frame comes into play. In most situations, delays occur with applicants who have multiple doctors or who’ve lived in multiple states. Delays are also common with applicants who get most of their treatment from the VA hospital. For whatever reason, the VA tends to be very slow with releasing medical records.
When the final approval for the policy occurs and the policy is mailed out to you, there’s a few forms they have you sign. One of those forms basically says that you haven’t had any health changes since you initially applied. If you do have a health issue, sometimes they’ll take it into account depending on how serious it was. For example, if you break a bone in the middle of the application process that’s not going to be a concern to the insurance company. On the other hand, if you’ve been hospitalized because of a prolonged afib episode, it could affect your final approval or your rates.
When Is The Best Time for Someone with Atrial Fibrillation to Apply for Life Insurance?
Typically, if you apply right after you’ve been diagnosed, the insurance companies will usually approve most of those applicants at a substandard rate. As time goes on, though, if you are managing your condition, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, following your doctor’s orders, your rates will definitely improve over time.
On the flip side of that, applicants who are diagnosed with atrial fibrillation and then don’t make lifestyle changes, don’t follow their doctor’s advice, and don’t get periodic echocardiograms, have a hard time getting approved or pay more in premiums.
The main thing to keep in mind when applying for life insurance when you have afib is to get the condition managed, follow your doctor’s orders, and maintain a healthy lifestyle. These are the main things insurance companies are going to be looking for.
Who Can I Contact for More Information on Obtaining Life Insurance?
JRC Insurance Group can be contacted via their website. They can also be reached by phone toll-free at (855) 247-9555. As a life insurance broker, they work with over 40 companies which allows them to shop the market for their clients for the best possible rates!