The number of people with diabetes is on the rise, as sedentary lifestyles, super-sized meals and expanding waistlines add up to insulin resistance and a host of other problems.
In the United States, approximately 25.8 million people have diabetes – 8.3 percent of the U.S. population. Of these, seven million do not know they have the disease, according to the National Diabetes Education Program.
The NDEP also reported that there has been a 12.5 percent increase of people diagnosed with diabetes since 1958, an increase of epidemic proportions.
It is estimated that 79 million adults aged 20 and older have Prediabetes – a condition where blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be called diabetes. The NDEP points out that losing weight and increasing physical activity can prevent or delay Prediabetes from progressing into diabetes.
Both are a major cause of heart disease and stroke. They are also the leading cause of kidney failure, non-traumatic lower-limb amputations and new cases of blindness.
While all of these are issues a life insurer will want to scrutinize, it doesn’t mean a diabetic or prediabetic won’t get coverage. It’s possible they might even qualify for a standard rate and pay no more in premiums than the average American—but it depends on how well they care for themselves.
“I think the important thing is we can insure people and the way they can get the best rate is to be seeing their doctor to control all those risk factors,” says Craig Davidson, chief medical officer with The Hartford.
Insurance companies will want to see a patient’s medical records, to make sure they’re following their doctor’s orders. A glycated hemoglobin test, commonly known as an A1C test, can be used to check if someone is maintaining their blood sugar levels. It’s a way of measuring a patient’s average blood glucose level over the past two to three months, to make sure they’re keeping their blood sugar under control.
“What we look at is other cardiac risk factors when we underwrite and that would be how well their blood pressure is controlled, how well their cholesterol is controlled, what their weight is doing and also are they smokers or not,” Davidson says. “Someone with diabetes is two to four times the risk of having a heart attack, so that’s why it’s so important to get these other risk factors under control, besides the blood sugar.”
Brian Ashe, president of Brian Ashe & Associates, says an A1C level would need to be less than seven and is probably the factor that most insurance companies look at the closest.
“They’re going to consider a lot of things: how compliant they are, what their weight is, how their diet is, find out what their triglyceride levels are, their blood pressure, cholesterol level and so forth,” said Ashe. “I think a lot of consumers are just unaware that any coverage would be available to them if they’re diagnosed as being diabetic.”
Different Kinds of Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes, previously known as juvenile diabetes, typically strikes at a young age and requires insulin. Anyone with this condition typically faces more expensive life insurance premiums than other kinds of diabetics, as the disease has a much longer time period with which to wreak havoc on the body.
“They’re going to pay more than someone else, I can’t tell you how much. It depends on how old they are, how well they’re controlled and how long they’ve had it,” Davidson says.
Type 2 diabetes, previously known as adult onset diabetes, happens later in life and often does not require insulin. Someone with Type 2 diabetes will find it much easier to obtain life insurance than someone with Type 1.
It’s even possible that a Type 2 diabetic, who maintains their blood sugar, lives a healthy lifestyle with a proper diet and exercise could wind up paying the same life insurance premium as the general public.
Gestational diabetics typically strikes pregnant women and in many cases it only lasts until after they give birth. Life insurance companies won’t insure a pregnant woman, even if she’s not diabetic, but will wait until after her pregnancy to see if her diabetes was temporary.
Those who are prediabetic can also obtain coverage but should keep in mind that the same issues that put them at greater risk for diabetes also make it more expensive for them to buy life insurance.
The Metabolic Syndrome
There’s a cluster of conditions, known as the metabolic syndrome, that make it more likely someone will develop diabetes as well as heart disease and stroke. The Mayo Clinic defines these factors as increased blood pressure, high blood sugar levels, excess body fat around the waist or abnormal cholesterol levels. Having one of these conditions, or especially a combination of them, can result in serious health problems.
Davidson says 70 percent of people with Type 2 diabetes are already overweight with high blood pressure and poor cholesterol readings.
Ashe says someone with these risk factors, who is considered close to being a Type 2 diabetic, could wind up paying around 25 percent more in premiums than someone with normal health.
“A person who is either in the midst of developing a problem or who has been experiencing a problem for a longer period of time and then piles the diabetes in on top of it, that’s going to present more of a challenge to the underwriters because they know that the combination of factors is really going to significantly increase mortality,” Ashe says.
He suggests anyone with diabetes or prediabetes that is looking for life insurance should have their agent check with multiple companies, as some are better at underwriting policies for diabetics than others.
For those who are unsure if they would qualify for a policy, Ashe says they could make a preliminary inquiry to see if coverage would be available and at what rate, without actually filling out an application.
The insurance company can request medical information and give an idea of what someone’s rating would be, which determines the premium they would pay. Their rate would not be set in stone; it would be contingent upon a medical exam.
Ashe says the benefit of this is it gives someone an idea of what coverage they could be eligible for and how much the premium would probably be. If someone found out they were an unlikely candidate for life insurance, they could always consider a policy later on without having to declare that they were rejected on a previous application.
The bottom line is that diabetics can get life insurance but just like anyone else, it’s a good idea for them to heed their doctor’s advice and do what they can to remain healthy. Just like individuals without diabetes, staying healthy makes it easier to buy a policy and at a better rate.
“If someone was going to apply for insurance I tell them well we’d be looking at those factors like are they following up with their doctor and following their doctor’s recommendations and controlling all of their other risk factors,” Davidson says. “If they have good control and if those other cardiovascular risk factors are controlled many of them could qualify for standard rates, and that is significant because at one time people couldn’t get insurance.”