How to Buy Life Insurance When You're Not Healthy

If you don't have life insurance, but are stricken with a significant health problem, there are still ways to get some financial protection for your family in most cases – especially if you live more than two years after getting the policy.

If you're terminally ill, for example, you might be able to get a burial policy. If you've survived a life-threatening illness or health condition and came out of it with your health intact, there are many other options to buy while protecting your investment portfolio.

"You would be amazed at what kinds of health issues can still be insured," says Anthony Martin, owner and CEO of Choice Mutual in Citrus Heights, California, which specializes in burial insurance.

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A handful of carriers underwrite specifically for pre-existing health conditions. "Ask your agent or broker (if) they specialize in policies for pre-existing medical conditions and what information they need before giving a quote," says Mike Raines, owner of Raines Insurance Group and Special Risk Term in Cumming. Georgia.

RELATED: top recommended health products

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US News ​Pharmacists' picks: Top recommended health products
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US News ​Pharmacists' picks: Top recommended health products

The first step to accessing the recommendations is to select from among the following broad product groups. Here are the 13, along with standout winners.

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Cough, Cold and Allergy

- Cold Remedies: Cepacol

- Oral Antihistamines: Claritin

- Oral Decongestants: Sudafed (pseudoephedrine)

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Diabetes Health

- Diabetic Neuropathy Products: Capzasin

- Diabetic Multivitamins: Nature Made

- Oral Glucose Products: Glucerna

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Diagnostics

- Blood Sampling Devices/Lancets: OneTouch

- Blood Pressure Monitors: Omron

- Peak Flow Meters: Omron

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Eyes, Ears, Nose and Throat 

- Contact Lens Solutions: Opti-Free 

- Saline Nasal Moisturizers: Ocean

- Sore Throat Liquids, Sprays and Strips: Chloraseptic

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First Aid

- Adhesive Bandages: Band-Aid

- Topical Antibiotics and Antiseptics: Neosporin

- Sun Burn Relief: Solarcaine (Cool Aloe Burn Relief Formula Pain Relieving Gel)

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Oral Care

- Cold Sore Treatments: Abreva

- Toothpaste (general use): Crest 

- Therapeutic Mouthwashes/Oral Rinses: Listerine

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Pain and Inflammation

- Headache Products: Advil

- Migraine Headache Products: Excedrin Migraine

- Anti-Inflammatory Products: Advil

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Pediatrics

- Children’s Cough and Cold Combinations: Children’s Dimetapp

- Infant Formula: Enfamil

- Children’s Sore Throat Products: Chloraseptic Kids Sore Throat Spray

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Stomach and GI

- Upset Stomach Remedies: Pepto-Bismol

- Antacids: Tums

- Nausea Remedies: Emetrol

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Topicals

- Sunscreen: Neutrogena

- Lip Balms: Carmex

- Acne Products: Neutrogena

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Vitamins and Supplements

- Nutritional Supplements: Ensure

- Multivitamins: Centrum

- Prenatal Vitamins: One A Day Prenatal

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Women's Health

- Menstrual Pain Relief: Midol

- PMS Symptom Relief: Hyland’s PMS

- Urinary Pain Relief: AZO Standard

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More Health Products

- Sleep Aids: Unisom

- Smoking Cessation Aids: NicoDerm CQ Patch

- Snore Aids: Breathe Right

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"I have helped secure life insurance on many people over the years with conditions such as diabetes, heart attack, bypass heart surgery, DUI history, elevated liver enzymes, multiple sclerosis, high blood pressure, build, high cholesterol, cancer history," Raines says. "Amounts of coverage have ranged from $5,000 up to $5 million of protection."

Where to begin. Some life insurance agents understand the subtleties of different plans and their offerings better than others. Before deciding on a plan, consider shopping around for a savvy agent or getting multiple quotes from a few of them. Make sure to ask what's required for policy approval, if there's a period of time in which death from an illness is not covered, whether premiums prices will remain fixed, if the policy includes any riders that provide additional benefits while you're alive, and other coverage options, says Chris Abrams, founder at Abrams Insurance Solutions in San Diego.

A primer on plan details. Underwriting is the amount of money the insurance policy will cover you for, and each type of life insurance will have its own underwriting standards, Martin says. Term life insurance, which is often the most affordable option because it offers protection for a specific number of years, offers plans with and without preliminary health exams.

A fully underwritten plan will entail a thorough health exam. Your life insurance company will evaluate the risk they will take on you."Fully underwritten plans involve health questions, a medical exam where they draw blood, take a urine sample, measure blood pressure, and take height and weight measurements. In addition, the insurer will order doctor records," Martin says. "In the vast majority of cases, an offer will be made. The only variable is what the insurer will need to charge in order to cover the assessed risk."

With simplified issue plans, there is no medical exam but there are health questions, a prescription history check and possibly medical records, Martin says. "If you are an unhealthy person with a shaky track record of managing your conditions, you options will be much more limited. You will probably have to resort to a simplified issue."

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Consider guaranteed issue plans. If you're seeking a plan with absolutely no questions asked about your health and no health exam, look into guaranteed issue plans that don't assess your health in any way. "They literally issue the policy to everyone, no matter what," Martin says.

Explains Raines : "Guaranteed issue policies vary, but typically provide a limited amount of death benefit for the first two years of the policy and then full death benefit thereafter. These are known as graded death benefit policies."

These plans are also an option for people with terminal illnesses. "Anyone with a terminal illness will not qualify for any life insurance that has any sort of underwriting," Martin says. "Their only option is guaranteed issue."

You can combine policies. Combine multiple guaranteed issue policies if you need more than $25,000 of coverage, Abrams says. "If death is from an accident, the full death benefit will pay out from day one. If death is from an illness within the first two years, the full death benefit is not paid out. Instead, the premiums are refunded plus 10 percent. If death occurs from an illness after year two, then the full death benefit is paid out. This is how the life insurance company can offer this coverage without any underwriting."

Manage your health and increase your chances. Better plans are generally offered to healthier people. Other than the terminally ill, people who are declined for plans are those who do not manage their conditions. For example, if you are diabetic and you have a super-high glucose levels in an A1C test, are overweight and have a history of not managing it, you will absolutely be declined for better plans, Martin says.

"Overall, life insurance companies are looking at your choices over time. If you show them you are responsible and manage your conditions, most health issues are insurable. Again, it just comes down to what carrier will need to charge to cover the risk," Martin says.

But Jason Fisher, owner of BestLifeRates.org, was tasked with finding life insurance for a client who was overweight, had high blood pressure, diabetes and arthritis. "Usually, just one of these medical conditions can put a person into the high-risk category, depending on how severe they are. However, with all four, it presents a lot of risk to the carriers and they typically will shy away from the case unless there's more than enough information to make an offer," he says.

To make matters worse, the client wasn't taking care of her conditions. Yet Fisher was still able to get her a policy, although it was at a higher rate.

There are simplified issue policies that are designed for senior citizens or people with some serious health issues. They're usually marketed as burial insurance, final expense insurance or funeral insurance, Martin says. These kinds of policies pay out usually less than $50,000 upon your death, (also known as a face amount.) "The vast majority of the population would easily qualify."

Be up front about your health and needs. "If you only want to ensure your funeral costs, the type of policy you get will be very different than a person who is interested in replacing their income," Martin says.

[See: 9 Stocks to Buy for the Aging Baby Boomer Market.]

And your health is obviously another huge factor. You often gain an advantage by going through a life insurance agent who understands the complicated variables for each plan and the best offerings from each company. "This is why life insurance is not sold in grocery stores," Martin says. "A person interested in life insurance needs to do one thing. They need to find a qualified agent or agency (and be) completely up front and honest about their goal and their health. Their agent will do the rest."


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