Can I get Insurance if I Have Lung Cancer?

Lung disease encompasses a wide range of afflictions—from the very treatable pneumonia to the controllable but incurable emphysema and lung cancer, whose victims have a five-year survival rate of just six to fifteen percent.

Whether an individual with any of these diseases is insurable, and at what cost, depends on a variety of factors, including the disease itself, when the disease was discovered, its severity and whether it can be cured, says Dr. Robert Pokorski, chief medical strategist for The Hartford.

On the up side, Pokorski says it is possible to buy term and whole life insurance at preferred rates – the second best on a rating scale– with some common lung disorders, such as pneumonia and acute bronchitis (after recovery), asthma and sleep apnea. Standard rates are possible for sarcoidosis and tuberculosis after treatment has been completed and if there are no residual problems, or another illness, he adds.

“Some lung diseases, including lung cancer, tuberculosis and lung infections, must be cured before an individual can buy insurance,” Pokorski says. He says for serious illnesses, such as lung cancer, most applications are postponed for three to five years after completing treatment, followed by four to five more years of additional premiums.

Having any type of cancer will automatically knock you out of a preferred rating, says William Tilford, spokesperson for Tilford Consulting. For those with cancer, Tilford says most insurance companies use a flat extra charge of three dollars per five dollars per one thousand dollars of coverage over standard rates.

Individuals with late stage lung cancer and those who continue to smoke while undergoing treatment for lung disease would be uninsurable, Tilford adds.

A small number of lung diseases, such as pulmonary fibrosis,  with a life expectancy of three to five years following diagnosis, and are untreatable and uninsurable, Pokorski and Tilford say.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease– which includes asthma, emphysema and chronic bronchitis– is often loosely diagnosed by doctors. This creates frustration for insurers and could result in a less favorable rating for the proposed insured, Tilford says. He says applicants need to provide their medical records stating what type of COPD they have and, in the last year, have undergone a pulmonary function study, which measures lung capacity.  It could result in big savings on insurance costs, he says.

He says treatable asthma is rated better than emphysema or chronic bronchitis, which carry standard or substandard rates, depending on the severity of the illness.

Smoking’s costly toll

  • In the United States, smoking is directly responsible for about 90 percent of lung cancer deaths in men, almost 80 percent of lung cancer deaths in women, and 80 to 90 percent of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease deaths. COPD includes chronic bronchitis, emphysema and asthma.
  • Chronic lung disease accounts for 73 percent of smoking-related conditions among current smokers, and 50 percent of smoking-related conditions among former smokers.
  • Secondhand smoke is responsible for approximately 3,400 lung cancer deaths in adult nonsmokers annually in the United States.
  • Smoking by parents is associated with a wide range of health conditions in their children, including asthma. Secondhand smoke causes more than an estimated 202,000 asthma episodes each year.
  • People who smoke are 10 to 20 times more likely to get lung cancer or die from lung cancer than people who do not smoke. The longer a person smokes and the more cigarettes smoked each day, the higher the risk.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and American Lung Association.

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