Radiation leaks from Japan’s earthquake-damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant – and traces of radiation from that leak – traveled across the Pacific Ocean to California’s coast and the event has some Americans wondering if their life insurance policy covers death by radiation.
The answer is yes, according to insurance experts.
“As long as the radiation-caused death wasn’t a suicide, and even if it was, if the suicide occurred after the policy’s one-year or two-year suicide-exclusion period, it would be covered like any other death,” said Dr. Steven Weisbart, chief economist at the Insurance Information Institute.
Death from all causes generally is covered by life insurance plans, whether they are whole or term life insurance policies, unless the death falls under a specifically spelled-out exclusion or peril in a policy, according to insurance experts.
Weisbart says radiation death as a result of a nuclear reactor fallout would not be considered an exclusion or a peril.
Exclusions by some life insurers include if the policyholder commits suicide within the first two years of obtaining a policy or if the death occurs during an act of war or terrorism. A peril could include death while rock climbing or hang-gliding, for instance.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, radiation can affect the body in a number of ways, from skin reddening to cancer and death, depending on the type of radiation, route of exposure and length of time a person was exposed.
[callout title=What should you do if you’ve been exposed to radiation?]
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends taking the following steps to limit your contamination in the event you were exposed to radiation:
Leave the immediate area quickly. Go inside the nearest safe building or to an area which you directed by law enforcement or health officials.
Remove the outer layer of your clothing. If radioactive material is on your clothes, getting it away from you will reduce the external contamination and decrease the risk of internal contamination. It will also reduce the length of time that you are exposed to radiation.
If possible, place the clothing in a plastic bag or leave it in an out-of-the-way area, such as the corner of a room. Keep people away from it to reduce their exposure to radiation. Keep cuts and abrasions covered when handling contaminated items to avoid getting radioactive material in them.
Wash all of the exposed parts of your body using lots of soap and lukewarm water to remove contamination. Try to avoid spreading contamination to parts of the body that may not be contaminated.
Reduce internal radioactive contamination. If internal contamination may have occurred, you may be able to take medication to reduce the radioactive material in your body.
Source: Centers For Disease Control and Prevention[/callout]
With high doses of radiation, death could be immediate. Exposure to lower doses could result in adverse health effects, such as cancer, and may not surface for many years.
Those who have life insurance at the time of exposure would be covered in either case, but what about those who did not have insurance and now want to purchase some?
Dr. Ann Hoven, chief medical director for Hartford Life, says the insurer would not consider possible radiation exposure when determining whether a new applicant is insurable, and at what cost. Nor would it charge higher rates for a person working at or living near a nuclear plant.
“No tests relating to radiation exposure are required when applying. We base our requirements on the age of the applicant and the amount of insurance for which they are applying,” Hoven said.
However, if a medical exam shows the applicant has cancer, whether from radiation or unknown causes, he or she could be denied coverage.
“The cause of cancer (radiation or otherwise) would not be a factor. We would underwrite based on the cancer itself – the type, grade and stage would govern the offer,” she said.
Many insurance companies will cover those who have been successfully treated for cancer, but there could be a several-year waiting period to ensure the applicant is indeed cancer-free.
Photo courtesy of Greg Webb / IAEA (Copyright: IAEA Imagebank)