The more of a high risk applicant you are, the higher your life insurance premiums will be. This is why buying life insurance with high blood pressure can drive your premiums up.
Hypertension affects life insurance directly.
This is why the often discussed medical exam is so important; your health determines your premiums.
During the medical exam, you’ll be asked a variety of questions about your family health history, your lifestyle and your drug and alcohol use. Also, your height, weight, pulse and blood pressure will be measured on the spot.
How Difficult Is Getting Life Insurance with High Blood Pressure?
Do you have high blood pressure? You’re not alone.
Roughly one in every three adults suffers from some degree of high blood pressure. This equates to more than 75 million Americans falling into this category. Unfortunately, this affects not only your health, but also your ability to purchase life insurance.
Even worse, high blood pressure is listed as a primary or contributing cause of death for approximately 326,000 people each year. Additionally, high blood pressure costs $70 billion in terms of health care services, medications and lost productivity.
But here’s the truth: people with high blood pressure are approved for life insurance all the time!
If you have high blood pressure, here’s everything you need to know about how to obtain an affordable life insurance policy.
High Blood Pressure Explained, And The Associated Risks
High blood pressure is a relatively common condition, but it doesn’t mean it’s one which should be taken lightly. Left untreated, high blood pressure leads to heart failure or heart disease, a stroke, or even kidney failure and other health issues.
Your “blood pressure” is actually expressed by the measurement of two different pressures: systolic and diastolic.
- Systolic – This is the blood pressure when the heart beats (blood is being pumped)
- Diastolic – This is the blood pressure when the heart is at rest (blood is not being pumped)
Blood pressure is typically expressed with systolic over diastolic (see chart below).
According to the CDC, if your systolic is 140 mmHg or higher and your diastolic is 90 mmHg or higher, you can be diagnosed with high blood pressure.
|Blood Pressure Levels||Systolic||Diastolic|
|Normal||less than 120 mmHG||less than 80 mmHg|
|Elevated (Pre-Hypertension)||120-139 mmHg||80-89 mmHg|
|High (Hypertension)||140+ mmHg||90+ mmHg|
Unfortunately, high blood pressure often shows very few symptoms. A person can have high blood pressure for a long time yet be completely unaware of their condition.
Think about an iceberg, for a moment. On the surface, only about 10% of an iceberg is visible. Of course, 90% or so is hidden.
This is a lot like hypertension, especially when it’s still in the pre-hypertension stages.
Over time, blood pushing against the walls of your arteries will lead to damage to your heart, blood vessels, kidney and other organs.
Let’s talk about each one, in greater depth.
Damage To Your Heart
It’s your heart’s job to pump blood throughout the body. If your blood pressure is too high, your heart can be damaged:
- Coronary artery disease – arteries are narrowed and prevent blood from flowing effectively. You may experience chest pain or irregular heartbeat.
- Enlarged left heart – high blood pressure forces your heart to work harder. Your left ventricle thickens, and limits its ability to pump blood. Your risk of heart attack increases.
- Heart failure – your heart’s muscles can weaken and fail over time due to extra pressure.
Damage To Your Brain
Your brain requires a healthy, regular supply of blood. High blood pressure increases your risk of:
- Transient ischemic attack (TIA) – also known as a mini-stroke. TIAs are brief, temporary interruptions of blood supply to the brain. They’re considered a warning sign for a full stroke.
- Stroke – occurs when your brain is deprived of nutrients and oxygen, causing brain cells to die. High blood pressure increases your risk for stroke by weakening the brain’s blood vessels and/or causing blood clots to form and reach your brain.
- Dementia – a disease of the brain, leading to memory, speech, thinking, vision and movement difficulties. Dementia risk rises with high blood pressure because it can interrupt blood supply to the brain.
Damage To Your Eyes
High blood pressure can damage the delicate vessels of your eyes:
- Eye blood vessel damage – also known as retinopathy. Retinopathy can cause bleeding of the eye, blurred vision or complete loss of vision.
- Fluid buildup under the eye – also known as choroidopathy. Chorodiopathy occurs when fluid increases under the retina and may result in distorted vision or scarring of the eye.
- Nerve damage – also known as optic neuropathy. Blocked blood flow damages the optic nerve and increases your risk for bleeding of the eye or vision loss.
Damage To Your Kidneys
Your kidneys depend on healthy blood vessels to filter fluid and waste from your body. High blood pressure can injure the blood vessels in your kidneys:
- Kidney failure – high blood pressure is one of the most common causes of kidney failure. Damage to vessels prevent the kidneys from effectively filtering waste from your blood. Kidney dialysis may eventually become required.
- Kidney scarring – also known as glomerulosclerosis. Damage to tiny blood vessels, called glomeruli, can occur with high blood pressure. As a result, your kidneys may be unable to filter wastes effectively.
- Kidney artery aneurysm – occur when there is a bulge in the kidney’s blood vessel wall. Over time, high blood pressure can weaken the blood vessels in the kidneys, increasing your chance of developing an aneurysm. These aneurysms, if they rupture, can cause life-threatening internal bleeding.
Aside from knowing what high blood pressure can do to your body, especially over a long period of time, it’s also important to know an underwriter is going to look at how you’re treating it before they make their decision.
Certain methods are fine, but others can be a little more complicated.
Can Your Treatment For High Blood Pressure Hurt Your Rates?
The good news is, excellent treatment options do exist.
In fact, there’s a sliding scale for treatment goals, depending on your health and age. The Mayo Clinic provides the following recommendations:
|< 150/90 mmHg||A healthy adult who is aged 60 or more|
|< 140/90 mmHg||A healthy adult who is 60 or younger|
|<140/90 mmHg||Those who are affected by diabetes, kidney disease, or other CAD risks|
The most common method of treatment is a prescription. While they are suggested to be in addition to lifestyle changes, like diet and exercise, cessation of smoking, and limiting alcohol use, certain medications can have more immediate impacts.
Common Medications Used To Treat Hypertension
- Thiazide diuretics – sometimes called water pills, help your body eliminate excess fluid and reduce blood volume. Commonly the first drug prescribed to treat high blood pressure.
- Beta blockers – increase the size of blood vessels and decrease the workload of your heart. Your heart will beat slower and with less force. Often prescribed in combination with another blood pressure drug.
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors – block the formation of chemicals that cause narrowing in blood vessels. Your blood vessels relax. High blood pressure patients with kidney disease are often prescribed an ACE inhibitor.
- Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs) – relax blood vessels by blocking the action of chemicals that narrow blood vessels. Similar to ACE inhibitors, ARBs are typically prescribed to those with kidney disease.
- Calcium channel blockers – work by relaxing the muscles of your blood vessels. Some slow your heart rate.
- Renin inhibitors – reduces the production of renin in your kidneys, an enzyme that initiates a chemical process responsible for increasing blood pressure.
- If standard medications do not work, your physician may prescribe:
- Alpha blockers
- Alpha-beta blockers
- Central-acting agents
- Aldosterone antagonists
When you go to apply for life insurance, you’ll want a list of any medication you’re currently taking, in addition to what your daily dose is, and how many times a day you take it. This will all be considered by the underwriter (including any changes your doctor has made to your regimen).
Here’s the bottom line.
High blood pressure can silently damage your body for years before you realize something is wrong. It’s treatable, though. Health complications due to high blood pressure are dramatically decreased with treatment and lifestyle changes.
How High Blood Pressure Affects Your Life Insurance
Even if you have high blood pressure, you can still purchase life insurance.
Insurance companies look to make sure you’re taking proper precautions to keep your blood pressure under control. They do this by assessing your risk to them, and they adjust your premiums accordingly.
Specifically, they want to know:
- How long you’ve had high blood pressure
- How effectively can your high blood pressure be controlled
- What other medical conditions you have
- If you’re a tobacco user
Again, let’s talk about each one, more specifically.
Date of Diagnosis
This is strictly to know how long you’ve dealt with hypertension so the underwriter can gauge what potential harm has been caused within your body. Someone who has had high blood pressure for a long time is a higher risk than someone who has been diagnosed over a short time.
Of course, this assume proper care and treatment.
Degree Of Control
High blood pressure can be effectively treated through lifestyle changes and, possibly, medication. It’s no surprise a successful treatment is viewed favorably by life insurance underwriters.
But just because you’re on medication, doesn’t mean you’re effectively controlling the symptoms and progression.
For many people, this is good news. About 70% of people can control their blood pressure with medication. If your medical records show your blood pressure responds well to medication, your premiums can decrease.
Even better, past high blood pressure isn’t usually a relevant factor in insurance premiums. If you’ve had high blood pressure in the past, but have successfully lowered your levels to normal, your insurance premiums should be unaffected.
Here’s what impacts what an underwriter would see as good control, or bad:
- Medications – what drugs (if any) have been prescribed to you?
- As mentioned above, you will be asked about: type, dosage and frequency of use for your prescription(s).
Keep in mind, high blood pressure medications are not always often viewed negatively by life insurance companies.
In fact, high blood pressure medications can be viewed favorably, if they demonstrate the ability to control your high blood pressure.
On the flip side, they can be viewed negatively if you’re constantly switching meds trying to find the right one. This shows your body is not responding well.
Another aspect is your overall health history.
Overall Health And Other Medical Conditions
It’s common to have other medical conditions, in addition to high blood pressure. Life insurance companies will want to know about them.
Remember, they are in the business of assessing risk. To asses this risk, they do have the ability to look back into your medical history to see what other issues you’ve run into before, if any.
There’s a couple ways life insurance companies look into your medical records:
- Attending Physician Statements (APS) – summaries of your medical history from your physicians’ point of view.
- Keep in mind, HIPPA rules still apply and your privacy rights remain intact.
- Specific to high blood pressure, life insurance companies usually want to see records of your most recent 3-5 blood pressure readings.
- Medical Information Bureau (MIB) – a privately held organization who collects medical information about an applicant and stores it in a database.
- If you have previously applied for insurance, there may be information about prior applications stored at the MIB.
- The stored information can be shared with the life insurance company you’re currently applying with.
- You will be asked for your height and weight.
- Most life insurance companies use Body Mass Index (BMI readings) to interpret whether or not your weight poses a risk.
Do You Smoke (or use Tobacco)?
Finally, your use of tobacco will have a very high impact on your rates. Tobacco use, by itself, is a large risk to any insurance carrier.
If you haven’t already, consider stopping. It won’t have an impact in the first year of stopping, but rates will drop drastically thereafter.
A Few Simple Tips for Preparation Before Purchase
Before you apply for life insurance, there are a few steps you should take to prepare. This will increase your chances of approval and help you qualify for the best possible rating class.
Here’s what to do:
- Have regular check ups, as recommended!
- Follow your doctor’s orders to the letter! This includes utilizing all recommended treatments and medications.
- Keep your medical records updated! Insurance companies will penalize you if you’re records are incomplete.
- Stay as healthy as possible! All medical conditions – even those beyond high blood pressure – are considered when determining your premiums. The healthier you are, the lower your premiums will be.
Obviously, you don’t need us to tell you staying healthy is ideal.
But, some health issues are out of a person’s control. The solution is to simply follow your doctor’s advice and try to keep any health issues, including high blood pressure, as controlled as possible.
In general, if you diet, exercise and regularly take your blood pressure medication, your life insurance premiums will be lower.
If you don’t follow your doctor’s orders, and don’t take care of your health in general, your life insurance premiums will typically be higher.
Our recommendation: Focus on getting a policy at a premium you can afford.
Then, shift your focus to improving the class rating. You can do this with lab results and better control. Most companies allow you to re-evaluate yearly.
Now, let’s look at a few case studies to see what other people have done so you can have an idea of what to expect. Keep in mind these are examples and you’ll want to collaborate with an independent agent for a personalized quote.
Let’s Look at Some Real World Examples
The Best Outcome
Beth is a 54 year old woman who applied for life insurance. She was diagnosed with high blood pressure at the age of 51.
For the past three years, she changed her lifestyle. Her diet improved, and she started exercising every day.
She also began taking blood pressure medication. During this time, she stayed in close contact with her doctor, who keep her medical records updated.
She was Approved at a Preferred rating class.
The Okay Outcome
Jacob was diagnosed with high blood pressure at 55, and applied for life insurance at 56.
After diagnosis, his doctor prescribed him high blood pressure medication. While Jacob does take his medication as prescribed, he didn’t change his eating habits or begin an exercise routine.
As a result, his follow-up levels were relatively inconsistent.
When he applied for life insurance, he was approved for a Standard.
The Poor Outcome
George applied for life insurance at the age of 46. He figured his young age would help him secure a low premium.
Unfortunately, he was wrong.
The medical exam during his application revealed he had high blood pressure: 185/100.
Even worse, he hadn’t seen a doctor in nine years!
There was no indication he was prepared to take measures to lower his blood pressure, so the insurance company rated him as a high risk candidate.
When they discovered he also had diabetes, it was more than the underwriter was able to consider.
As a result, his application was denied.
George would be left to look at a guaranteed issue policy.
NOTE: if your health improves, you can always reapply for life insurance at a better rate. However, not to sound dark, but there’s no better time than today to have at least some coverage.
How To Get The Lowest Premiums You Can
Here’s exactly what you need to do in order to purchase the best life insurance policy you could qualify for:
- Partner Up – collaborate with an independent life insurance agent. You’ll want someone who has your best interest at heart, and is not held captive to a particular life insurance company. This way, you’ll receive multiple quotes from multiple carriers.
- Prepare Ahead of Time – be ready to communicate details about your high blood pressure and health history, in general. Have your physicians’ contact information on-hand. By preparing for the application and exam, you increase your chances of securing better rates.
Even if you have high blood pressure, you can still have superb quality life insurance with affordable premiums.
With assistance from your agent and doctor, as well as commitment by you to stay healthy, you can still obtain a policy which will provide for your family.