High blood pressure, or hypertension, affects roughly one in every three adults. This equates to more than 75 million Americans. Unfortunately, this affects not only your health, but also your ability to purchase life insurance.
High blood pressure is listed as a primary or contributing cause of death for approximately 326,000 people each year, and costs $70 billion in terms of health care services, medications, and lost productivity.
But the good news is, 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.
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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 can lead to heart failure or heart disease, stroke, or even kidney failure, among other health issues.
Knowing more about high blood pressure and its associated risks is important to understanding why it affects your life insurance rates.
What Is High Blood Pressure?
Your “blood pressure” is actually expressed by the measurement of two different pressures: systolic and diastolic.
- Systolic: The top number of your reading, which measures the force of blood while your heart is pumping.
- Diastolic: The bottom number of your reading, which measures the force of blood when your heart is at rest.
According to the CDC, if your systolic is 140 mm Hg or higher and your diastolic is 90 mm Hg or higher (usually expressed as 140/90), you can be diagnosed with high blood pressure.
|Blood Pressure Levels||Systolic (mm Hg)||Diastolic (mm Hg)|
|Normal||less than 120||less than 80|
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, but this means 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 too forcefully against the walls of your arteries will lead to damage to your heart, blood vessels, kidneys, and other organs.
Let’s talk about each risk 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, resulting in the following conditions:
- Coronary Artery Disease: arteries are narrowed and prevent blood from flowing effectively, causing chest pain or irregular heartbeat.
- Left Ventricular Hypertrophy (LVH): the left chamber of the heart thickens, and limits its ability to pump blood, increasing risk of heart attack.
- Heart failure: the heart muscle can weaken and fail over time, causing fatigue and shortness of breath.
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 of 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 causing these conditions:
- Retinopathy: damage to the eye’s blood vessels that can cause bleeding of the eye, blurred vision, or complete loss of vision.
- Choroidopathy: occurs when fluid builds up under the retina, resulting in distorted vision or scarring of the eye.
- Optic neuropathy: blocked blood flow damages the optic nerve and increases the 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, leading to:
- Kidney failure: damage to blood vessels prevents the kidneys from effectively filtering waste from the blood. Kidney dialysis may eventually become required.
- Glomerulosclerosis: damage to tiny blood vessels, called glomeruli, can cause scarring, and your kidneys may be unable to filter waste effectively.
- Renal aneurysm: weakening of the kidney’s blood vessel wall causes it to bulge. If the resulting aneurysm ruptures, it can cause life-threatening internal bleeding.
Aside from knowing what high blood pressure can do to your body over time, it’s also important to know an insurance underwriter is going to look at how your hypertension is being treated before making their decision.
The good news is, excellent treatment options do exist. And success with these treatments can help your chances of getting life insurance.
The most common method of treatment is medication. While prescription drugs are suggested to be used in addition to lifestyle changes, like diet and exercise, cessation of smoking, and limiting alcohol use, certain medications can have more immediate impacts on hypertension.
Common Medications Used to Treat Hypertension
- Thiazide diuretics (AKA “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. Causes the heart to beat slower and with less force. Often prescribed in combination with another blood pressure drug.
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors: relax blood vessels by blocking the action of chemicals that narrow blood vessels. High blood pressure patients with kidney disease are often prescribed an ACE inhibitor.
- Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs): similar action to ACE inhibitors. ARBs are typically prescribed to those with kidney disease.
- Calcium channel blockers: prevent calcium from entering heart and artery cells, relaxing the blood vessels. Some also slow heart rate.
- Renin inhibitors: reduce 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 apply for life insurance, you’ll want a list of any medications 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).
Health complications due to high blood pressure are dramatically decreased with treatment and lifestyle changes.
All of this is important as you apply for coverage.
Insurance companies want to make sure you’re taking proper precautions to keep your blood pressure under control.
Specifically, they want to know:
- How long you’ve had high blood pressure
- How well controlled your high blood pressure is
- 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 a short time ago.
Of course, this assumes proper care and treatment.
Degree Of Control
Medication will play a large part in how an underwriter views the level of control your hypertension is under.
Just because you’re on medication, doesn’t mean you’re effectively controlling the symptoms and progression of hypertension.
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, if you’ve had high blood pressure in the past, but have successfully lowered your levels to normal, your insurance premiums should be unaffected.
In this way, high blood pressure medications can be viewed favorably by insurance companies, 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.
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 assess this risk, they do have the ability to look back into your medical history to see what other issues you’ve had, if any.
There are 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.
- Height/Weight: used to assess your Body Mass Index (BMI).
- You will be asked for your current height and weight.
- Most life insurance companies use BMI readings to interpret whether or not your weight poses a risk.
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 quitting. It won’t have an impact in the first year after stopping, but rates will drop drastically thereafter.
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 by your physician.
- 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 your 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.
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.
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’s worked on changing 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 keeps 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 results were relatively inconsistent.
When he applied for life insurance, he was approved for a Standard rate.
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, there’s no better time than today to have at least some coverage.
Buy a little coverage now, just in case, and revisit the situation once a year to secure more affordable coverage.
Here’s exactly what you need to do in order to purchase the best life insurance policy you could qualify for:
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.
Focus Your Efforts
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 improved lab results or other proof of better control. Most companies allow you to re-evaluate yearly.
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 a personal commitment to stay healthy, you can obtain a policy which will provide for your family.