Life insurance rates are a reflection of the risk each policyholder presents to the insurance company. Life insurance, in fact all insurance, is based on the concept of sharing risk. A large number of people pay a small percent of potential insurance claims so that the beneficiaries of those who die can receive a large amount relative to what they may have paid.

Life insurance companies are careful not to insure (or they charge higher rates for) people who statistically, because of medical conditions or riskier behavior, may die prematurely. If they took people with a “higher risk,” this would eventually raise rates for others who are healthy and want insurance because the life insurance companies would be paying out more than they collect in premiums from all of their policyholders. Too little premium for too many claims could also harm a company to the point of it not being around to help the families of those who have policies with them. An insurance company has to be prudent so that they are there to serve all the policyholders when they’re needed most.

Underwriting: By screening those people who apply for insurance, rates are kept down. This process of screening and reviewing who gets what rate is called underwriting.

Insurance underwriting is not an exact science: Not every life insurance company looks at situations in the same way. That’s where a good agent comes in. One who knows the insurance companies and which ones are better fits for each individual’s situation.

What kinds of concerns do life insurance companies have?
The insurance companies are looking at health risks that one’s physician looks for. Use of tobacco, high cholesterol, cholesterol ratios, high triglycerides, one’s height/weight ratio, history of diabetes and any condition or activity that could decrease a person’s life span.

Summary of what life insurance rates are based on:

  1. Age
  2. Health status
  3. Build (i.e. height/weight ratio)
  4. Tobacco Use
  5. Gender, a female receives lower rates than a male of the same age because statistically, females live longer.
  6. Family medical history of parents and siblings
  7. Lifestyle: For example, does one travel to dangerous areas of the world? Does one skydive? Race cars? Etc.

How does the insurance company determine your health category? 
Depending on your age and the amount of insurance applied for, different questions are asked. For smaller amounts of insurance at younger ages, the insurance company will ask about your medical history. Sometimes, a physical exam is required (paid for by the insurance company) and includes some testing and lab work. Also, you give permission to the insurance company to review your medical records. Based on your health history, medical exam and other factors, the company then places you in a rating class. These rating classes are titled with names such as super preferred, preferred, regular or standard. Each of these categories has a different rate, further modified by your age and gender. If you have had some medical challenges, you may still be offered insurance with an extra rate. This is called  “rated” or “impaired risk” in the insurance industry.

What if you have had a medical history with some problems? 
This is where it’s important to find the right agent. There are agents that have a lot of experience placing life insurance for those with impaired risks. There are agents that have access to numerous insurance companies and others that represent just one or just a few. Shop for the right agent. Some online companies have access to numerous companies.

What does the insurance physical exam consist of?
For certain amounts of life insurance, the company will set up a physical exam for you, usually at your home or office. A nurse, paramedic or in some cases a physician will check your weight, blood pressure and do other testing and in some cases take a blood and/or urine sample. For larger amounts of insurance, more tests, which could include an EKG or X-ray, might be done. Your blood and urine samples will be analyzed for indications of diseases, cholesterol levels and any indications of diabetes, kidney problems, liver problems and other problems. The samples will also be screened for the presence of nicotine and certain medications along with testing for illegal drugs.

What can you do to lower your insurance rates?
First, shop well. Get quotes from numerous companies. Each insurance company determines what comprises each rating class.

What do you do if you know you have a health history that may affect rates? 
Communicate your history to your insurance agent about the difficulty when you first discuss life insurance policies. Experienced insurance agents know that some life insurance companies charge lower rates for certain medical conditions than others. Therefore, they will look for a company that may raise its premiums less or not at all for that particular condition.

Can your rate be lowered after you have your policy? 
If you substantially improve your health,  you can alert the insurance company and see if the life insurance company will lower your rates. There’s no risk in attempting to improve your rate after you have a policy because the contract that already exists can’t be changed after you have it but it is possible to decrease the premium or lower your rate class with evidence of improved health.