Life Insurance with Hepatitis C
Lately, there has been a lot of talk about Hepatitis C because of new treatments that are being marketed. Part of the advertising points out that many baby boomers should be tested for the disease because many people who are infected are unaware since symptoms may not appear for up to 20 years or more. Why are they targeting baby boomers? Because Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus, it is easily transmitted through unprotected sex, needle sharing, transfusions, and any other type of activity where infected blood might be transmitted from one person to another.
Does sharing a cocaine straw or rolled-up dollar bill sound familiar? It’s interesting that baby boomers are being targeted. Maybe it’s because this is the age group that went through the party days before they knew of the dangers? Those of us who were young adults in the sixties and seventies spent a lot of our evenings partying in a manner that wasn’t even considered dangerous “back in the day.” But I digress. Hepatitis C is a dangerous disease that is easily spread, and most people that have it don’t even know it.
Hepatitis C – Overview
Hepatitis C is a serious disease that is caused by a virus that infects your liver. Over time, this disease can lead to severe conditions such as cirrhosis, liver cancer, and liver failure. Most people who are infected with the virus are unaware until they already have damage to their liver. This damage can take many years to manifest, and during that time there are few symptoms if any.
Although some people who contract the disease and have it for only a short time ( acute hepatitis c) and then get better, most people that are infected go on to develop long-term, or chronic, hepatitis C. Even though the disease is considered to be very serious, many people can manage it and lead full and active lives. In fact, recently drugs have been introduced that can cure the disease within about six to eight weeks.
Even though most people infected with Hepatitis C have no symptoms when first infected, over time there is damage to the liver that presents several symptoms:
- Unusual fatigue
- Pain in the joints
- Pain in the belly and liver area
- Itchy skin
- Sore muscles
- Dark urine
- Jaundice (yellowish eyes and skin)
With few or no Symptoms, How do I know if I’m Infected?
Most people infected with Hepatitis C find out accidentally, usually after having a blood test for insurance purposes, blood donation tests, or as the result of a routine medical checkup.
If your blood test reveals the possibility of being infected, your doctor will normally order a specific blood test to confirm you have been infected. Once confirmed, the doctor is likely to order a liver biopsy, MRI, CT scan, or ultrasound to determine your liver’s health and to make sure you do not have liver cancer.
If, after confirming that your liver has not yet been damaged, you can take your time to decide if you wish to go forward with treatment and an eventual cure. The newest drugs being marketed as a cure are very expensive which explains the amount of television advertising in the last few years. For example, the new drug Harvoni is advertised as a cure for Hepatitis C, but the company does not advertise that the treatment can cost over $90,000. Fortunately, there are some holistic products available that can prolong your need for treatment.
Why do Baby Boomers have Hep C?
Even though anyone can catch Hepatitis C, more than 75% of the adults that are infected with Hep C are considered baby boomers (people born between 1945 and 1965). The reasons for this are not perfectly understood. Nonetheless, most infected baby boomers are believed to have become infected in the 70s and 80s, when the infection rates of hepatitis C transmission were the highest. Given that most people can live with hepatitis C for decades without knowing it, many baby boomers may be living with an infection they obtained many years ago.
Due to the size of the baby boomer adult population, and because baby boomers are aging, hepatitis C infection is considered a silent, emerging epidemic. The CDC calls it “an unrecognized health crisis in the United States.” That’s why the CDC and other health officials recommend one-time hepatitis C testing for every baby boomer.
Even though injection drug use is a high risk factor, the leading reason baby boomers are more likely to have hepatitis C is almost certainly due to unsafe medical procedures at the time. In decades past, there was no protocol or screening strategy to check if the blood supply was free from the hepatitis virus. A 2016 study by The Lancet points to unsafe medical procedures of the time rather than drug use as the primary reason behind hepatitis C transmission in baby boomers.
How Will it Impact Life Insurance Rates?
How Hepatitis C impacts life insurance rates depends on the information that is received during the underwriting process. An insurance underwriter is going to need the status of your disease and the existing damage, if any, that has been done to your liver. If in your case, you had acute Hepatitis C that has since gone away, your insurance rates will have minimal to no impact. If, however, you have chronic Hepatitis C, it becomes a completely different ballgame.
What is the Underwriting Process?
Before we discuss the underwriting requirements that you will typically have to satisfy, you need to understand that you should apply with an insurer who specializes in high-risk cases. If you apply with a typical online life insurer that offers quick policies with little underwriting, you’ll likely be turned down for coverage.
When you apply for insurance coverage, you will complete the insurance application that will contain many health questions about your health and some about your family’s health. Once the underwriter discovers that you have Hepatitis C, you will likely be given a supplemental application specific to the disease. Along with these questionnaires, the following tests will be ordered by the underwriter:
- Life Insurance Medical exam – This exam typically includes measuring your height and weight, blood pressure and pulse, and providing a blood and urine sample for analysis.
- Attending Physician Statements – These are statements and reports from the doctor that diagnosed and treated you for Hepatitis C or any other health condition (typically over the previous ten years). These reports will include any tests that were administered after your diagnosis.
- MIB (medical information bureau) report and ScriptCheck – These reports provide information to the insurer if you’ve ever been rated or declined life insurance and any prescriptions drugs you’ve taken over a period of time.
- MVR – This is a motor vehicle report that provides any driving violations over the last five years.
Once all of this information has been gathered by the underwriter for review, a classification will be assigned to your case and transmitted to your agent. When the agent has a confirmed classification, he or she can deliver a formal quote for you to act on or decline.
What If I’m Declined because of Hepatitis C?
There is good news even if your case is declined. If you used an independent agent to submit your application, that agent would have alternative life insurance products, like guaranteed issue life that you can purchase without any requirement for medical information. Of course, this insurance will cost you more than a traditional life insurance policy, but it is certainly better than not having any insurance to pay for your final expenses after you die.
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