According to the Centers for Disease Control, high blood pressure is a relatively common medical issue that affects approximately 32% of American adults.
However, recently the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Cardiology revised the current blood pressure guidelines. According to the new guidelines, an individual is considered to be hypertensive if their average blood pressure is 130/80 mmHg rather than the previous standard of 140/90 mmHg.
This change raises the amount of U.S. adults affected to 46%, which is likely to affect life insurance rates for applicants in the future.
The National Institute of Health believes that the change in the hypertension guidelines will lead to improved health and lower the risks of stroke and heart disease.
Can You Get Life Insurance with High Blood Pressure?
High blood pressure, also commonly referred to as hypertension, is considered to be a silent disease since most people affected generally don’t have symptoms. In fact, you will likely discover you have blood pressure issues while seeing a physician for an unrelated matter or annual exam.
However, the downside to not having symptoms is that high blood pressure can be a symptom of a more dangerous underlying condition.
Studies have shown that individuals with high blood pressure have a higher risk of other conditions such as heart attack, stroke, aneurysm, or even kidney failure, to name a few.
Whether an applicant can qualify for life insurance with high blood pressure depends on five essential aspects:
- If there any other health issues present
- When you were first diagnosed with high blood pressure
- Whether you are managing your condition
- Your weight
- Whether you have other risk factors like drinking alcohol or smoking
Generally, a person can qualify for life insurance with high blood pressure as long as no other more serious health conditions are present and if they can demonstrate they are following their physician’s advice for managing their blood pressure.
The rate you’ll be charged will depend on the health class that you’re being assigned after your underwriter has received and reviewed the information they require to properly calculate your risk to the insurance company.
What Factors do Life Insurance Companies Look At?
Although medical underwriting guidelines vary from company to company, they all share a data collection process in order to evaluate your risk.
The data concerning any health issues you report is typically gathered from five separate sources:
- Physician reports – The underwriter will request a report from your doctor or specialist who is treating you for your high blood pressure and any underlying health conditions.
- Hospital records – If you have been hospitalized for treatment of hypertension or any related conditions.
- Life Insurance medical exam – A typical life insurance medical exam consists of weight and height measurement, blood pressure measurement, blood and urine sample, and questions about your health and the health of your immediate family.
- Medical Information Bureau – An MIB report will be ordered to find out if you’ve applied for life insurance in the past and were either rated or denied coverage.
- RX report – Your underwriter will order a report from a national prescription drug database to verify what meds you have been prescribed currently and in the past.
The rates you will qualify for will depend on whether you are Stage 1, Stage 2, or Crisis Stage.
|Blood Pressure Reading||Systolic||Diastolic|
|Hypertension Stage 1||130 to 139||80 to 89|
|Hypertension Stage 2||140 or above||90 or above|
|Hypertension Crisis||Over 180||Over 120|
Life Insurance Company Blood Pressure Guidelines
The blood pressure guidelines, although comparably similar, do vary by life insurance companies. Many providers allow for higher blood pressure readings for older individuals, like around 60 or so.
The last time the AHA addressed the blood pressure guidelines was in 2003. Life insurance companies do not revise these guidelines too often. An examination of 10 comparable life insurance providers provides insight into the fact that these guidelines are the same as they were five years ago, especially for the Preferred Plus and Preferred rating classes.
With the new guidelines implemented, more U.S. adults will qualify for Preferred Plus and Preferred. However, given the significant change to the new guideline provided by the AHA, it’s reasonable to believe that life insurance companies will tighten their own guidelines regarding hypertension because of the new consideration for systolic and diastolic levels.
Although insurance all insurance companies do not use the same health classifications, the rating classes that are common to almost all companies are:
- Super Preferred (Preferred Plus) – This is the best rating available. Blood pressure must be lower than 141over 86 consistently. Some carriers will allow higher readings for seniors who are otherwise in excellent health.
- Preferred – For applicants to receive a preferred rating, their blood pressure must be at 145 over 90 or lower. Again, leeway is typically offered for seniors in otherwise excellent health.
- Standard Plus – A standard plus rate requires a blood pressure reading not higher than 152 over 92.
- Standard – To qualify for a standard rating, the applicant’s blood pressure must be less than 161 over 91.
- Table rating (1 – 16) – If an applicant cannot qualify for any of the above-mentioned rate classes and the insurance company is still willing to accept the risk; the company will offer a table rating that the applicant can accept or decline.
What about the Medications I’m Taking?
While the new guidelines provided by the AHA may have people wondering if they will need to begin blood pressure medication, the reality is that it is too early to tell. The fact of the matter is that consistently elevated blood pressure is responsible for a substantial number of preventable heart and stroke disease-related deaths. Most are not aware that they have the condition because they may not notice any symptoms.
According to the authors of the newest guidelines, as described by the AHA news brief, only a small percentage more of U.S. adults will require hypertension medication. If you are already prescribed hypertension medication, or it is now recommended, do not spend too much time worrying about your life insurance rates.
Most life insurance providers allow for the use of hypertension medication for their Preferred Plus and Preferred rating class members as long as there are no other underlying conditions present. You may still qualify for the lowest rates available if your blood pressure is optimally controlled with medication.
If an applicant’s high blood pressure is listed as Primary (essential) hypertension, this means that no obvious cause is indicated. Primary Hypertension is the most common type of high blood pressure.
When secondary hypertension is diagnosed, this means that the elevated blood pressure is due to an underlying health condition such as kidney disease, sleep apnea, preeclampsia, thyroid problems, or certain prescription drugs that affect the patient’s blood pressure.
Life Insurance Riders for High Blood Pressure
Almost every life insurance company will allow the applicant to add various riders to their insurance policy to broaden coverage and add living benefits for the insured.
Since high blood pressure might be a pre-curser to a terminal, critical, or chronic illness, applicants should consider adding a Living Benefit rider. Having a living benefit rider on the policy provides for the insurance company to advance the insured a portion of the death benefit to help with medical expenses while you are alive.
This benefit is an advance of the death benefit and not a loan from the insurance company. Any amounts advanced to the insured will be deducted from the insurance settlement paid to the beneficiary.
Additionally, some living benefit riders will pay an advance on the death benefit if the insured becomes disabled and cannot work.
Natural Ways to Lower Your Blood Pressure
There are multiple ways that you can control or lower your blood pressure without the use of medications. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends the following lifestyle changes:
- Eat a well-balanced, low sodium (salt) diet.
- Limit alcohol consumption
- Enjoy regular physical activity.
- Manage and reduce stress
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Quit smoking
In addition to the above, further changes include increasing your potassium intake by adding bananas, salmon, and avocados. Focus on cardiovascular exercise to improve heart health. Reducing weight by 5% while maintaining daily exercise and a healthy diet will decrease your blood pressure by nearly 5-11points (mmHg) on average. It is recommended that men consume no more than two alcoholic beverages a day and that women consume only one a day.
When applying for term life insurance, most providers will require an in-home medical examination. Part of this exam includes recording the results of your blood pressure levels taken three different times. The average of these three readings is then applied to their company’s guidelines. The following recommendations will assist you in obtaining your lowest possible blood pressure measurements:
- Do not perform any strenuous activity for at least 24 hours before the exam.
- Abstain from alcohol consumption for at least 24 hours before the exam
- Limit caffeine intake 24 hours prior to the exam, with absolutely NO caffeine for at least 8 hours before the exam.
- Remain calm during the exam by focusing on slowing your breaths
If you remain nervous about the exam, even after following the recommendations, request that your blood pressure is taken at the end of the exam when you are most likely to be relaxed. Even if your blood pressure readings return higher than normal, your agent, physician, and life insurance provider can work together to potentially improve your class rating.
Frequently Asked Questions
What do insurance companies consider high blood pressure?
Most life insurance companies consider any reading higher than 130 over 80 as high blood pressure. This reading falls into the Stage 1 category.
If blood pressure levels improve, will my rates decrease?
Yes. If your blood pressure has come down because of health and lifestyle management, your agent can submit proof of your improved blood pressure readings to your insurance company and request a lower rate class on your life insurance policy.
Your agent will likely submit a new application to another insurance company as well as a backup in case your current carrier is unwilling to put you in a more favorable health class.
Moreover, if your high blood pressure worsens after your policy has been issued, your insurance company cannot increase your rates or reduce your death benefit.
Do I need to take a medical exam to be approved?
No, not always. Many life insurance companies offer “no exam life insurance” and base the medical underwriting on your answers on the application, a report from the Medical Information Bureau, and a report from the Prescription Drug database.
However, if you know you have high blood pressure and fail to disclose it on your application, the insurance company will likely investigate a death claim resulting from natural causes in the first two years of coverage. If it’s discovered that you knew your blood pressure was high but omitted it on the application, the death claim would likely be denied.
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