Your Medical History

When you wish to purchase life insurance, your insurance provider will request details of your current state of health and your medical history in order to calculate the cost of your premiums: the regular payments you make in exchange for the cover. The cost of the premiums will depend on the likelihood that the insurance company will be required to pay out in the near future; generally, the poorer your health the higher the cost of your premiums. In the case of term insurance, your insurer will assess the probability of your death within the timeframe covered by the policy.

A medical report from your General Practitioner (GP) or a medical examination may be required before you can be insured, especially where the sum assured (the money paid to your survivors in the event of your death or diagnosis with a terminal illness) is large, there is a family history of a particular illness or you have had or currently have health problems. The most common areas of concern for your insurance provider in terms of your health are weight, bowel conditions, depression/stress/anxiety, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, smoking and male homosexuality. These are explored in more detail below.

If there is a history of particular medical conditions in your family you are relatively likely to suffer from this same condition in the future, possibly requiring the insurance company to pay out before they had expected: this will affect the cost of your premiums. A family history of heart disease or cancer is likely to increase the cost of your premiums. Other concerns include: inherited diseases, heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer or cancers which appear at an early age.


Weight
If you are overweight, your chances of becoming obese or suffering from weight-related health problems are greatly increased. This increases the risk to your insurance provider that you could become seriously ill and die young, requiring them to make a pay out to your survivors before they had expected to do so. For this reason you will usually be required to provide your Body Mass Index, or BMI, when applying for life insurance. This index takes into account your height, weight and body fat to give your insurance provider an overview of the effect of your weight on your body and thus on your health. If you are significantly overweight, you can expect to pay higher insurance premiums.


Bowel Conditions
Certain bowel conditions will increase your premiums because they have a particularly adverse effect on your health. If you have a chronic bowel condition, your insurance provider will need details of the symptoms you have, their regularity and severity. They may also wish to know how the condition has developed over the last few years. Some conditions will not result in higher premiums, but others will incur extra costs. If you choose to take out critical illness cover you may avoid higher life insurance premiums.


Depression/Stress/Anxiety
The medical advances in terms of understanding and treating mental illnesses such as stress, anxiety and even depression have created greater acceptance of the sufferers. As a result, people suffering from stress, anxiety and/or mild depression will usually not be required to pay higher premiums because of their condition. However, if you suffer from severe depression, especially if you have a long history of the condition or were ever considered a suicide risk, you may find that your insurance premiums are more expensive. Mental illness is often excluded from critical illness cover, but terms and conditions will vary from provider to provider.


Diabetes
Unfortunately, if you suffer from diabetes you will almost always be required to pay higher premiums than a non-sufferer. Type I diabetes may increase the basic premium by as much as three hundred percent, whilst type II diabetes can increase premiums by one hundred percent. Insurance providers consider diabetes to be a very serious disease because of the severe damage it can cause to your body if it is not strictly controlled. Diabetes may be excluded from critical illness cover depending on your provider and their specific terms and conditions.


Cancer
If you have been diagnosed with any variety of cancer, your insurance provider will have to consider your specific circumstances and gather as much information as possible about the disease so that they can make an informed decision on the level of cover they can offer you. They will need to ascertain when the cancer appeared, what type of cancer it is, how advanced it is, what treatment you are receiving or have received and what your current state of health is, with regards to the cancer and its affect on your body.

You usually need to have been clear of any cancer for at least five years before an insurance company will consider your application for life insurance, and even then premiums can be high. However, if you have ever been diagnosed with lung cancer, one of the most aggressive forms of cancer, you may be hard-pressed to find a provider willing to insure you at all.


Smokers
If you are a smoker, you will usually have to pay higher life insurance premiums because insurance companies consider you to be at risk of serious illness and early death. It is not uncommon for basic policy premiums to be between fifty and one hundred percent higher for smokers. If you were a smoker but gave up more than twelve months ago you may be treated as a non-smoker by your life insurance provider. However, some insurance companies will require you to have given up at least five years ago to qualify as a non-smoker. Some insurers will be more lenient if you are a smoker of cigars and pipes exclusively, even treating you as a non-smoker.


Male Homosexuality
The Association of British Insurers (ABI) implemented a Statement of Best Practice on HIV and Insurance in October 2005. This statement presented insurers with a compulsory set of guidelines in the hope of bringing an end to sexual discrimination. In the past a life insurance provider had the right to demand gay people to take an HIV test and answer intrusive questions as part of a 'lifestyle questionnaire'. Under the new guidelines you should not be asked any questions on sexuality, sexually transmitted diseases or civil partnerships. Some insurers are however more accustomed to providing a fair service than others and therefore it is important to shop around for the best deal. If you feel that an insurance company is discriminating against you, you should consider making a complaint.

Since the 1980s when the AIDS scare resulted in a huge rise in premiums for male homosexuals, there is a lot less fear and a lot more knowledge of the disease. Consequently, insurance companies are much less likely to discriminate against homosexuals, with many considering the risk of HIV contraction within a civil partnership to be no higher than within a heterosexual marriage. ABI continues to research the risk represented by certain groups including male homosexuals, the results of which should affect the regulations of the whole life insurance market.

You do not need to declare any negative HIV tests that you have had to your insurance provider. Positive HIV tests should always be declared however, as failure to do so may render your policy void. Sexually transmitted infections must also be disclosed, but insurers will always judge them by their possible affect on your long-term health. One-off, minor infections may be ignored. Your insurance provider is allowed to ask you questions which enable them to calculate the risk of you contracting HIV; your sexual orientation, sexual lifestyle and any risks you take with your health will affect the premiums you need to pay.