Can I get Life Insurance if I have Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a respitory disease that can potentially lead to life-threating health problems. Because respitory problems can elevate your mortality risk, it can potentially impact your insurance rates. Luckily insurability of people with sleep apnea has improved drastically in the last decade.

Still, life insurance with pre existing medical conditions, such as sleep apnea, is carefully assessed by select insurers. Whether newly diagnosed or a long time sleep apnea sufferer, you’ll benefit from reading this article. To those of you who have been left frustrated about declined applications, loaded premiums or insurance exclusions we would like to set your mind at ease. Sleep apnea sufferers can often get affordable life insurance.

In this article we’ll explain why your life insurance premiums might be affected by sleep apnea and what questions you need to prepare for when applying for a policy. We’ll also look at what you can do to lower your premiums.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep Apnea is a common breathing condition that affects over 1 million Australians. That’s 5% of the population! Imagine being jolted awake because you stopped breathing or going into a panic because your partner’s incessant snoring is replaced by 20 seconds of dead silence. These attacks can occur up to a 120 times an hour during sleep.

There are two types of Sleep Apnea:

(OSA) Obstructive Sleep Apnea

This is the most common type and occurs when the airway collapses during sleep. The soft tissue in the back of your throat relaxes and blocks the airway, often causing you to snore loudly. There is no airflow, but there is still effort to breath.

(CSA) Central Sleep Apnea

Less prevalent, only about 10% of patients with sleep apnea have CSA. It involves the central nervous system, occurring when the brain fails to signal the muscles to control breathing. People with central sleep apnea seldom snore. There is no airflow and no respitory effort.

Having either or both types of sleep apnea can cause reduction of oxygen in the blood, which in turn may cause cardiovascular conditions such as high blood pressure, and make it harder to control other conditions, such as diabetes.

Now that the question “what is sleep apnea” has been answered, carefully check your insurance policy to confirm that you are indeed covered for this condition. You may discover that your policy excludes pre-existing medical conditions, in which case you might want to consider an alternative policy if you did have this condition prior to starting the policy.

life-insurance-for-sleep-apnea-people

Sleep Apnea Life Insurance

Sleep apnea will play a role in both your ability to obtain life insurance, and the potential premium level that you will have to pay for it. However, a lot will depend on the severity of your sleep apnea and the insurers’ opinion of the condition.

A substantial amount of data will be retrieved from your sleep study, but the most crucial is the apnea-hypopnea index (AHI).

Apnea + Hypoapnea divided by hours of sleep = AHI

An apnea is a complete cessation of breathing for 10 seconds or longer. A hypopnea is a constricted breath that lasts 10 seconds or longer. The index number is the number of apneas and hypopneas you experience each hour whilst sleeping.

  • Mild sleep apnea (AI < 20) sufferers will generally pay the same amount for their life insurance than a non-suffering person.
  • Moderate cases (AI between 21 and 30) The probability of having to pay a higher premium for the same amount of cover increases. However, complying with your doctor’s recommended treatment plan can reduce this.
  • Severe sleep apnea (AI of 31+ or unknown) sufferers may still be insurable so long as they have been compliant with their doctor’s treatment plan for at least a year and have the results of their most recent sleep study. Their life insurance rates, however, will generally be 100% to 200% higher. They might also find it difficult to obtain total and permanent disability cover, as well as income protection.

Your compliance to treatment will also play a significant role in your ability to receive affordable life insurance cover.

Why are my premiums affected?

Anything that increases risk for the insurer will lead to an increase in the premiums you have to pay. However, if your sleep apnea is well-managed with lifestyle changes and/or treatment, you have a good chance of receiving preferred life insurance rates.

Your premiums will be determined by:

  • Which type of sleep apnea you have, obstructive or central.
  • When you were diagnosed.
  • What medications/ treatment(s) you’re on.
  • Your compliance with the treatment plan.
  • Whether you smoke.
  • If you quit smoking, and when you quit.
  • The presence of any other medical conditions.
  • Whether you’ve ever been hospitalised for the condition.
  • Date and results of your last X-rays, ECG etc.

They key to affordable cover is in working with a specialist broker, one who has access to a number of companies. This is what makes LifeInuranceDirect so useful. We know exactly which companies do a good job of underwriting life insurance for sleep apnea sufferers and we can help you find them.

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When you apply for life insurance and compare quotes, your underwriter will typically rate you by placing you in a risk class, defined by their guidelines. The better your risk class, the lower your premiums.

You are more likely to receive an accurate assessment when you fully and correctly disclose all personal and medical information to your adviser. Underwriters rely on the truth and accuracy of this information to help them determine your rate class. The more details you provide, the better your possibility of a preferred outcome. If you are unsure about your facts, rather ask for more time from your adviser to verify the facts or advise them that you are unsure.

What will get me the best life insurance rates?

  • When your Sleep Apnea is well controlled with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine or you are fully complying with your recommended treatment plan.
  • Normal stress test results.
  • Good family history.

Be prepared: What details will I need to provide?

Your results may be better if you are prepared for the questions of the pre-assessment. Here’s what you can expect:

  • Age
  • Height and Weight
  • Occupation
  • Date of onset
  • Is your sleep apnea improving or getting worse?
  • Blood pressure
  • Are you suffering from depression?
  • Was a sleep study performed? If yes, what is the AHI or AI reading before and after treatment?
  • What treatment are you currently receiving? E.g. CPAP machine, surgery, mouth guard and/or mouth splint.
  • If a CPAP machine is being used for treatment, provide an SD card print out. This shows that the machine is actually being used and performing optimally.
  • Are you experiencing any ongoing symptoms? If yes, be prepared to elaborate.

Please Note: The more accurate and comprehensive the information you provide, the more accurate the pre assessment of your condition will be. This could make a big difference in your choice of insurer and the potential outcome.

Be Aware: There are serious ramifications when misrepresenting your answers to questions on an insurance application. If you did not disclose the fact that you had been diagnosed with sleep apnea, the company may deny your claim and refuse to pay a death benefit.

Do tell the life insurer if you have ever been turned down or charged extra for life insurance, whatever the reason.

Need to know: A high body mass index (BMI), determined by your height and weight, could lead to an additional loading. If your sleep apnea is not under control and you have a high AI/AHI you may not be able to get life insurance cover.

What can I do to improve my ratings?

You need to make changes in how you live and the way you sleep:

  • Lose weight if you’re overweight. People who are overweight have extra tissue in the back of their throat, which can fall down over the airway, blocking the flow of air.
  • Exercise regularly. Being physically active can have a major positive effect on the duration and quality of your sleep.
  • Avoid alcohol and medicines such as sedatives before bed.
  • Stop smoking. It increases inflammation and fluid retention in your throat and upper airway.
  • Avoid caffeine and heavy meals within two hours of going to bed.
  • Maintain regular sleeping hours.

Sleep Apnea can cause other health problems

side-effects-from-sleep-apnea
Remember, the severity of your sleep apnea will not only influence your life insurance approval, but can also lead to more serious problems, like:

  • High blood pressure
  • Frequent headaches
  • Abnormal heart rhythm, heart failure and coronary artery disease
  • Stroke
  • Depression
  • Diabetes

For the sake of affordable life insurance and your own peace of mind, fully disclose your condition to the insurer, keep your weight down and your blood pressure low.

Conclusion

The key to improving your premiums for life insurance with pre existing medical conditions, is treatment. If you’re managing the condition, the payoff isn’t just for your health, but also your wallet.

Bottom line, if you have a pre-existing medical condition and want the absolute best chance at affordable cover, make sure to carefully compare different life insurance companies and choose the one most favourable toward people diagnosed with sleep apnea.

If we’ve missed a question or concern you might have regarding this topic, please let us know.

Published: October 27, 2015

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