Can I get Life Insurance if I have Sleep Apnea?

Yes, sleep apnea sufferers can get affordable life insurance. Life insurance with pre-existing medical conditions, such as sleep apnea, is carefully assessed. How much you’ll pay will vary between insurers. Depending on various factors, for example, your date of diagnoses, how severe your sleep apnea is and how effective the treatment an insurer might offer you standard rates or a much lower premium loading. It’s important to shop around and compare policies.

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.

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.

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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 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.

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Sleep Apnea can cause other health problems

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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

How Does Sleep Apnea Affect Life Insurance Rates?

Sleep apnea will usually impact the life insurance premium you can expect to pay. Because the disorder is a respiratory disease and can potentially lead to life-threating health problems, it increases your risk of submitting a claim. Your insurance premiums might be higher to compensate your insurer for this increased risk. However, a lot will depend on the severity of your sleep apnea and the insurers’ opinion of the condition.

Anything that increases the risk for the insurer will lead to an increase in your premiums. 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.
  • Results from your latest sleep study.
  • 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.

How to improve my 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.
  • Favourable sleep study.

Results from Your Sleep Study

A favourable sleep study will help prove to the insurer that your treatment is working. 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.

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.

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 can I do to improve my ratings?

  • 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.

Applying for life insurance when you have sleep apnea

Some of the questions you can expect from your insurance pre-assessment include:

  • 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.

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.

For the sake of affordable life insurance and your own peace of mind, fully disclose your condition to the insurer, and tell them if you have ever been turned down or charged extra for life insurance, whatever the reason.

Published: April 10, 2018

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