Cancer survivors can still get covered, but there are a few things to know.
Medical technology is slowly beating cancer, and breast cancer in particular is more survivable than ever before. This means there are more Australians who are living with cancer, and who have previously beat it, and insurers are increasingly extending cover to cancer survivors.
You might be able to get life insurance after breast cancer, but there are some differences in the application process to understand.
How does my application change with breast cancer?
- You will need to disclose the full details of your condition
- Not all insurers will cover your condition
- There may be exclusions, loadings and special limits around your cover
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More than 60,000 Australians are living with breast cancer, and countless more have previously had it. Women are naturally much more likely to develop it, and tend to account for all but a handful of cases each year.
Breast cancer was the second most commonly diagnosed form of the disease in 2012, and it remains one of the more common types today. It’s estimated that the odds of a woman being diagnosed with breast cancer by her 85th birthday is as high as 1 in 8.
Insurers are all about risk, and an increased medical understanding of the disease and treatments is a key part of life insurance cover being extended to breast cancer survivors. Generally, if you’ve previously had breast cancer it counts as a pre-existing condition.
The way an insurer might cover any resurgence, or related costs in the future, is very dependent on the specifics of your case and insurers will typically want to know all about it.
With breast cancer, and other pre-existing conditions, insurers may do one of several things depending on the specifics of your situation.
- Offer cover as normal: For when a pre-existing condition is determined to have minimal impact on the risk for a given policy.
- Add exclusions to your policy: Insurers might apply an exclusion for the pre-existing condition, and not pay claims resulting from that condition, or might otherwise apply more specific exclusions to manage the risk levels.
- Add loadings to your policy: Where you are fully covered, or partially covered, but have loadings (increased costs) applied to your premiums to compensate for the added risk.
Depending on your cover, a history of breast cancer can influence the chances of needing to make a claim in many ways. Essentially, cancer is a pre-existing condition just like many other health issues.
If you do not inform the insurer of pre-existing conditions, they will typically be generally excluded, and the insurer may reject resulting claims. Disclosing all health conditions is the key to effective cover.
To get a sense of your specific case, the odds of recurrence and the all-round risks in relation to the cover you’re applying for, insurers may ask questions such as:
- What was the specific type of breast cancer? This can influence the likelihood of future recurrence, treatment costs that may be involved, the influence it might have on your ability to work in the future and more.
- What was the stage and grade? This is the information from your post pathology report and other medical documentation.
- When were you diagnosed? The impacts and outcome may be less predictable with more recent diagnoses.
- Who was your doctor and where were you treated? Insurers may contact your treating doctor or specialists for more information.
- How was it treated, and are you still being treated? Mastectomy, chemotherapy and other treatments can all have health impacts and future implications of their own which need to be considered in relation to your insurance.
- Are you still taking medication or tests? Medication can once again have its own health impacts to consider, and testing may be an important part of managing risk.
- How big was the tumour, and was there any metastasis or lymph node involvement? These, and other factors, can be a significant indicator of the chance of recurrence and future morbidity.
Insurers will typically want to do thorough legwork and verify all the important details where possible. Depending on the nature of your case, it’s important to note that you might be obligated to disclose other information.
When you take out a life insurance policy, you generally have an obligation to inform the insurer of anything that increases the risk they take in offering cover. The life insurance application form is designed to pick up on these, but you want to make sure you don’t miss anything.
- Do you have a family history of cancer? If so, you need to inform the insurer. If you have a family history of other potentially hereditary or genetic health conditions you’ll also need to inform the insurer of those.
- Are you currently taking any medications? Whether it’s for the cancer or other health issues, you need to inform the insurer.
- Have you ever been admitted to hospital for any reason? Your medical history includes all previous hospital admissions.
- Are you currently experiencing any symptoms for which you have not seen a doctor? Symptoms by themselves are enough to qualify one as having a pre-existing condition, even if it has not been formally diagnosed.
- Have you had specific health issues? Some specific issues, such as physical injury to certain body parts, can increase the likelihood of future health issues or illnesses.
- Have there been significant changes over the last 12 months? For example, if you’ve gained or lost a lot of weight in the past year.
- Are you having any regular screening or testing? As a breast cancer survivor it’s generally safe to assume you’re having regular screenings, and that you should let the insurer know.
Cancer is complicated, varies widely and all the risk factors are not yet fully understood. To find effective cover, it’s important to be comprehensive in your application and let the insurer know about these, and a range of other factors such as pastimes, smoking status and more.
Why do I need to disclose so much information?
Failing to provide all the relevant information on a life insurance application may be tantamount to actively lying on an application. If you ever need to make a claim, it’s safe to assume that the insurer will assess it carefully before paying out. Life insurance is a significant long-term investment and it’s important to know that you can depend on your policy to deliver effective cover.
If the event of a claim being denied for a failure to disclose all the relevant information, you might have been paying premiums for nothing. Essentially, the only way to find effective life insurance as a cancer survivor is to do it right, declare the pre-existing condition and follow all the appropriate steps.
- Yes. Many insurers will also conduct their own medical screening as part of the application process, but you’ll still need to inform them of any screening you have done.
Fortunately breast cancer screening, in the form of mammograms, physical examinations and MRIs, is non-invasive and generally free of side effects. However, other tests may carry side effects of their own and as medical procedures, you should let the insurer know about any screening.
Why do I need to disclose?
Regardless of the outcome of screening, there’s no reason not to disclose the tests.
- If the test has not detected any abnormalities it can’t hurt to show that you’re taking proactive steps to manage your health.
- If previous tests have detected abnormalities or any other potential health issues then you may be required to disclose these, and disclosing the nature of the screening is part of it.
- If you undergo regular screening as a result of having a family history of breast cancer, or other health issues, then this too should be disclosed during the application.
- If you are currently waiting on the results of a test or screening you should also disclose this.
You can get covered by group policies, obtained through superannuation or an employer, but may not be automatically accepted, or there might be conditions to know about. The cover you’re able to get depends on the policy. Generally this all depends very much on the situation, the insurer, the policy, and the fund itself.
Contact your super fund or employer
As such, where possible you should contact your employer or super fund, as relevant, to find out how a policy would cover you.
When entering into a superannuation or employer life insurance policy, you might be “accepted” in one of three ways, which can impact what kind of life insurance cover you have.
With this, you are probably covered for breast cancer-related claims insofar as pre-existing conditions terms do not exclude cover for you. This may apply if you are joining a new company and joining the company life insurance policy, or you are otherwise joining an existing group policy.
Here you are automatically accepted and covered without any medical testing. Insurers will set specific conditions for when automatic acceptance is available. For example, an insurer might specify that a group policy needs to cover at least 20 people, as well as meet other written terms laid out at the time the policy was initially instated.
This is when you transfer to a new group life insurance policy from an old one. For example, your employer might have looked for a new company life insurance policy. Generally when you apply for entry under a policy’s transfer terms you will be covered in an equivalent way to your old policy.
The new insurer will generally ask for the previous insurer’s underwriting decisions, and will use this to decide what kind of cover it can offer. You will often be covered to the same extent as a previous group policy, or there may be differences in line with the fine print of the new policy.
Where a person is not eligible for cover under automatic acceptance or transfer terms, the insurer might require you to go through the underwriting process as normal. Here you will need to fill out an application form and provide medical information as you would with other policies.
Some policies will only have this, and no automatic acceptance or transfer option.
The insurer will then let the policy owner know what kind of cover is available for you, and which loadings or exclusions may apply. When getting a new policy in this way, you will be covered in a specific way, which might be different to the other people in that policy.