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How does my family medical history affect life insurance premiums?

We inherit many traits from family members – but it’s our shared medical history that’s most interesting to life insurance companies.

Insurers take various factors such as age and lifestyle into account when deciding your life insurance costs. 

Therefore, having access to family medical histories gives insurers a unique insight into your health and the likelihood of you suffering certain conditions.

Here we take a look at what information insurers want to know, the impact it might have on your policy, and your rights governing this data.

A medical form with a family model on top of it


Why do life insurance providers need your information?

Insurance underwriters want to know as much about potential clients as possible. This isn’t a case of being nosey for the sake of it.

Their aim is to build up a picture of the applicant – or applicants if it’s a joint life insurance policy –  and what could increase their chances of falling ill or dying.

Therefore, they consider factors such as:

  • Age
  • Lifestyle
  • Health conditions
  • Occupation

This information also dictates the prices charged for the cover. Naturally, those deemed a higher risk are usually asked to pay more for the policy.

Since you’re asking them to give you money in a worst-case scenario, it’s only fair that you tell them what risk they’re taking.

The information requested should be the same whether you’re applying for whole of life insurance or level term life insurance.


When might declaring my medical history be a good thing?

It might appear annoyingly intrusive to be asked questions about your medical history – and the conditions suffered by members of your family.

However, there is a potential upside. If insurers didn’t request this information and charged people a flat rate, then it could be a lot more expensive.

By increasing the premiums of clients who are more likely to result in a payout being made, it could make the cost not so high for other applicants.


What life insurance details insurance providers want to know about?

So, what do providers want to know? What conditions and histories do they find the most alarming and which are irrelevant?

Your health is obviously hugely important as it could have a direct bearing on your life expectancy. If you’ve got high blood pressure or smoke 100 cigarettes a day this is unlikely to be seen as a positive.

Insurers are also interested in your family’s history in order to establish the likelihood of you suffering in the future from inherited conditions.

Generally, they want to know the issues endured by close family members. These include your biological parents and siblings.

They won’t care about the medical pangs of Great Aunt Flo or Great Uncle George so you won’t need to delve too far into your family’s past.

There’s a long list of conditions that might ring alarm bells with insurers and would warrant further investigation. It could also lead them to ask you to undertake medical tests. 

These conditions include a history of :

  • Heart disease
  • Heart attacks
  • Stroke
  • Diabetes
  • Various cancers e.g. breast, ovary or colon

They also want to know of any occurrences of:

  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Motor neurone disease
  • Huntington’s disease.

Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list. The conditions of interest differ between insurers so you need to read the application form carefully and answer questions honestly.

If there’s something to which you don’t know the answer – then state that you don’t know. It’s then up to the insurance company to seek further clarification if it’s important.


What’s the impact of my family medical history?

So, can you still get life insurance with medical conditions?

The attitude towards certain medical histories varies between insurance providers. Each is likely to have a list of conditions they’re most concerned about.

Their response to you highlighting them on an application might also differ. For example, they may ask for more information via the medical history held by your GP.

This could result in your application being turned down. If this happens, don’t despair. You might just need to broaden your search and find an insurer that will accept you.

The second scenario is the insurer might offer you the cover requested – but only if you pay an increased premium. The extra amount required again depends on the company.

Finally, the insurer might offer you cover but exclude certain conditions from the policy. In that case the insurance would only pay out if this condition wasn’t the cause of the death.


How can I access my medical records?

If an insurer requires further information, you might be asked to complete a consent form. This enables the insurer to access the relevant medical information from your GP. 

This area is governed by the Access to Medical Reports Act 1988 (AMRA). This lays down the process that needs to be followed by everyone. It also states your rights.

For example, you have the right to view the medical report compiled by your GP before it’s sent off to the insurance company.

This enables you to check all the information they have on record about you is correct. Mistakes do happen so it’s important to go through all the dates and issues listed carefully.

It also allows you to highlight whether the information being handed over is relevant to the application. The results of predictive genetic tests, for example, are not.

The law also enables you to tell your GP not to send the report to your insurer. However, this could be a red flag to them and might impact your application.

Finally, you’re also allowed access to view your report for up to six months after it’s been sent to the insurance company.


What happens if I withhold any information?

It can be tempting to dismiss parts of your medical history if you fear they may result in you being charged a higher premium – or having your application rejected.

However, this is never worth the risk. Problems could occur if the insurance company finds out about undeclared underlying medical conditions after you die.

If it establishes that you were aware of them when you applied for the policy, but hadn’t mentioned  them at the time, they could refuse to pay anything.

The impact could be devastating. If your family was relying on this settlement to cover the mortgage or other bills, then it could leave them in financial problems.

Therefore, be 100% honest on the application form and you should be able to rest easy that your loved ones are looked after properly.


What effect does illness have on my life insurance costs?

If you have suffered – or currently suffer -  from certain conditions then you might have to pay more for your life insurance. 

This reflects the increased risk that the insurer would have to pay out.

It’s a similar situation with your family history. 

If a close relative – insurers are most interested in parents and siblings – has endured medical problems, then this could also affect the price you pay.

Even if you don’t currently display any symptoms of an inherited condition, the increased chance of you doing so in the future could mean you pay more for your policy.


Why should I compare life insurance quotes if I have a complicated medical history?

Just because one insurance company is levelling substantial costs on the basis of your family medical history doesn’t mean you have to accept it.

It’s a fiercely competitive industry and there are plenty of providers vying for business. You might find a rival firm will charge you less for the same level of cover.

Either way, it’s always worth comparing life insurance policies to find the most suitable – and cost effective – level of life insurance. 

This is particularly the case if you have a complicated health history and your family has suffered many conditions in the past.

However, make sure you’re comparing like-with-like. Is the premium lower because it’s not offering the same level of life insurance cover?

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What type of life insurance is best for medical conditions?

Many people have pre-existing medical conditions when they apply for life insurance. This is particularly the case when applying later in life.

The definition of a pre-existing condition is an injury, illness or medical issue that you have at the time of applying for the protection.

The good news is that you should still be able to buy life insurance. However, it could be subject to certain conditions and usually costs more.

Insurers might want to know a lot of information about the condition in order to accurately gauge the potential impact it could have on your life expectancy.

For example, if it’s relatively mild you might find it won’t register as an issue with the insurer. They could just note it down and accept it as irrelevant.

More serious issues, especially those that require ongoing, longer-term treatment, might be seen in a different light. These are the ones warranting more in-depth analysis.


Will my insurer pay out?

According to figures published by the Association of British Insurers (ABI) and Group Risk Development (GRiD), 98% of all claims were paid during 2020. Perhaps more importantly, this figure remained unchanged from the previous year.

The figures also showed that the insurance industry paid out £6.2bn in life insurance, income protection, and critical illness claims during the year.

This sum equates to £17m-a-day, which is the highest combined figure on record and up 8% on the total back in 2019. 

The average payout on term life insurance policies (individual and group) was £79,304, while £3.4bn was paid in life insurance claims, up by £349m year-on-year. 

So, as long as you’re honest with your life insurance provider, and maintain your monthly payments, your family should be able to claim after you’re gone.