Untitled-9People around the world acquire life insurance policies for different reasons. It’s a common approach to protect one’s assets and cover debts should any life-changing circumstance occur, such as cancer. Similar to health insurance, an individual, cancerous or not, can pay a monthly premium to maintain a life insurance policy for a number of years based on his or her qualifications. However, unlike health insurance, having a serious disease such as cancer can drastically affect one’s ability to acquire a decent policy, if at all. Fortunately, although there are numerous factors to take into account, it is not impossible to acquire life insurance as a cancer patient, even for a rare one such as GIST.

Once diagnosed with cancer, the criteria for applying for life insurance are slightly more detailed and specific. Insurance companies are required to gather as much information as possible with regards to the diagnosis to direct that applicant in the proper direction. Some of the more basic questions asked will be about the type of cancer, the date of diagnosis, and what type of treatment or medication is being implemented. Others can be more specific and may ask an applicant about what stage the cancer is in, how long it has been present, and whether or not it has spread, or metastasized. In addition, companies may also conduct an investigation of their own to the applicant’s doctor for more information.

This type of process can generally be time-consuming, especially for cancer patients. Companies prioritize their policies around the more frequently diagnosed cancer types, mainly cancers of the skin, breast, and prostate, reducing the chance to get a policy for less common types, such as GIST. The average waiting period between these three cancers is approximately 1.3 years. Some of the deadlier cancers, such as lung cancer, leukemia, and bone cancer, have a much longer waiting period to obtain a life insurance policy, spanning up to 10 years.

Untitled-10Representatives from some of the largest insurances companies in the United States shared information about their life insurance policies for cancer patients. Although there were no available records of GIST patients, each representative stated that applicants follow the same procedure with additional criteria added for those with cancer, and are sometimes not always given the best options.

A representative from Prudential, who himself was a victim of thyroid cancer 20 years ago, stated that his company’s life insurance policy for cancer patients is adequate. Like most companies, Prudential’s application for cancer patients will inquire about the type of cancer, the stage it is in, what treatment is being used, the date of diagnosis, and the cancer’s severity. In addition, Prudential will write a letter to the applicant’s doctor for a more detailed report on the diagnosis. If an applicant qualifies, he or she will most likely be offered a preferred rate, which usually is not the best option when attempting to obtain life insurance.

A representative from AAA stated that the company’s life insurance policy is slightly stricter for cancer patients. In addition to the aforementioned criteria, an applicant’s date of diagnosis must be five years or more prior to the application. An exception to this would be prostate cancer patients, whose date of diagnosis only needs to be two years and also depends on the size of the tumor. Another specification is if a patient with recurrent basal cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer, applies for AAA’s life insurance, a policy can still be offered after an investigation.

The most questionable life insurance policy comes from American Continental, a subsidiary of Aetna. This is mainly due to the fact that there were two contrasting pieces of information given regarding qualifications for cancer patients. Initially, a representative stated that cancer patients did not qualify for life insurance under any circumstances. However, Dana Pearson, a supporter of the Life Raft Group who was diagnosed with GIST in 2012, was given a policy with American Continental in February 2014. A second representative then stated that cancer patients are eligible for life insurance, so long as their date of diagnosis was at least two years prior to the application. Therefore, make sure you are well informed before applying for life insurance.

As stated earlier, there are not many records from insurance companies for applicants with GIST, but some Life Raft Group supporters were kind enough to share their experiences with me of attempting to obtain life insurance, and some of them had great difficulty. Although Dana Pearson was given life insurance with American Continental, she did not get the best rate.Untitled-11

“I just recently took out a policy for $10,000, which I know is bare bones but I figured it was better than zero,” stated Pearson. “It only pays 100 percent if I live for two years from the issue date, otherwise it will pay what I have paid into it plus four percent.”

Another GIST patient, Michela Hernandez, who has had no evidence of disease (NED) for the past four years, has life insurance with Prudential, but with a significant handicap due to the fact that she has had a GIST diagnosis within the last seven years.

“I’m only allowed about a 20 percent payout of what my colleagues are allowed,” said Hernandez.

Unfortunately, not every cancer patient gets the opportunity to obtain life insurance due to their condition, as is seen with LRG patient registry member Maria Teta. Teta works for a small hairstyle business and was diagnosed with GIST in 2010, but is currently NED. She attempted to apply for life insurance with AAA, which she said promised her that she would not be turned down because of her health. It did not work out that way.

“Sure enough I was turned down,” replied Teta. “I reapplied again after a year and again after careful consideration they turned me down because of my health history.”

According to Teta, there was no detailed explanation on her rejection.

Life insurance is essential to all who desire to relieve their friends and families of any burdens, but for cancer patients it continues to be as much of a struggle as fighting the disease itself. For a disease such as GIST, it can possibly be even more of a struggle. Does its rarity attribute to that likelihood? Are insurance companies well-informed of this particular cancer? If so, would it change the success rate of obtaining a policy for GIST patients? Let us know what you think on our Facebook page “The Life Raft Group” and on Twitter @liferaftgroup. If you have any other stories regarding life insurance, feel free to send it to us via email at liferaft@liferaftgroup.org.