The two most important words from an underwriter’s perspective are “control” and “compliance.” Your HbA1c test results and home blood glucose readings, along with frequent visits to the doctor, help an underwriter see how your diabetes is monitored and controlled.
It has not always been that way. An underwriter who has been in the business for many years told me, “Back in the 1960’s, we didn’t have any way to determine if someone had diabetes unless they told us. If they didn’t know they had diabetes but we received a urine specimen with glucose in the urine (called glycosuria), we would ask them to do an oral glucose tolerance test. That was how doctors determined someone had diabetes, too.”
Perhaps the most important element in painting a positive picture lies in an understanding and acceptance of your diabetes. Insurance agents and underwriters see many instances where the person seeking life insurance seems to be the last one to know he’s got diabetes. The doctor sees it; the underwriter sees it; it’s clearly highlighted in the lab work. But the individual does not acknowledge his diabetes.
It’s critical to fully understand that the disease exists, and to plan accordingly. What should the plan look like? You and your doctor know the answers to this question. Underwriters are looking for the same trends.
“To the life insurance underwriter, the best diabetes risk is the diabetic who clearly knows and understands his disease and fully embraces his responsibility for self-control,” says Mike McFarland, Vice President, Individual Life Insurance Underwriting at Prudential Insurance Company of America. “Quality dietary habits, a regular exercise regimen, frequent medical checkups, good diabetic control, and compliance with the physician’s diabetes treatment plan are all benchmarks of a good diabetic risk.”
Having and following a meal plan (what an underwriter might call “dietary compliance”) are indispensable. Show the insurance company that you at least know how you’re supposed to eat and that you are making the effort, even if you sometimes fall short of the mark.
Exercise looks good, too, in more ways than one. Are you a member of a gym? Great. Do you go? Even better. Spell out the details of your exercise routine in your application: “I belong to Johnny’s Gym in Oakland, California. I go there Tuesdays and Thursdays, and I take a jujitsu class on Saturday morning with Clarence, my instructor. I can now burn up to 300 calories on the elliptical.”
Don’t drink too much, and don’t smoke or use tobacco at all. Coverage gets much tougher to find.
Remember when you apply for insurance that the life insurance carrier will order a copy of your medical records. If your doctor makes a note that says you’re not taking care of yourself, or your record clearly shows a trend of higher and higher HbA1c test results, those are red flags. The presence of any diabetic complications — such as retinopathy, neuropathy, or nephropathy — will also make your case tougher. Even though these complications are not necessarily evidence of poor control, life insurance underwriters see them as such. Other health conditions can cause problems, too, but resist the temptation to try to conceal any part of your medical history, because the underwriter will be looking at your records.
For an example of a life insurance application cover letter written by a person with diabetes, see “Sample Cover Letter.”
Reason for hope
I lost my Dad to complications from diabetes a few years ago. He was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 20 and went on to battle the disease for nearly 50 years, enduring many complications and receiving a kidney–pancreas transplant at age 55. He was, and continues to be, my primary source of inspiration.