When most people hear the word cholesterol, they assume that it’s a bad thing. However, this isn’t true since every person has both good (HDL) and bad (LDL) cholesterol. People who have a HDL reading lower than 40 mg/dL or a HDL reading greater than 160 mg/dL have a higher risk of having a heart attack or stroke at some point in the future. This can cause concern when applying for life insurance.
In 2010, approximately 16.3 percent of the adult population in the United States had a high level of total cholesterol. A high reading is anything over 240 mg/dL when adding the two readings together. Doctors actually prefer their patients to have a total cholesterol reading of 200 mg/dL or less. That is because a high reading doubles a person’s chances of heart disease. The problem of high cholesterol is more prevalent in women than it is in men. It is also more common in people over age 45.
How High Cholesterol Can Affect Premiums
Life insurance premiums are dependent on several factors, including cholesterol reading, general health, age, alcohol and tobacco use status, and weight. In addition to total cholesterol numbers, many life insurance providers use a cholesterol ratio when assigning applicants to a risk category. This is the total cholesterol divided by HDL cholesterol. Underwriters look for a cholesterol ratio than is 5.0 or less. All applicants who are approved for a life insurance policy fall into one of these categories:
- Preferred Plus, 220 mg/dL or less total cholesterol and 5.0 or less cholesterol ratio
- Preferred, 221 to 250 mg/dL total cholesterol and 5.1 to 6.0 cholesterol ratio
- Standard Plus, 251 to 280 mg/dL total cholesterol and 6.1 to 7.0 cholesterol ratio
- Standard, 281 to 350 mg/dL total cholesterol and 7.1 to 8.0 cholesterol ratio
Applicants with readings higher than the standard level may be declined or have the opportunity to apply again when they have better control of their high cholesterol.
Underwriting Criteria for Those with High Cholesterol
Underwriters don’t expect everyone to be in perfect health, but they are looking for evidence that people diagnosed with high cholesterol are taking steps to actively manage their condition. This means visiting the doctor at least once a year, taking all prescribed medication, eating a healthy diet, and getting a moderate amount of exercise. Additionally, a life insurance underwriter may ask an applicant the following questions:
- The date he or she was diagnosed with high cholesterol
- The most recent LDL, HDL, and total cholesterol readings
- Current triglyceride level
- Medications used to lower cholesterol
- Other significant health issues
- If the applicant has a family history of heart disease or stroke
It is essential for the applicant to provide honest answers to these questions and to back up the responses with documentation if possible. The life insurance company will also request medical records while reviewing the application.
Does Taking Medication for High Cholesterol Affect Insurance Ratings?
Every life insurance company takes a different approach to how it considers medications that lower cholesterol. Some assign applicants to a higher risk category even though taking medication brings their total cholesterol level into the normal range. Other companies pay less attention to the medication and more to other criteria used to determine an applicant’s risk. To summarize, taking pills to lower cholesterol has either a neutral or a negative effect on risk categories and premiums. An applicant should never discontinue use of prescribed medication to qualify for a lower rate as it will likely have the opposite affect and cause a higher cholesterol reading.
The Medical Examination & High Cholesterol
The majority of life insurance companies require all applicants to have a medical exam performed by a doctor contracted by the company. This is to confirm facts listed on the application as well overall suitability for a life insurance policy. The best ways for people with a diagnosed case of high cholesterol to prepare for the exam include:
- Fasting from all food and most liquids for at least eight hours before the exam. Since most people go that long without eating or drinking while they are asleep, scheduling the exam as early in the morning as possible is ideal.
- Drinking a few eight-ounce glasses of water before the exam helps to flush the body of toxins and may rid it of substances that cause high cholesterol readings.
- Applicants should refrain from eating any fatty foods for at least 24 hours before the exam since this is one of the known causes of high cholesterol.
Tips to Lower Cholesterol and Get a Better Life Insurance Premium
One of the best ways to lower bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol is to take stock of the risk factors that contribute to it. These include diabetes, obesity, smoking, a sedentary lifestyle, and a family history of heart disease. If an applicant has any of these risk factors in addition to already being diagnosed with high blood pressure, he or she should focus on those that are controllable. For example, someone who is obese should set several small weight loss goals until he or she is no longer in that category. The same goes for giving up smoking and getting more exercise.
Consuming a high amount of saturated fats is scientifically proven to contribute to cholesterol problems. While doctors advised against frequently eating eggs and other foods high in cholesterol in the past, they now believe that dietary cholesterol is less important that saturated fats. One way to have a better reading at the next doctor appointment is to use saturated fats such as butter, lard, vegetable oil, and shortening sparingly. People who have high cholesterol may want to consider canola oil or olive oil instead.
Making a small dietary change to include more soluble fiber can produce big results when it comes to cholesterol readings. That is because it acts as a sponge to absorb cholesterol while it is still in the digestive tract. Good sources of soluble fiber include fruits, vegetables, oats, barley, legumes, flaxseed, and dried grains.