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Can I buy life insurance coverage with COPD?

COPD, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, is a condition of the lungs that makes breathing difficult. It technically refers to the co-existence of chronic bronchitis and emphysema, leading to a limitation of air flow both to and from the lungs. Toxic agents, such as cigarette smoke or asbestos, cause an inflammatory response in the lungs which lead to swelling and degeneration of the lung tissues. COPD is the sixth leading cause of death worldwide, and approximately 1 in 59 Americans will suffer from the disease at some point.

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The effects of COPD are measured by a test known as the “forced expired volume in one second,” or FEV1, test. Normal values are around 80%, but those with COPD typically have an FEV1 of less than 70%. The degree of COPD, as measured by this and other tests, will determine whether you can obtain life insurance and how much your premiums will be.


Mild COPD presents as a mild, chronic cough and some shortness of breath after exercises. FEV1 values will measure between 60-80%. People diagnosed with “mild” cases of COPD often receive very competitive insurance rates, especially if they have quit smoking and have no other major health problems.


Moderate COPD is classified as an FEV1 of 50-59%, with a more developed chronic cough and shortness of breath after exertion. Inhalers are often prescribed for patients with this level of COPD. X-rays or other scans may show the beginning of malformations in the lung tissue. Some life insurance companies will decline candidates with moderate COPD; others will insure at higher rates, provided the person is taking active steps to manage the disease.


Symptoms of severe COPD include shortness of breath with everyday activities, decreased pulmonary, or heart, function, and an FEV1 of 40-49%. Treatments include inhalers as well as steroids and other prescription medications. Many companies will decline applicants with severe COPD for life insurance; others will insure, but only at high-risk rates.


Extreme COPD means that you have less than 40% lung function. The patient will probably have shortness of breath at most times, even when sitting or lying down. Pulmonary function declines, and the patient will probably require oxygen supplements through a tank or other means. Most companies will not insure someone with extreme COPD, although graded coverage may be available for some patients. Graded coverage is a special policy for terminally ill patients which charges high premiums for the first two years, and will not pay a death benefit unless the patient survives during that time.

Patients with COPD must be careful when applying for life insurance. Because your medical records will be examined by underwriters, it sometimes pays to do an “anonymous” application to see what the company’s response is to your inquiry. This way, you are not prejudicing yourself in the future if you decide not take insurance at that time.

The best way to prevent COPD is to avoid the toxins which cause it, primarily cigarette smoking. Quitting smoking early can save your lung function; in fact, lung function, even for a heavy smoker, can return to its normal state in as little as ten years after quitting. If you need help to stop smoking, there are many new treatments available from your doctor that have proven very effective.

If you already have COPD and you are contemplating life insurance, talk to an agent specializing in high-risk insurance coverage. This will give you an idea of which companies are willing to work with your situation. You can also do an internet search for high-risk life insurance, which will give you the names of companies to talk to.

A word of caution is in order when dealing with high-risk companies, however. Because of the market saturation available through the internet, many companies advertise on the web, and not all of them have been proven to be reliable. Unfortunately, some of these companies unscrupulously target those who are ill and searching for life insurance.

Before you deal with any high-risk company, be sure to do a bit of research. Check with your state’s insurance commissioner and be sure the company is licensed to do business in your state. Further, look for customer ratings or comments about the company; this can give you a great deal of insight into how the company deals with claims.

Finally, check the rating services available for insurance companies, such as J.D. Power and Associates and A.M. Best. These nationally-recognized companies rate insurance providers on their financial solvency and customer service. It pays to know who you are dealing with before you pay a small fortune in premiums for life insurance.

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