The type of life insurance coverage you receive for hepatitis is determined by multiple factors. Here is the information you need to know for getting the best policy.
Over four million Americans live with some form of hepatitis, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even more people do not know they even have hepatitis. Some forms of hepatitis are preventable; lifestyle choices are key, and vaccines can guard against some forms.
Depending on the type you have, treatment will vary, as will the life insurance coverage that is available to you. Some individuals may not be approved for a life insurance policy, nevertheless the vast majority of hepatitis sufferers can get some type of coverage.
What is Hepatitis?
Hepatitis is characterized by liver inflammation, usually due to a viral infection. However, there are several other causes of hepatitis, such as autoimmune disease and inflammation that results from drug or alcohol use.
There are actually five types of viral infections of the liver that cause hepatitis, although most people are only familiar with three: A, B and C. Each of the five types involves a different virus.
Hepatitis A is caused by a short-term infection most commonly transmitted by ingesting food or water contaminated with human fecal matter. About 350 million people worldwide have Hep A according to the CDC.
Hepatitis B is a chronic infection obtained by coming into contact with infected body fluids like blood or saliva. Sexual contact with an infected person and hypodermic needle drug use are risk factors.
This form of hepatitis, Hepatitis C, is spread much like Hep B, but more commonly by blood contact.
Hepatitis D (delta hepatitis)
This less-known form of hepatitis, hepatitis D, can cause serious liver disease when the virus is spread through contact with infected blood. Hep D is very rare and only happens in conjunction with a Hep B infection because interestingly, hepatitis D’s virus cannot multiply if the hepatitis B virus is not present. Very few cases occur in the United States.
Hepatitis E is also very uncommon and is waterborne. The virus is prevalent in areas with poor sanitation. Fecal matter gets into the water supply and it is ingested. Again, this disease is quite rare in the United States but occurs mainly in Asia and Africa.
Hepatitis is not always the result of an infection. People who use drugs and alcohol can develop an autoimmune form of hepatitis that attacks the body’s liver tissue.
Excessive alcohol consumption can cause the inflammation, liver damage characteristic of hepatitis. Alcohol creates damage in liver cells and scarring and thickening of liver tissue.
Why is Hepatitis Serious?
Hepatitis causes inflammation and damage to the liver, an organ that performs several vital functions of metabolism, such as filtering toxins from the body and producing bile to aid in digestion.
The liver also filters drugs, cholesterol and the breakdown of blood cells, fats, proteins and carbohydrates. Finally, the liver stores glycogen, the storage form of glucose. Important clotting factors and blood proteins are made in the liver.
Signs and Symptoms of Hepatitis
People with chronic forms of hepatitis (B-D, autoimmune, alcohol) don’t typically notice symptoms because the disease develops so slowly. However, people who develop acute infections that cause hepatitis usually have noticeable sudden symptoms.
They may have a loss of appetite, extreme fatigue and flu-like symptoms. Urine may be dark and stools may be pale. Many experience unexplained weight loss and abdominal pain.
Because the liver is not filtering properly, some people may have a yellowing of the eyes called jaundice, a buildup of bilirubin yellow pigment derived from dead red blood cells. The liver normally gets rid of bilirubin, so jaundice is a sign of a serious liver malfunction.
Diagnosis of Hepatitis
Your medical history and risk factors for infection are important for doctors to consider when diagnosing hepatitis. A physical exam of the abdominal area is also done to look for pain and tenderness caused by an enlarged liver. Skin and eyes are examined for jaundice.
The doctor will also take a blood sample to perform a liver function test that measures liver enzymes to see how efficiently the liver is working. Abnormal test results are often the first sign of a problem like hepatitis. Other blood tests might be done to check for viruses or signs of autoimmune hepatitis.
The doctor may also order an abdominal ultrasound test to look at the liver and surrounding area for organ enlargement, tumors or other damage. They may even order a liver biopsy to take a sample of liver tissue to check for cancer or other abnormalities.
Treatment of Hepatitis
The treatment you receive will depend on whether you have infectious or noninfectious hepatitis and whether the condition is acute or chronic. Hepatitis A is short-term and usually does not require treatment other than bed rest and hydration.
There is also a hepatitis A vaccine that can prevent the infection. For adults who did not receive it as a child, the hep A/hep B vaccine can be combined.
Even acute hepatitis B usually does not require treatment, but a chronic infection is treated with antiviral medications. The doctor will ask you to be regularly monitored to determine how the virus is responding. Hep B can also be treated with a vaccine and is typically recommended for medical personnel.
All forms of hepatitis C, acute and chronic, are treated with antiviral medications. There is currently no hep C vaccine, although they are in development.
There are currently no treatments for either hepatitis D or E, but the hep B vaccine does help people from getting hep D. The hepatitis E infection is often acute and resolves on its own with bed rest.
For non-infectious forms of hepatitis like liver cirrhosis, people often need a liver transplant. As for the autoimmune forms, doctors often prescribe corticosteroids as an early treatment, or immune-suppressing drugs in the later stages.
Getting Approved for Life Insurance with Hepatitis
Life insurance underwriters want to determine your overall state of health with hepatitis. They will consider the type and severity of your hepatitis to try to characterize your risk. They will look at your overall life expectancy with the disease.
Underwriters look at how much damage has been done to the liver, how much remaining liver function you have, and whether the disease is in remission. People in remission have a better chance of getting a policy at a lower rate.
Even so, you can get coverage, but the policy premiums are usually higher. People with hepatitis usually get a “rated” policy, which means your status is related to a critical disease.
Unfortunately, the insurance company may prolong the liver testing over a period of two years before deciding on the policy. Most insurance companies do operate this way, but some may offer you a policy at a higher premium while the testing ensues.
Some may ask that you perform a liver biopsy to speed up the process and get a definitive diagnosis regarding the liver’s condition; in fact, a biopsy will most likely be ordered for any form of chronic hepatitis.
What Life Insurance Companies Look For
Insurance company medical directors often review liver policies on a case-by-case basis. From the insurance company point of view, liver damage is extremely costly.
Liver transplants are very expensive, and people with liver damage tend to have higher risk for other health problems. The good news is that if you have little to no liver damage, your chances of qualifying for a standard policy are actually quite good.
They will consider several factors, including your age. The younger you are with hepatitis, the more likelihood that you will be denied coverage because the company will not want to cover your lifelong risk.
Insurance companies certainly consider lifestyle factors, like whether you abuse alcohol or drugs; these individuals are almost always denied coverage.
Insurance companies use a measure called time since diagnosis. If you have a new diagnosis, the insurance reviewer may wait for two or more years to see how your disease progresses. If you have been diagnosed within the last 12 months, you will most likely be denied coverage at first.
Acute cases are easiest because they often resolve quickly. And if the insurance examiner sees that you have no symptoms, you might be able to acquire insurance more quickly. But it will be at a higher rate at first. However, it may be reduced as you have more time without symptoms.
Questions Life Insurance Companies Ask with Regards to Hepatitis
Insurance companies typically ask these types of questions:
- When was your hepatitis diagnosed?
- What is the cause?
- What are the results of your most recent blood test regarding liver enzyme levels?
- How often do you have liver function tests?
- Which diagnostic tests have you had: ultrasound, biopsy or other?
- Have you received vaccines?
- What treatment did your doctor prescribe?
- Has your hepatitis resolved?
- Do you have the acute or chronic form?
- Do you have an infectious or non-infectious form of hepatitis?
- Was a liver transplant required? When did you have it?
- Are you taking any medications? If so, list types and dosages.
- Are you taking immune-suppressing drugs?
- Do you have any other liver- related issues or a family history of hepatitis?
- What are your lifestyle choices regarding alcohol and illegal drug use?
What Rating Can I Expect to Get?
The rate you get will depend on your diagnosis, condition severity, overall health and age. The more severe your liver disease, the higher your premium.
It is extremely unlikely that you will get this rating when you have hepatitis. Even if your liver causes you no issues now, insurance companies know the condition is progressive, so they worry about future issues.
Insurance companies typically consider chronic hepatitis too serious to offer you a preferred rate either.
Standard rate insurance is the best possible rating when you have hepatitis. This rate is typically given to people age 60 and over. Younger people with hepatitis typically experience more lifelong problems. So insurance carriers feel if you’ve made it to age 60 without significant liver issues, you are less of a risk for coverage.
Even over 60, your disorder must be minimal without symptoms or significant liver damage. You cannot have other health conditions and your overall health must be good.
Substandard (Table Rating)
More than likely, this is where most applicants receive a rate with hepatitis. The rating does depend on the severity of the condition, age, overall health and the presence of other conditions.
People with chronic hepatitis will obviously have a much more difficult time obtaining insurance coverage. You may be denied at first until you have more extensive testing done, such as a biopsy. In rare cases, coverage might be offered if the applicant can show a history of successful treatment.
Provide the life insurance company with information from all your doctors. This includes your family doctor and any other specialists you are seeing. When applying for life insurance, you will need to wait at least a year after your diagnosis to apply. And most likely you may end up waiting at least two years for coverage.
Why? The insurance underwriters want to see that you have followed your doctors’ treatment plan and want to make sure that you are reducing the risk of further health issues by taking care of yourself.
Applicants with severe conditions are typically denied.
Where Can I Go to Get Life Insurance with Hepatitis?
If you have hepatitis, follow your treatment plan, take medications as prescribed, keep stress low and stay active. Eating a healthy diet is also very important. Doing all these things can help you get a better life insurance rate. Are you ready to start on your life insurance application? Get a quote today!