I was providing some information on the underwriting of bipolar disorder a few days ago on a bipolar forum when the question came up, “Why is bipolar disorder an issue with life insurance”.

Being in the life insurance business I am keenly aware that most people believe life insurance underwriting is an over reaction to whatever their particular ailment might be, from high blood pressure to cancer. I have shared more than once that I have that same reaction to the rates I pay. I understand why I pay the rates I do. I just happen not to agree with the logic that got them there.

I would like to address bipolar disorder straight on and answer that question. I have said many times that a person who admits to being bipolar is likely to be declined off hand, without any further study or thought on the part of the insurance underwriter. The reason, although I believe unfair, is the link between bipolar disorder and suicide. I have seen the argument raised in bipolar forums that suicide shouldn’t be an issue because insurance companies don’t have to pay for death due to suicide. There is where part of the rub lies. Insurance has to pay for death due to suicide after 2 years, 1 year in a few states. So, whether the suicide issue is valid or not, it is fair for insurance companies to consider.

With that in context, let’s look at the upside of all of this information. First, the majority of suicides that occur, happen during the early phases of diagnosis of bipolar, if not before the diagnosis. In general once a person is diagnosed and under treatment, stability begins to set in and, while life may never be completely normal, in many cases it is.

From a life insurance agent standpoint, my job becomes something like a door to door salesman. I sell something that people would probably really want, but the knee jerk reaction is to slam the door without even hearing about what I have to sell. With life insurance underwriters it is the same thing when shopping a case involving bipolar. I have to get them over the knee jerk reaction long enough to tell the story. When they hear that my client is a classic well controlled, stable member of the community who not only hasn’t attempted suicide, but certainly doesn’t intend to, the open the door a little further. When I explain that they are compliant with treatment and their only hospitalization for bipolar was when they were diagnosed, they invite me in and we discuss how we can work together to help the person get what they want while the insurance company gets exactly the same.

Bottom line. The answer to the question about why bipolar is an issue is that any health or mental impairment is an issue. I can’t escape that fact and unfortunately neither can my clients. What can be done is to minimize the impact that bipolar has on the outcome. If you use the right independent agent who uses the right companies, bipolar will get the same fair underwriting that anyone else would get.