For years the underwriting benchmark for life insurance’s best rate class has been a cholesterol ratio of 5.0, 4.5 by some more conservative companies. The cholesterol ratio is determined by dividing total cholesterol by HDL, good cholesterol. For instance, total cholesterol of 200 and an HDL of 40 would give a cholesterol ratio of 5.0.

I remember placing a case with United of Omaha several years back when they agreed that a client’s total cholesterol of 300 really was trumped by his cholesterol ratio of 2.5. They guy had enough good cholesterol to fight off coronary artery disease without even breaking a sweat.

The problem is that particular case was rare, not because he had such a good ratio, but because a company stepped out of their comfort zone and offered their best rate class when all of the underwriting manuals were screaming Nooooo!! There are plenty of people, myself included, who have never had a cholesterol ratio above 3 but companies didn’t want to reward it.

Until recently that is! I’ve mentioned several times United of Omaha’s Fit test lifestyle credits that can be used to bring down the premium on rated cases. One of the criteria they use for crediting is a lower cholesterol ratio. Banner Life recently jumped on a similar band wagon by offering rate class improvement when cholesterol is higher than their best rate class guideline (220), but the ratio is below 4.

I recognize that underwriters are working with assumptions of mortality risk and doctors are working on the assumption that if you keep someone healthy they will stay alive and feel better, so it seems to me like there’s room for movement on this issue. I think both agree that higher HDL is a good thing. I hope the movement we are seeing is just the tip of the iceberg as companies move to reward those who are doing what it takes to live a healthy lifestyle.

Bottom line. At least for now you can’t do much better if you can meet the strictest guidelines, total cholesterol of 200 and a ratio of 4.5 or below. What many of us in the business (and a lot of customers) would like to see is more flexibility to reward lower ratios in the presence of higher totals. Medically it makes sense and I honestly don’t think life insurance companies have the data to prove it is safe from a mortality standpoint as well.