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When you apply for life insurance it is not a given that you will get what you want or what you believe you deserve. By far the majority of policies are approved with no surprises. A smaller percentage are approved but at a different rate. And a small percentage are declined by the insurance company because they perceive the risk to be unacceptable.

So why do declines happen? What are the most common reasons that a perfectly good application can result in complete rejection? What impact does a decline have on your ability to get insurance through another company?

The most common reasons are:

1. Something comes up on the lab results that neither you or the agent knew about. It has not been an uncommon occurrence for clients to find out, due to the life insurance exam, that they have prostate cancer, hepatitis, diabetes or the beginning stages of coronary artery disease (CAD). I know I blog all the time about how you can get life insurance with these conditions, but that assumes that you know about it, are treating or have treated it, and it is cured or under control. This reason for decline happens most frequently with people who don’t see the value of an occasional physical.

2. Non compliance with your doctor. For those who do visit the doctor occasionally, there is often a recommendation to have something looked into further or perhaps a recommendation to come back for a follow up in 6 months. Sometimes the doctor will give you a referral for say, a stress test or additional lab work. Plenty of folks blow those things off because they feel fine and can’t see wasting the money. Life insurance underwriters have a zero tolerance for people who don’t do what is recommended by the doctor (that they went to for a checkup and advice).

3. Stupidity. I had a client who had colon cancer about 13 years before he came to me. They removed part of his colon, did chemo and radiation, and he had not been back to a doctor since. It really kind of takes gall to even apply for life insurance with that attitude. Why would a company insure you when you don’t even care if you live?

4. Assuming that some past medical history doesn’t matter. Even though I start my relationship with every client with a health interview that starts with the preface, “Have you ever been diagnosed with or been treated for…” and ends with “Is there anything that I haven’t asked that might come up in your medical records..”, people will choose to leave something out because they don’t believe it’s relevant. When the medical records are acquired and the decline hits, the responses run along these lines. “I didn’t think anything mattered after 10 years”. “My doctor said I was as good as new after my heart surgery”. “Well, I didn’t think that was any of your business”. The quotes you receive and the end result are only as good as your honesty and forthrightness. Nothing is irrelevant until the underwriter says it is.

5. Alcohol abuse. When you drink heavily there is a high likelihood that your liver functions will be elevated. If liver functions are elevated on labs, it triggers the running of an additional test called a CDT. The CDT is an alcohol marker that, while not a diagnostic tool for alcoholism, is a very accurate test indicating whether a person is a heavy drinker. Suffice it to say that a glass of wine with dinner won’t impact your liver or show up on a CDT. A six pack a day is likely to do both.

I am often asked what impact a decline has on a person’s chances of getting insurance in the future. The answer, of course, depends. If the decline is for any of the reasons above and you don’t take care of the problem or become more honest, the result will be the same.

But often a decline by one company may get a completely different result from another company. Very often it is simply a case of the wrong agent taking your business to the wrong company. Could be that the underwriter just had an attitude or made a mistake. We are very successful at turning bad declines into good approvals. To me the nice thing about working a declined case is that all the cards are on the table and when I shop it, I know exactly what company to go to for an approval.

Bottom line. A decline on a life insurance application doesn’t mean you can’t get life insurance and many times you can end up with very reasonable rates. A good independent agent is needed simply because you want a broad range of companies to choose from and generally they will understand the steps to take with your initial bad experience.