More than 1.1 million Americans live with a pacemaker. That number is large enough that the life insurance industry has moved to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of people who have pacemakers and need coverage.
If you have a pacemaker, the important takeaway is that you will not automatically be declined for a life insurance policy.
As pacemakers have become more common among the population, and as the technology has made great strides, having the device no longer results in an automatic life insurance decline.
It’s very likely you’ll be charged a higher premium, but even that may not be as high as you think.
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What is a Pacemaker?
A pacemaker is a small device implanted under the skin in your chest and used to control your heartbeat. It helps your heart to beat more regularly if you have an irregular heartbeat, or if your heartbeat is slow.
There are several types of pacemakers.
Single and Dual Chamber Pacemakers
A single chamber pacemaker carries electrical impulses to the right ventricle of your heart, while a dual-chamber pacemaker carries electrical impulses to the right ventricle and the right atrium, to help control the timing of contractions between the two chambers.
The third type is the biventricular pacemaker, also referred to as cardiac resynchronization therapy.
It’s for people with heart failure from abnormal electrical systems. It stimulates the lower chambers of the heart, including the right and left ventricles, to make the heartbeat more efficiently.
In some cases, pacemakers are implanted on a temporary basis. This may include several weeks or months following heart surgery.
In other cases, they’re inserted on a permanent basis to help manage an ongoing heart condition.
Pacemakers are battery-operated, and batteries can last between five and 15 years.
How Life Insurance Companies Consider Applicants with a Pacemaker
Life insurance companies don’t evaluate an applicant based on whether or not he or she has a pacemaker.
Of much greater interest are the underlying conditions that made the pacemaker necessary.
For example, some of the underlying conditions a pacemaker will be used to regulate include atrial fibrillation (“afib”), congestive heart failure, cardiomyopathy, slow heartbeat, coronary artery disease, congenital heart block, or syncope.
Each underlying condition will be judged according to the way the insurance company views that particular condition and rated accordingly.
Age Which Pacemaker was Implanted
The age at which the pacemaker was implanted plays a major role in determining your premium level. The older you are at the time of application, the more favorable view the life insurance company will take.
For example, it’s likely you’ll get a better premium rating if a pacemaker is inserted after age 60 than you would if it were implanted before you turn 40.
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Length of Time You Have Had The Pacemaker
Insurance companies also look for how long you have been wearing the pacemaker. As a rule, they’ll want to know that you’ve been wearing it for a minimum of between 90 days and one year before you’ll be eligible for coverage.
This will give the insurance company an opportunity to assess the effectiveness of the pacemaker in treating the underlying health condition.
Naturally, the insurance company will also be concerned with any heart-related issues that are not being successfully treated by the pacemaker.
Any Unrelated Health Condition
The existence of any unrelated, pre-existing conditions would also be a factor.
And, since a pacemaker deals with your heart, they’ll want to know if you’ve ever experienced a heart attack or stroke, or whether or not any of your parents or siblings have experienced either.
Other factors under consideration include your current height and weight, ongoing tobacco use, and how frequently you are seeking medical treatment and monitoring of your underlying condition.
Can I Get Life Insurance with a Pacemaker?
In most cases, the answer will be certifiably yes! The purpose of the pacemaker is to successfully manage and treat your underlying condition.
If that’s happening, your application is very likely to be approved. The only real question will be the premium rate they’ll charge for your policy.
Because of the health conditions that necessitate the use of a pacemaker, it’s usually necessary to go through a full, medically underwritten application process to determine exactly what your premium will be.
You may be able to get a “ballpark estimate,” but it will be nothing more than that. A full medical underwriting could reveal a different outcome—either higher or lower on the premium.
If you receive your pacemaker after age 60, your underlying condition is well managed, and you are otherwise in good or excellent health, you may qualify for a standard rating.
That means you won’t get the best rates the company offers (preferred plus, preferred, or standard plus), but, you’ll still be on the lower end of the premium spectrum.
If you received your pacemaker before age 60 and you have other health conditions, or your underlying condition has not been fully addressed by the pacemaker, you’ll likely qualify for substandard ratings.
These are also commonly referred to as table ratings, which are used by insurance companies to calculate premiums for those who are considered to have below-average health.
A typical life insurance company will have a table rating chart providing 10 different individual ratings. Each will increase the premium by 25% to adjust for the higher risk associated with your overall health.
For example, if you are given a table rating of 1 (or A), your premium will be 25% higher than a standard premium level. If you’re given a table rating of 2 (or B), your premium will be increased by 50% over the standard premium level.
At the extreme, a cable rating of 10 will result in a premium notice 250% higher than the standard rate.
Unquestionably, table ratings will result in higher premiums. But, it will be a way of getting life insurance coverage, albeit at a higher cost. However, you may be able, at least partially, to offset the cost factor by taking a smaller death benefit.
Improving Your Chance of Approval for Life Insurance with a Pacemaker
If you have a pacemaker, the most important strategy you can implement is to be sure to make an application with the right life insurance company.
Not all companies take the same view of pacemakers—or any other health condition or risk factor—so where one might decline your application, another might approve it. We’ll discuss more on that subject in the next section.
It will be important that you maintain regular follow-up visits with your cardiologist and any other healthcare professionals. You’ll also need to be diligent in managing any other therapies, including the use of medications.
It’s at least as important to make sure that your overall health is where it needs to be. Apart from the condition necessitating the pacemaker, you’ll improve your chances of getting life insurance with the lowest possible premium rate by doing the following:
- Avoid smoking. If you do smoke, join a smoking cessation program. You’ll normally need to be smoke-free for a minimum of two years to get better premium rates.
- Drive carefully. A pattern of at-fault accidents or moving violations in the past three- to five-years will result in a higher premium, regardless of any other factors in your insurance profile.
- Maintain good credit. Poor credit has been associated with higher risk (stress, depression, etc.).
- Maintain proper body weight. Obesity or even being overweight will result in a higher premium.
- Work closely with the healthcare profession. Insurance companies are encouraged when applicants are proactive in managing their own health.
Complying with the above habits won’t make your pacemaker consideration go away. But, it will minimize the impact, and show that you are otherwise an excellent applicant.
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Applying for Life Insurance with a Pacemaker
We touched on this briefly above, but it’s worth a deeper discussion here. Applying with the right life insurance company is mission-critical if you have a pacemaker.
There is no standard consideration for a pacemaker—or any other health condition—within the life insurance industry.
Some companies take a more favorable view, others more neutral, while others are still very negative. You’ll need to make an application only with those that take a favorable view.
Unless you’re familiar with the life insurance industry, you won’t know which companies are most likely to approve your application with low premiums.
As life insurance brokers, that’s what we do all day. We know exactly which companies to work with if you have a pacemaker, or if you have any other complication in your insurance profile that makes you other than the “perfect applicant.”
We work with dozens of life insurance providers, and can narrow the field down to the handful most likely to provide the lowest premiums. We can even shop your profile through several companies to come up with the very best.
None of those efforts will cost you any more in premium than you would pay if you purchase coverage directly from the provider. We are compensated directly from the insurance companies, which does not affect the premium you’ll pay at all.
And, don’t worry if you’ve applied for life insurance in the past and have been declined because of your pacemaker. It’s entirely likely you made application with the wrong company, or one that does life insurance only as part of a portfolio of insurance products.
If you have a pacemaker, you need specialization, not the company quoting the lowest premiums for the healthiest applicants.