Buying life insurance is important to protect your loved ones, but the process of getting covered can be stressful and challenging. That’s because life insurers don’t just give you a policy because you apply for one. You need to go through the underwriting process.
On this page:
- How the Underwriting Process Impacts Those Who Have Taken Drugs
- Impact of Drug Use on Life Insurance Policies
- Drugs That Life Insurance Companies Must Test For
- Legal Drug Use and Life Insurance
- No Medical Exam Life Insurance Policy
How the Underwriting Process Impacts Those Who Have Taken Drugs
Life insurance underwriting is a process in which insurers assess the risk that you’ll die while covered and the death benefit will have to be paid.
Insurance companies want to avoid paying out money as much as possible, so they take a close look at your health status when deciding whether it’s likely you’ll pass on. Anything that could increase the chances you’ll die while covered will raise your rates. And, in some cases, insurers will decide the risk is too high and will just deny you coverage.
A medical exam is one way insurers work to determine risk. A medical exam can be used to ensure you’re a non-smoker and see if you have any other high-risk medical conditions.
One component of this medical exam may involve drug tests to determine if you’re currently using prescription or illegal narcotics. Drug use can be disqualifying or can raise rates dramatically, depending upon the situation—so read on to find out how testing positive for drugs might affect your ability to get covered.
Impact of Drug Use on Life Insurance Policies
During the underwriting process, American insurers want to find out if you use drugs now or if you have used drugs in the past. You’ll be asked to provide information on drug use when you apply for a policy. You need to be honest, even if your illegal drug use was in the past.
If you don’t disclose that you used prescription or illegal drugs when an insurance company asks you, you could void your policy, or the insurer may be allowed to reduce the death benefit paid out if something happens to you.
Past Drug Use
If you admit to past drug use, this doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll always pay more or that you won’t be approved for a policy.
Insurers consider the kinds of drugs used as well as how long ago you gave up using narcotics. Insurers are typically much more concerned with current or very recent drug use, and if you haven’t used illegal drugs for many years, chances are good you’ll be given the opportunity to buy a policy at rates similar to someone who has never used them.
Current Drug Use
Current drug use, on the other hand, will have a much more profound impact on your ability to get life insurance. Insurers don’t just take your word for it when it comes to determining if you’re a drug user.
A drug test will typically be a part of the medical exam you’re required to undergo when you’re shopping for coverage. Most often, you’ll be asked to take either a blood test or provide a urine sample through a urine test. In rare cases, a hair drug test will be done.
These tests are used to determine if you have any medical conditions as well. You may also have to do multiple tests to make sure false positives weren’t showing up. For example, as strange as it sounds, eating poppy seeds can sometimes cause a false positive on a drug test for opiates.
The Drug Test
Refusal to take a drug test could result in a denial of your application. Testing positive for drugs could also result in insurance companies either denying you coverage or charging much more.
This is true even when you are using drugs that are legal where you live. In fact, not only do test results showing the use of marijuana often increase your premiums, but nicotine and alcohol could also result in raised rates or a coverage denial.
Even prescription drugs could pose problems, especially if those prescription medications have a high risk of addiction or if the medications you’re taking indicate you have serious health issues that increase the risk of insuring you.
For example, a prescription drug that shows up on a urine test might indicate you have a serious problem with high blood pressure. If this is noted during the application process and the insurance medical exam, you may not get the best rates or you may not be eligible for a life insurance policy.
While almost all life insurance companies will automatically deny you if you test positive for illegal narcotics, insurers have different policies when it comes to past drug use or situations with marijuana users or nicotine users. Some are much more likely to deny coverage or charge exorbitant premiums. But all consider the frequency with which you use drugs and the type of substance when deciding how to treat your life insurance application.
Drugs That Life Insurance Companies Must Test For
Life insurance companies test for many different kinds of prescription and illegal narcotics during the insurance exam, including:
Many of these substances will stay in your system for weeks or months after use. Don’t assume you can avoid testing positive if you just stop using drugs in the days or weeks leading up to your life insurance drug test.
Legal Drug Use and Life Insurance
Some of the drugs insurance companies test for, such as opiates, may be prescribed by your doctor and are fully legal. Nicotine is always legal, while marijuana is legal in an increasing number of locations.
If you test positive for legal drugs and you can show the life insurance company you have a valid prescription, don’t assume insurance companies will just overlook the drug use when deciding whether to insure you and how much to charge you. Insurers are concerned not just with whether you’re breaking the law when taking a drug, but also with whether your use of the drug suggests you present a greater risk to the insurance company.
If you’re using strong prescription drugs to treat a serious illness, you present a greater risk to the insurer. If you’re using legal substances such as nicotine that affect your health, insurers still believe you present a greater risk. And if you’re using prescription medications people often become addicted to, such as pain medications or muscle relaxers, insurers are going to find it riskier to insure you.
Whenever insurers find you high risk, premiums increase or denials happen. You aren’t guaranteed the right to buy life insurance, and insurance companies are free to say they won’t sell it to you—even if their reason for the denial is legal drug use.
No Medical Exam Life Insurance Policy
If you find yourself being denied life insurance coverage as a result of testing positive for drug use on a drug test or because of something else in your medical records or your medical history, all is not lost. You don’t have to give up using prescription medications you might need or wait years to get covered after giving up an illegal drug habit. There are life insurance options out there that will allow you to get covered today.
One of those types of life insurance is called guaranteed issue life insurance, or no medical exam life insurance. To get this kind of insurance coverage, you don’t need to undergo an exam, and health insurers don’t deny coverage based on health status. Instead, you just need to apply to get covered.
Guaranteed issue life insurance policies are a good option because almost anyone can get these types of policies.
However, there are downsides. For example, the maximum death benefit available with guaranteed issue policies is often very small, and you may have a graduated death benefit. With a graduated death benefit, your beneficiaries don’t receive the full death benefit until you’ve been covered for a few years; instead, the amount they receive gradually increases the longer you’re covered.
Guaranteed issue life insurance isn’t as good as a standard term life policy in many cases due to these coverage limitations. But you can still ensure your family has the money necessary to pay for funeral costs and cover other costs in the aftermath of your death by buying guaranteed issue coverage if drug use precludes you from getting another type of policy.
Drug Use Will Affect Your Ability to Get Covered
Whether you’re using prescription drugs or illegal drugs, there’s a good chance your use of narcotics is going to affect your ability to buy life insurance and your life insurance rates and it can be a big deal in some cases. That doesn’t mean you have no options to buy a policy that protects your family.
Since different insurance companies have different underwriting rules when it comes to drug use, you should shop around carefully to find an insurer that will cover you at a price you can pay. Don’t let your family go without coverage; start shopping today.