When A Client Has Elevated Cholesterol
People typically dont think they have high blood cholesterol, says Heather Prado, underwriting specialist at the Milner Group, Atlanta.
Unless a person is closely followed by a medical practitioner, is older or has a risk factor for high cholesterol, says Prado, the person is likely to say, “Oh, my cholesterol is fine.”
But life insurance agents, brokers and underwriters say that isnt always so. Many applicants for life insurance do have elevated cholesterol but dont know it, they say.
That is forcing advisors to learn more about the condition–and what they should do if an applicants level is elevated. This article addresses those issues.
Cholesterol is a fat-like substance in the blood that builds up in the walls of the arteries. This buildup narrows the arteries and can constrict blood flow, according to the cholesterol section of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Web site. High blood cholesterol is one of the major risk factors for heart disease, NIH adds.
Estimates are that as many as 102.3 million American adults have total blood cholesterol of 200 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter) and up, according to the American Heart Association Web site. Medically speaking, a cholesterol reading of 200 is considered the maximum for the desirable range (see table).
Most people who apply for life insurance do have levels in the normal range, says Alta Garcia, an impaired risk specialist and operations manager at Brown & Brown Associates, Corpus Christi, Texas.
“Still, we are seeing more applicants who have elevated cholesterol that is being controlled by medication or diet and exercise,” she says.
This increase likely reflects the fact that more and more Americans are overweight, surmises Cindy Gentry, president of Brown & Brown Associates and chair-elect of National Association of Independent Life Brokerage Agencies, Fairfax, Va.
Knowing ones cholesterol level is not only a personal health concern for individuals, their families and health care providers, say insurance professionals, it is also a business concern for insurance underwriters and producers.
Thats because cholesterol level is one factor insurers use in assessing the risk they assume in issuing coverage.
Many insurers use the 200 level as their underwriting benchmark, but some use a slightly higher or lower level. (As discussed below, most also incorporate other factors when reviewing an applicant with an elevated level.)
Typically, a level above 200 will not result in the application being denied or table-rated, says Neal Hasty, vice president and chief underwriter at AIG Life Brokerage in Dallas. But the degree of elevation does influence the rate classification a person is assigned–typically between standard and preferred plus.
That assignment impacts the premium charged for the coverage and therefore, how successful the advisor will be in placing the case. Hence, the question: What should the advisor do when an applicant has elevated cholesterol?
The best situation occurs when the client already knows the level and/or has had a recent blood test showing the number, says Gentry. If the level is high (or has been in the past), the agent can then write a cover letter detailing what the client is doing to control the level, she says.
This letter, which accompanies the application, should also point out other factors that would support the applicant receiving the best rate possible, Gentry says.
Diet and exercise is one way that people can bring down their cholesterol levels, notes Garcia. Some clients also take medications to control the level. If an applicant is following one of these regimens, the agent should detail that in the letter, she says.
From an underwriters viewpoint, those letters are “extremely helpful,” says AIGs Hasty. “Its good if you can include information about the family, lifestyle, financial situation and any other information that will help us understand where the client is coming from.”
The insurance applications do have an “agent report” section where advisors can enter this information, Hasty adds, but unfortunately, a lot of agents do not fill that in or attach a separate letter.
What if the client makes application without knowing anything about his or her cholesterol level?
Thats the most common cholesterol underwriting situation, says Matthew J. McAvoy, principal of Target Insurance Services, Overland Park, Kan.