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An estimated 11.78 million Americans are coping with what’s known as long Covid, according to the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. People with long Covid, also known as Covid long haulers, experience lingering symptoms of Covid-19 following an initial recovery. These symptoms can be as mild as fatigue, cough, fever or dizziness or as severe as heart, lung, brain or kidney damage.
The still-unclear, long-term effects of Covid-19 are obviously a health concern. But they also could be a concern for people trying to buy life insurance. Given the relatively short amount of time long Covid has been identified, much remains uncertain about how it will impact the ability of Covid long haulers to purchase life insurance that’s affordable.
Long-haul Covid, like any chronic medical condition, could affect what you’ll pay for life insurance.
“There’s a lot we don’t know. We are watching and studying things very carefully, staying very close to scientific guidance,” says Brooks Tingle, president and CEO of John Hancock Insurance.
How Covid Can Affect Life Insurance Buyers
Simply having had Covid-19 shouldn’t affect an applicant’s qualification for life insurance or the price they pay for a policy, according to Tingle. Rather, he says, life insurers will tend to focus on underlying medical conditions—conditions that may or may not be tied to Covid-19. Those conditions could include cardiac or pulmonary problems, for example.
Life insurance companies in the U.S. are asking questions about Covid-19 on their applications, specifically whether the applicant has been diagnosed with Covid or whether somebody in their household has been. A “yes” response might delay an application, but it doesn’t automatically mean your application will be denied.
“We don’t want to overreact to long Covid. But at the same time, this is definitely a dynamic and evolving picture,” says Nico van Zyl, medical director of Hannover Re US, a reinsurance company.
Van Zyl suspects that when it comes to long Covid and life insurance, much of the emphasis will be on organ damage. Case in point: A study published Sept. 1 by the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology suggests that sufferers of long Covid run a high risk of developing kidney damage and chronic and end-stage kidney diseases.
However, organ damage thus far isn’t among the five most prevalent long-term effects of Covid-19. The five most common are fatigue, headache, attention disorder, hair loss and dyspnea (shortness of breath), according to an article published in August in the journal Scientific Reports. In all, the researchers identified 55 possible long-term effects of Covid-19.
“There’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg thing with Covid,” says Tingle at John Hancock Insurance. “Folks that had underlying health issues have tended to have worse outcomes when they have gotten Covid. And in some cases, some people that had particularly nasty bouts with Covid have had health conditions emerge after the fact.”
As such, conditions that have been exacerbated or triggered by Covid-19 could factor into how much someone pays for life insurance, Tingle says.
“Am I having lung issues? Am I having heart issues? Do I have other chronic conditions?” are examples that Tingle gives.
All of these conditions can affect the rates that life insurance buyers will pay.
If you already own a life insurance policy, your rate can’t be changed because you’ve had Covid—or any other condition. That’s why it’s good to lock in a rate when you’re younger and healthier, rather than waiting.
An Uncertain Future
Still, much remains unknown about how long-term Covid symptoms will affect someone’s life expectancy, he points out. Life expectancy is one of the factors that life insurers weigh during the underwriting process. But Tingle says it can take years or even decades to draw conclusions about the connection between life expectancy and a certain health condition, such as cancer or heart disease.
Questions about the impact of long Covid come amid heightened Interest in life insurance among Americans. In the first six months of this year, life insurance policy sales growth hit its highest level since 1983.
Tingle suggests that if you’ve suffered lingering symptoms of Covid-19 and want to shop for life insurance, you should apply to several companies to find out how they assess your insurability. A previous Covid-19 diagnosis should not deter you from applying for coverage, he says.
“I would say the vast majority of time when people apply for life insurance, they’re pleasantly surprised rather than negatively surprised about the price and the risk assessment,” Tingle says. “My advice would be: If you need life insurance or you think you don’t have enough life insurance, go out and get it, because stuff happens.”
Van Zyl suggests getting a formal diagnosis of long Covid before submitting a life insurance application. This way, an “informed consumer” can make “informed decisions,” he says.
“Arm yourself. Make sure you get the diagnosis confirmed. Make sure that you are being adequately treated,” says van Zyl, stressing that a diagnosis of long Covid “does not mean that that’s going to preclude you from getting coverage.”