Insurance Underwriting: what’s a cancer-afflicted chick to do?

  • 22 February 2012

What more will cancer take from me?

This is the question I asked myself yesterday as I received the latest insurance underwriting decision: DENIED.

Not long ago I asked my financial planner if I would qualify for long-term care insurance. Now living on my own, with no family support nearby, I realized the wisdom of putting into place now–at age 59–a plan for my care should medical hard times befall me down the road. Did I have sufficient assets at this point to afford insurance that would cover me for home health care or residence in a medical facility? It seemed logical. I didn’t want to end up like my parents in a skilled nursing facility wondering whether I would outlive my lifetime savings and be put at the mercy of public assistance.

Boy, was I naive!

To my shock and dismay I discovered that while I qualify financially for such a policy, I pose a poor risk to these bureaucrats. The underwriters of policies for two separate companies denied me coverage outright without even giving me the opportunity to take a medical exam or a detailed phone survey. Never mind that I had no lymph node involvement. Never mind that I have been in remission for nine years. Never mind that I never smoked, rarely drank, have no chronic pain or joint replacements, maintain a healthy heart and weight, eat right (mostly) and moderately exercise aerobically at least 150 minutes per week. I just don’t get it. I’m at least as fit and able as most Americans my age.

Cancer was the operative word.

I wasn’t the only one stunned. My financial planners also expressed shock at this outcome. Now the task begins for them to arrive at an alternative plan that will provide some safeguards tailored to my unique circumstances.

I should have expected it. After all, I’m still in a high-risk medical insurance pool even though nine years have passed since my last chemotherapy treatment. And the premiums for this policy soar every year to heights that will soon make it unaffordable to me. Then I’ll join the ever-growing ranks of 47 million Americans with no health insurance. Unless I land a high-paying job or a job with medical benefits, the Holy Grail of countless unemployed applicants.

One silver lining: many non-profits exist to help the uninsured and under-insured pay for medical visits. I list some links to their helpful sites in the Resources section of my website. And from the Lymphedema Mavens internet radio show this week, I discovered an organization, The Medicine Cabinet, that provides free prescription drugs to patients who qualify.

Still, the harshness and cold rejection of these insurance companies stings me. Reviewing all the insults to my body and soul, the betrayals by my body and a trusted loved one, I’d say I’ve had more than my share of woes for a lifetime. I only wish the insurance gurus would realize how much they add to the stress, grief and betrayal that cancer (with or without lymphedema) inflicts on us. I wish they comprehended how much they inflate the ranks of those who must resort to public assistance, further burdening the taxpayers and those fortunate enough to have insurance.

Let’s have a cancer tea party. Let’s burn effigies of the insurance companies’ logos in protest of their uncaring spirit.

Have you been denied a medical or other policy by an insurance company because of cancer? Because of any other illness? If so, how did you cope with the setback? If so, what do you do now for healthcare coverage or long-term care coverage? 


    I’m part of the Texas Risk Pool which is Blue Cross-Blue Shield. In Texas, it’s a law that one can’t be denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition. I imagine you’ve already checked to see if California has similar insurance coverage. People do move to a state that offers such coverage, but that’s an additional expense and assault to leave your home, friends and job. Certainly this country’s insurance laws, etc. need to be revamped, but Obama’s socialized medicine isn’t it. Look at number of people from Canada, England, etc who come here for good medical care, plus the cost of maintaining government healthcare puts the rest of a nation’s economy at risk. It’s a terrible quagmire. Actually it’s unforgivable.


  • jhasak

    Brenda, thanks for your comment initiating the discussion. California has a risk pool mandated by the same law as Texas. But the premiums for such a privilege are sky-high and jumping over $100 per month every year. Their justification for the guaranteed increase? To cover the uninsured, my advancing age, and the rising cost of healthcare. But I can’t take on all the costs of those who for whatever reason can’t pay. The system absolutely must be reformed, and I pray for a courageous and wise whiz who can come up with a reasoned and affordable fix. It IS unforgivable. XOXO Jan

  • Tory

    I’m sorry Jan. Insurance is an ugly business. I know my parents, self-employed, hard working, tax paying citizens paid a whopping $2700 a quarter for their medical insurance premium. My dad is in fine health ( actually deadlifted 500+ pounds the other week), but after my mom passed, Blue Shield was kind enough to lower the premium from $2700 to $2500! Are you kidding? Who can afford this? Thats $10,000 a year so he has the privilege of paying 20% of all medical expenses AFTER reaching his $2000 deductible.

    Long term insurance is even worse…

    I have hope something will work for you.


  • jhasak

    Tory, health-related insurance equals ugly all the way around. It’s outrageous that your parents paid so much together, and now your dad in fine health pays a “reduced” quarterly premium of $2500. Whoopie doo on the discount! That’s awful. I run twice a week, walk twice or thrice a week and bike the other days. Yet still I pay $1150 per month for individual medical insurance. My copay is 30% and the deductible $1500. Something has to change. I’m hoping my insurance broker can come up with a viable, affordable option that views me as a basically healthy person and not just a statistic. Thanks for chiming in! XOXO Jan

  • charm

    Aloha Jan, I’m so sorry for all you’ve suffered. I was fortunate. My financial planner told me I’d need long -term health care not long after my husband’s death 6 years ago, long before my breast cancer. I’m contacting her today to verify that they cannot now reject me. I’ll pray for a solution for you. Ifeel guilty benefiting from your bad experience, but I pray God will use my bad experiences as a blessing for someone else.

  • jhasak

    Aloha to you, too. Your financial planner was very savvy to set up that care when she did. I doubt the insurance company can now reject you. It’s likely they only decline a potential insured if the condition is pre-existing. Please don’t feel guilty about benefiting from my woes. I’m glad my experience can help and bless someone else. Thanks so much for your prayers. I appreciate them very much, and your kind comment. XOXO Jan

  • Tory


    That is completely ridiculous! No way should one person be expected to come up with so much, just to cover their rear ends. I try not to get political ( and I won’t), but something has to give…geez!

  • jhasak

    It’s outrageous, isn’t it? But that is reality for me, at least until I go broke. XOXO

  • Marie Ennis-O’Connor (@JBBC)

    I am so sorry that you are going through this stress Jan. When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer I was single and just about to purchase my first apartment – I was really stressed out too when I almost lost my loan application because of my cancer, and in the end, only got to go through with it, by forfeiting my right to life assurance. Each year out from my treatment, i try again to get life assurance, but each time it is either denied or the premium is so high, I forego it again.

  • jhasak

    I’m so sorry for all the financial hassles you’ve been through, Marie, as a result of your cancer. It’s a shame we can’t qualify for assurance programs and benefits that others simply take for granted. We are considered an unacceptable risk to the powers-that-be. No matter how long we’ve been in remission. No matter how healthy we are in all respects. A downright shame. Thanks for sharing your experiences. XOXO

  • pinkunderbelly

    No life insurance for me, either, even though like you, Jan, my cancer is well in the past and I do all the hard work to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and did so before diagnosis as well. It’s insult to injury for insurance companies to deny us without even considering the case. I wish it didn’t have to be this way. One thing is for sure, though: committed women like you are smart to be writing about it.

  • jhasak

    I’m sorry that you can’t qualify for life insurance, Nancy. What a bummer. No question that we must continue to write about our setbacks. The ogre of cancer isn’t behind us when treatment ends, not by a long shot. It lingers on in so many forms, ways that are often unexpected and shocking. We just keep keeping on and supporting each other in this fight called life. XOXO Jan