Editor's Note: This post was originally published on the Ash Brokerage blog in 2015. To date, it's the most popular post on our website. Why? We think it's because our underwriters aren’t afraid to discuss a challenging and potentially taboo topic that's becoming relevant to more of your clients every single day. The piece below has been updated to reflect changes since the original was posted. If you have any questions or concerns about underwriting, don't be afraid to ask our team! They'll always find an answer.
Marijuana use is a hot and evolving topic in life insurance underwriting. For those of us who’ve been around the insurance block a time or two, we can certainly remember the days when any type of marijuana use resulted in an automatic decline. Today, the answer isn’t so cut and dry.
To understand the topic, look at today's legal treatment of marijuana:*
As of March 2018, 29 U.S. states, plus the District of Columbia, have laws that legalize marijuana in some form
Nine states – Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Vermont – as well as D.C., have adopted the most liberal laws, which legalize marijuana for recreation use
Several more states are either considering legislation or potential ballot measures in 2018
In recent years, our industry has increased acceptance of applicants using marijuana recreationally and for medicinal purposes. We have seen offers from best class nonsmoker to decline.
Minimal use is acceptable with some carriers; while moderate to daily use may result in a decline. Multiple factors impact risk assessment for applicants using marijuana, including:
Amount and frequency of marijuana used
Method of delivery into the body
Underlying condition for which marijuana was prescribed
Other potentially related factors: avocations, driving record and occupation
Some carriers will offer smoker rate classes to an applicant who smokes marijuana, while others will offer nonsmoker rates if use is minimal and potentially preferred rates if the client otherwise qualifies.
Applicants with a valid marijuana prescription to treat symptoms of an impairment may be assessed an additional rating for their impairment. Certain impairments or co-morbid conditions will result in an automatic decline, even if the applicant has a valid prescription or lives in a state which has legalized recreational marijuana.
Applicants with a history of alcohol or drug treatments, or applicants currently using multiple recreational drugs, are considered an unfavorable risk. Likewise, applicants with significant mood disorders and past criminal activity are also considered unfavorable.
Cannabidiol, also known as CBD, can be derived from hemp or marijuana. CBD products created from marijuana have very high levels of THC, therefore applicants using CBD products created with marijuana will fall under the carrier’s guideline for marijuana use. Applicants using CBD products produced from hemp will not be considered as marijuana users.
Other things to note for underwriting:
Today’s insurance labs cannot measure quantity of use, nor how the marijuana was delivered into the body
Some carriers automatically test for marijuana, while others will reflex the test as deemed necessary
Most carriers will request an attending physician statement (APS) and/or copy of the valid prescription for applicants being treated with medical marijuana
Marijuana sales remain illegal at the federal level, but the marijuana industry is growing like a very profitable weed. According to Tom Adams, managing director of BDS Analytics, national marijuana sales will rise to $11 billion in 2018, and to $21 billion in 2021.*
With the federal government still viewing marijuana sales as illegal, almost every insurance carrier will not offer insurance on any employee of a marijuana farm or dispensary, or owners of farms or dispensaries. As of today, only a small handful of traditional life insurance carriers will consider select clients on an individual basis for personal coverage only.
Since there are so many variables influencing the underwriting decision for both recreational and medical marijuana users, it’s impossible to recommend a carrier without having all the facts. The good news is at Ash Brokerage, you have a dedicated staff of seasoned underwriters available to answer your questions regarding marijuana usage and assist you every step of the way. We’d welcome the opportunity to talk with you about your client’s specific needs.
Additionally, the Ash Brokerage website has numerous impairment questionnaires, including a marijuana questionnaire, which are useful in evaluating medical, financial or avocation risk. They’ll help you uncover potential issues before collecting a formal application, and ensure your call with your Ash underwriter is productive.
For more than 34 years, Charlie Kuhn has taken a personal interest in every case. To her, it’s more than a file – it’s a person trying to protect the people they care about, and she can think of no better vocation than to help provide financial and emotional security for others. Through her personal commitment to continuous professional growth, Charlie is one test away from becoming an Associate of the Life Management Institute. She is already an Associate of Customer Service with LOMA, has passed all three of the Academy of Life Underwriting exams, and is certified in EKG interpretation.
Ash Brokerage Questionnaire: http://go.ashbrokerage.com/WC2018-04-UW-8151_LP-Content.html
*CNN Money, “The U.S. legal marijuana industry is booming,” Jan. 31, 2018: http://money.cnn.com/2018/01/31/news/marijuana-state-of-the-union/index.html
One of the first questions you’ll see on most life insurance applications is whether or not the applicant has Alzheimer’s disease, dementia or any form of cognitive impairment. In most cases, a “Yes” response is often the precursor to declining your policy. However, understanding these impairments will help get your client full consideration – and potentially a policy in hand.
The word dementia is really just a general term used in describing symptoms caused by disorders of the brain. Symptoms are things like memory loss, or difficulties with thinking, problem solving or language.1 The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. Typically, if you have been diagnosed with end-stage dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, the condition has progressed enough that it interferes with activities of daily living. This decline in cognition is severe enough to generally exclude consideration for traditional life insurance plans.
Mild Cognitive impairment or MCI is a decline in memory and personality that could produce alterations in judgment, behavior and language. Mild cognitive impairment is a disorder that presents with measurable memory decline, but the client is able to independently perform all usual activities of daily living successfully. This is not to be confused with basic forgetfulness or not being able to recall a name on occasion. However, it’s important to understand the signs and symptoms. In fact, there are several causes of mild cognitive impairment that are actually reversible. To name just a few: thyroid dysfunction, vitamin deficiency, medication side effects, sleep disorders and even stress.
In general, a medical workup for cognitive impairment will include:
If the workup doesn't create a clear clinical picture, the doctor may recommend neuropsychological testing, which involves a series of written or computerized tests to evaluate specific thinking skills.2
To help best negotiate a life insurance offer, we must work together to determine the actual diagnosis and how it was made. We must understand the severity of the client’s symptoms or lack even lack thereof.
It’s important to highlight all of the favorable factors. This would include having regular preventative health care and immunizations, as well as compliance with any prescribed medications. You should also make note of a routine that involves gainful employment, regular exercise, hobbies, participation in social activities and the ability to travel or take vacations. It also helps to point out if there are any family members with longevity as well.
What does this all mean for your clients’ chances of securing life insurance? Carriers are continually re-evaluating their manuals when it comes to older age underwriting and cognitive impairment, giving more opportunity to secure affordable life insurance.
Clearly, many factors need to be taken into consideration for underwriting, and Ash Brokerage is here to help. To help assist you in gathering the needed information, we have developed a Cognitive Impairment Questionnaire. Give our experienced underwriting staff a call to discuss your case.
Dianne Leidigh has earned an unwavering reputation, among customers and constituents alike, as a respected partner and trusted resource. Through her personal commitment to continuous professional growth, she’s become an Associate of the Life Management Institute, Associate of Customer Service with LOMA, and an Associate of the Academy of Life Underwriting. As Dianne approaches her second decade in the brokerage life insurance industry, much of which dedicated to advocating risk, her passion for helping others, commitment to personal growth, and perseverance continues to yield truly winning solutions!
Ash Brokerage Cognitive Impairment Questionnaire: https://ashcmsstorage.blob.core.windows.net/media//Docs/uw/impairment/Mild_Cognitive_Impairment.pdf
1Alzheimer Society Canada, “What is dementia?”: http://www.alzheimer.ca/en/About-dementia/What-is-dementia
2Alzheimer’s Association, “Mild Cognitive Impairment”: https://www.alz.org/dementia/mild-cognitive-impairment-mci.asp
Do you know somebody with Breast Cancer? It’s highly likely that you or somebody you know has been diagnosed with breast cancer at some point.
In 2017 alone, it is estimated that more than 300,000 new cases of invasive/non-invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in the United States; this does not include the more than 3.1 million women who are currently being treated or have completed treatment. And, it’s not just women who are affected. A man has a 1 in 1,000 risk of developing breast cancer; in 2017, nearly 2,500 men will be diagnosed with this disease.1
A diagnosis of breast cancer is not a death sentence. There continues to be a decline in deaths from breast cancer every year, thanks to early detection and improvements in treatment. Breast cancer cannot be prevented, but early detection is paramount. Mammography continues to improve and is the gold standard for breast cancer screening because it can detect breast cancer up to two years before a tumor can be felt by you or your doctor.
Genetic testing has played a huge role with early detection in those individuals with a family history of breast cancer. Abnormal BRCA1/2 genes accounted for 1 out of every 10 cases of breast cancer. If you have been found to have BRCA1/2 mutation, you have an 80 percent risk of developing breast cancer during your lifetime. These mutations are rare in the general public, but testing should be considered when there is a strong family history of breast cancer.2
What does this all mean for your clients’ chances of securing life insurance? The continued increase in survival with breast cancer has resulted in lower mortality rates. Carriers are continually re-evaluating their manuals when it comes to breast cancer, giving more survivors the opportunity to secure affordable life insurance.
Still, many factors need to be taken into consideration for underwriting. Ash Brokerage is here to help. To help assist you in gathering the needed information, Ash has developed a Breast Cancer Client Questionnaire. Give our experienced underwriting staff a call to discuss your case.
1BreastCancer.org, U.S. Breast Cancer Statistics: http://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/understand_bc/statistics
2American Cancer Society, “Breast Cancer Risk Factors You Cannot Change”: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/risk-and-prevention/breast-cancer-risk-factors-you-cannot-change.html
Breast Caner Underwriting Questionnaire: https://ashcmsstorage.blob.core.windows.net/media//Docs/uw/impairment/Cancer-Breast.pdf
With the majority of her 20-year brokerage insurance career spent as an underwriting advocate to a diverse customer base, Kim Schrass has built long-lasting partnerships throughout the industry. The depth of her knowledge coupled with her competitive spirit of winning have earned her significant credibility among her customers and peers alike.
Do you know the top two leading causes of death among men in the United States? If you answered heart disease and cancer, you are correct!1 What you may not know is that prostate cancer is the most prevalent type of cancer among men. Currently, nearly 2.9 million American men are living with the disease, and the American Cancer Society estimates that in 2017, 161,360 men will be told they have prostate cancer.2 With these statistics, there is a high probability you will encounter the opportunity to protect a prostate cancer survivor, if you haven’t already.
As a result of increased preventative screening to include Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) – normal values between zero and four – digital rectal exam (DRE), and advancement in treatments, early detection is naturally higher.
When Prostate Cancer is diagnosed, usually through a biopsy procedure, a specific stage will be assigned. The staging refers to the extent of the cancer (how much cancer is present and how far it has spread), stage I-IV. Staging is a big piece of the puzzle in underwriting, along with a Gleason Score, which is based on the tumor pattern the pathologist sees.
All of these factors have improved many life insurance carriers’ underwriting guidelines, leading to decreased postponement periods and more favorable ratings. The key to successfully insuring your prostate cancer survivor is understanding what information is important to find the very best solution.
Two important pieces of information will be whether or not they are in full remission/cancer free and for how long (month/year the remission was established). The longer your client has been cancer free, with regular follow-up and testing, the more favorable their offer may be.
For most life insurance carriers to give consideration of someone who has a history of prostate cancer, the client must fully complete treatment (surgery, radiation, chemo) and often the carrier will require a waiting period, referred to as a postponement period. The extent of the rating and duration of postponement varies depending heavily on the stage of the prostate cancer, type of treatment, and date of last treatment. Risk philosophy also varies from carrier to carrier based on the reinsurance manual used or the carrier’s own proprietary guidelines.
With increased early detection, we are seeing more and more cases with these considerations. Active surveillance or watchful waiting means the client’s physician is treating them by regularly monitoring the client’s lab markers (PSA, CEA, etc.) on an interval basis and closely monitoring PSA velocity.
This treatment option may be elected with a first-time diagnosis or biochemical recurrence. A biochemical recurrence happens when the PSA levels transition from undetectable to detectable, generally increasing, and may occur among men treated with radical prostatectomy or radiation for localized prostate cancer. These clients require careful consideration on an individual basis with the most favorable being age 65 or older, initial diagnosis Gleason Score of six or less, availability of favorable PSA trending documented over several years, and being three or more years out if previously treated.
Let Ash Brokerage assist you with your next Prostate Cancer case. To simplify fact-finding, use our Prostate Cancer Questionnaire. We leverage our experience, carrier relationships and resources to identify viable solutions based on your client’s individual circumstances and insurance needs. Reach out to your underwriting team for information or assistance.
1Centers for Disease Control: https://www.cdc.gov/healthequity/lcod/men/2014/index.htm
Ash Brokerage Underwriting Questionnaire:http://go.ashbrokerage.com/rs/535-YRX-827/images/Cancer-Prostate.pdf
Julie’s unwavering passion and dedication for risk advocacy promotes lasting partnerships while driving impactful results for all stakeholders, from our agents to our carriers. She leverages her 20 years of industry experience with her relational approach to ensure you experience the Ash difference.
So your client is planning a trip outside of the United States. While their travel list may contain things like flip-flops, sunblock, beach towels, and toothbrushes, a life insurance underwriter’s travel list will often include things like political climate, crime rate, access to health care, participation in risky activities, and length of stay. These are just some of the many angles from which an underwriter is going to evaluate your client’s foreign travel risk.
When an underwriter talks about political climate, they are often referring to countries or regions where governments may be unstable or where governments have unfavorable opinions of the United States. Of the many lenses from which an underwriter evaluates a case, this is likely the most obvious, because oftentimes, these areas are the ones commonly seen on the news – the Middle East, Venezuela, the Philippines, and much of Africa.1 While travel to these countries/regions may not eliminate your client from potential coverage, the political climate in these areas raises some obvious red flags in consideration for your client’s safety.
So your client isn’t going to a politically unstable region, they should be good to go, right? Not so fast … The local violent crime rate is a major factor an underwriter takes into consideration when evaluating risk. A prime example of this is Acapulco, Mexico. When most people think Acapulco, they think beautiful beaches, a bustling nightlife, and wonderful golf courses, but when you look under the surface, another amazing characteristic jumps out … Acapulco, in 2016, had the second highest murder rate in the world, checking in at 113.24 murders per 100,000 residents, which is nearly twice as high as the most violent city in the United States.2 This, again, won’t automatically eliminate an individual from coverage, but does have potential to result in an adverse action depending on the client’s plans while there.
Another consideration while examining travel is access to health care. Should the client be injured or become ill during their trip, what is the quality of health care that they would receive? And, how far do they have to travel to receive care? There is a clear risk if health care is substandard or difficult to obtain.
While traveling, will your client be participating in any potentially hazardous activities, such as mountain climbing, SCUBA diving, sky diving, or any other avocations that could add to their potential risk? While many of these activities carry an innate risk in and of themselves, when compounded with possible language barriers and/or poor access to health care, an adverse underwriting action can occur.
Lastly, the length of your client’s stay abroad may affect their potential rating. If a client is planning a trip that is less than six months, then assuming they otherwise qualify based on the above criteria, there is generally no concern. But, if their expected stay crosses the threshold of six months, they become foreign residents and thus are evaluated differently. In some cases, a country can be OK for travel, but not OK for foreign residence, and an adverse action may be taken.
Overall, there are many considerations that go into foreign travel risk. If you have a client who has travel plans in which you suspect may result in an adverse underwriting action, consider that clarity is key and that a detailed cover letter can eliminate many concerns about your client’s upcoming trip. Check out our Foreign Nationals and Travel Questionnaire, a guide that can help you collect all the information you need for underwriting.
Should you have any questions about any of your potential clients, please don’t hesitate to reach out to an Ash Dedicated Underwriter, and we would be more than happy to answer any questions that you have.
Foreign Nationals and Travel Questionnaire: https://ashcmsstorage.blob.core.windows.net/media//Docs/uw/impairment/Foreign_Nationals_and_Travel.pdf
1U.S. Department of State, Travel Alerts and Warnings: https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/alertswarnings.html
2Business Insider, “The 50 most violent cities in the world,” April 8, 2017: http://www.businessinsider.com/most-violent-cities-in-the-world-2017-4/#50-durban-south-africa-had-3443-homicides-per-100000-residents-1
Joe Taulbee has been in the life insurance industry for nearly 11 years with more than five years as an underwriter, and he’s helped numerous families and individuals gain much needed financial security and peace of mind through the procuration of life insurance. He has an Associate designation (AALU) through the Academy of Life Underwriting and is currently pursuing an underwriting fellow designation with ongoing LOMA coursework.
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