Buying health insurance? What to know during the coronavirus pandemic

As the coronavirus continues to upend nearly every aspect of our lives, insurance companies are changing the rules on how people can apply for life insurance.

To be sure, you can still buy life insurance right now — it just might take longer.

“While the steps for getting life insurance remain the same, how they are done has been adapted,” Jon Voegele, board chair of Life Happens, an educational nonprofit supported by insurers and brokers, said in an email.

You can still buy life insurance if you need it 

Most healthy people can still buy life insurance right now, and life insurance will typically cover coronavirus-related deaths.

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However, if you currently have symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, or have tested positive for it, you likely won’t be able to get life insurance until after you’ve recovered. Once you’re better, you can apply for a policy.

If you’re healthy and thinking about buying life insurance, know that the application process may take longer for some applicants, but it’s not too late to get coverage if you need it.

“I think that this is a good time — even if you’re young and healthy — to take into account your financial situation and that of your survivors,” says Steve Weisbart, senior vice president and chief economist at the Insurance Information Institute. Otherwise, “In many cases [they] really would be left stranded and in tough shape financially.”

Delays for international travelers 

Even before COVID-19, most insurers asked about upcoming international travel on life insurance applications. Now, many companies are implementing waiting periods for international travelers in light of the U.S. State Department’s health advisory warning Americans against traveling abroad.

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If you have recently traveled internationally, or if you have plans to do so, you will likely need to wait to apply for a policy until you’ve been back in the United States for 30 days.

From the companies’ perspective, “If the government is telling you it’s dangerous to travel, then we’re not going to issue you a new policy if you’re going against [that] guidance,” says Erin Ardleigh, founder of Dynama Insurance, an independent brokerage based in New York City.

Insurers may alter these restrictions as the health advisory changes.

Changes to the medical exam process 

If you’re applying for a life insurance policy that would typically require a medical exam, you may still be able to do an in-person exam as normal. Check with your insurer to see if the medical exam requirement or process has changed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In some cases, companies are:

* Extending the deadline to take the medical exam.

* Accepting medical records from a recent doctor’s visit in place of an exam.

* Waiving the medical exam requirement altogether.

Using previous medical records can slow the application process. Since many nonessential medical offices are closed, Voegele explains, it can be harder to track down patient records.

Also note that there may be policy restrictions around your age and the amount of coverage you can buy when the exam is waived. For instance, Erie announced that it is temporarily waiving its medical exam requirement for policies of up to $500,000 for customers up to age 55. And Prudential won’t require exams for new policies of up to $3 million when possible, according to Evan Stisser, a director of global communications for the company.

Shop around for the best rates 

Though it’s possible that life insurance rates may rise because of the coronavirus pandemic, Ardleigh says she isn’t seeing this yet.

Even so, rates can vary dramatically depending on the type of coverage you buy and personal factors like your health, age and occupation.

Once you determine what type of life insurance is right for you and how much coverage you need, compare life insurance quotes from multiple companies to find your best rate.

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