Heidi works with top-rated life insurance carriers to bring her clients the highest quality protection at the most competitive prices. She is a wife, mom, and former school teacher, specializing in helping families. As parents, it's our responsibility to ensure our family is financially sound, regardless of what life brings. Her goal is to make the process of obtaining life insurance as simp...

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Written by Heidi Mertlich
Licensed Life Insurance Agent Heidi Mertlich

Benjamin Carr was a licensed insurance agent in Georgia and has two years' experience in life, health, property and casualty coverage. He has worked with State Farm and other risk management firms. He is also a strategic writer and editor with a background in branding, marketing, and quality assurance. He has been in military newsrooms — literally on the frontline of journalism.

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Reviewed by Benji Carr
Former Licensed Life Insurance Agent Benji Carr

UPDATED: Jun 28, 2022

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Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), like hundreds of other medical conditions, makes life insurance companies take a second glance.

Think of a life insurance company’s underwriting system (how they measure risk) as a big mathematical algorithm. The output depends on the input.

Generally, the more data (think risks) you need to enter into their big calculator, the higher (think cost), the algorithm’s answer will be.

In other words, life insurance companies measure how much risk they are willing to absorb in exchange for financial protection.

The higher the risk, whether it be a health condition, family history, lifestyle, or a combination of those things, the more money they will charge you in exchange for the protection.

Six Things Life Insurance Companies Will Ask About Your Rheumatoid Arthritis

Let’s talk about rheumatoid arthritis. RA is a fairly common condition, affecting about 1-2% of the American population. The majority of those with RA are women.

For unknown reasons, the immune system mistakenly attacks the lining (synovium) of joints, causing inflammation. At times, the inflammation can also reach major organs like the heart and lungs.

Unfortunately, there is no known cure at this time. However, proactive treatment dramatically improves quality of life.

The course of rheumatoid arthritis can range from mild to severe. In most cases it is chronic, meaning it lasts a long time—often a lifetime. For many people, periods of relatively mild disease activity are punctuated by flares, or times of heightened disease activity. In others, symptoms are constant. – National Institute of Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases

Purchasing life insurance when you have rheumatoid arthritis is somewhat complicated. Life insurance companies want to know some specific facts about your RA to calculate your risk.

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1) Date of Diagnosis

  • How long you have been in treatment?
  • The longer the treatment time, the more risk you pose.
  • RA symptoms usually progress over time.

2) RA Flareups

  • How often do you have flareups?
  • How long do your flareups last?
  • More flareups mean more risk for joint and body damage.

3) Deformity

  • What type?
  • What body parts are affected?
  • Is the deformity mild or major?

4) Disability

  • Are you able to live independently?
  • Can you perform daily tasks?
  • Do you have the ability to walk or stand for extended periods of time?

5) Medications

  • What type?
  • What dosage?
  • How often do you need to take the medication?
  • Some medications have concerning side effects.

6) Parts of Body Affected

  • Do you have joint damage?
  • Do you have bone erosion?
  • Are major organs, like your heart and lungs, involved?

Your answers to these six topics help determine the type of life insurance you can qualify for and how much life insurance companies will charge you.

Consider the following three scenarios. Jack, Chrissy, and Janet are friends. They all have RA, but have varying treatment plans and symptoms.

  • Jack was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis six months ago.
    • One flareup has occurred.
    • He has no deformities or disabilities.
    • Over-the-counter NSAIDs are used for pain, about once a month.
    • Only his knee joints are affected.

 Jack would likely qualify for Standard fully-underwritten life insurance. A best-case scenario.

  • Chrissy was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis five years ago.
    • Flareups occur every three to nine months.
    • Minimal deformity of one finger joint has occurred.
    • She has no disabilities.
    • Over-the-counter NSAIDs are used for pain, about once a month.
    • Prednisone only used during flareups.
    • Methotrexate (DMARD) at 10 mg is used weekly.
    • Only finger joints are affected.

Chrissy would likely qualify for Rated fully-underwritten life insurance. This means she would qualify for standard life insurance.

And, she would need to pay a surcharge of somewhere between 10-200% on her premium payments.

  • Janet was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis 10 years ago.
    • Flareups occur every month.
    • Deformity is seen on toes and fingers.
    • She considered disabled because she has difficulty walking and performing daily tasks.
    • Prednisone is consistently used.
    • Methotrexate (DMARD) at 25 mg is used weekly.
    • Humira (Biologic) at 40 mg is used every other week.
    • She has been diagnosed with atherosclerosis due to chronic inflammation.
    • Rheumatoid nodules are present in her lungs.

Janet would likely be Declined for fully-underwritten life insurance. Because her RA symptoms and side effects are more severe, traditional life insurance companies would likely not be willing to absorb the risk.

However, Janet should not despair! There are always life insurance options to financially protect your loved ones.

Janet would be wise to consider a Graded Benefit life insurance policy or a Guaranteed Issue life insurance policy.

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Document Your RA History to Prepare

Organizing, not agonizing, is the best thing we can do to prepare for a life insurance purchase. Grab a piece of paper and be prepared with answers to the following questions.

  1. When were you diagnosed originally? With RA being a chronic condition and insurance providers want to know how much time have you been managing your RA. Their concern is the effects the drugs have on your physical body.
  2. What is the term and recurrence of your RA flareups? The more regularly you have flareups, and how long take place, increases your risk for bone, tissue, and organ damage.
  3. Do you have a deformity from your RA? Providers want to understand if you have you a deformation, and if so, what type. For example, a moderate deformity of the wrists or hands or a major deformity of the legs or hips.
  4. Do you have a disability from your RA? The ability to live by yourself and execute the daily tasks of living positively affects your chances.
  5. What medications are you taking to treat your RA? What drugs are you on and how often are you taking them in your plan?
  6. What parts of the body are affected by your RA? The regions of the body, and to what extent, they’re affected by RA. For example, moderate wrist discomfort or lung and kidney impairment.

Other Ways You Can Prepare For A Life Insurance Purchase

Aside from documenting your rheumatoid arthritis history, there are other ways to prepare for a life insurance application.

Remember, life insurance companies enter in quite a bit of data into their big calculator and it’s best to plan ahead. Keep the following in mind if you apply for traditional (the kind that has a medical exam) life insurance.

According to Life Happens, a non-profit life insurance awareness organization, the following are important steps for the life insurance medical exam.

  1. Drink plenty of waterHydration makes it easier to give a blood and urine sample.
  2. Schedule the exam for early morning. You will need to be fasting for six to eight hours for the exam. It’s easiest to fast overnight and have the exam first thing in the morning, prior to breakfast.
  3. Skip your morning coffee and cigarette. Caffeine and nicotine elevate your blood pressure. Keeping your blood pressure within normal ranges can save you money on your policy.
  4. Avoid strenuous exercise. Stay away from excessive exercise for about 24 prior to your exam. Exercise raises your blood pressure and pulse.
  5. No alcohol or drugs. These can affect your liver function results.
  6. Get a good night’s rest prior to the exam. Sleep helps offset anxiety over the test and helps regulate blood pressure.
  7. Have a list of any medications you are taking. This includes over-the-counter and prescription medications.
  8. Don’t schedule an exam during a menstrual period. It can affect the urinalysis.

While it’s about as fun as waiting in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles, just remember that millions of people have gone through the mildly inconvenient life insurance application process.

Final Word

Even if your RA is more like Janet’s than Jack’s, there are always life insurance options available. Remember the best thing you can do is prepare and inform yourself.

We don’t like to sound dark, but it’s true that no one knows what tomorrow will bring. Our clients are always encouraged to take action today.