COPD and Life Insurance

What is COPD?

Finding life insurance with COPD can be difficult.

COPD or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a respiratory disorder often brought on by a history of tobacco use. As the name implies it’s main symptoms cause a chronic obstruction of air getting into and out of the lungs.

The diagnosis of COPD is not the end of the world and often times life insurance protection is available. But, and this is an important but, you must find the companies that specialize in underwriting individual’s with COPD.

All life insurance carriers underwrite risk based on health and lifestyle. But, a handful of companies are more aggressive in underwriting these particular risks, known as “special risks“.

How is COPD diagnosed?

There are several ways that COPD can be diagnosed. The most common are:

  • Lung (pulmonary) function tests– Pulmonary function tests measure the amount of air you can inhale and exhale, and if your lungs are delivering enough oxygen to the blood. Spirometry can detect COPD even before you have symptoms of the disease. It can also be used to track the progression of disease and to monitor how well treatment is working. Spirometry often includes measurement of the effect of the bronchodilator administration. Other lung function tests include measurement of lung volumes, diffusing capacity and pulse oximetry.
  • Chest X-Ray– A chest X-ray can show emphysema, one of the main causes of COPD. An X-ray can also rule out other lung problems or heart failure. 
  • CT SCAN– A CT scan of your lungs can help detect emphysema and help determine if you might benefit from surgery for COPD. CT scans can also be used to screen for lung cancer.
  • Arterial blood gas analysis– This blood test measures how well your lungs are bringing oxygen into your blood and removing carbon dioxide.
  • Lab Tests– aren’t used to diagnose COPD, but hey may be used to determine the cause of your symptoms or rule out other conditions.

Underwriting life insurance for COPD

When evaluating a case for COPD an underwriter iwll look at different pieces of the medical history to determine the severity and to assign a risk class. The forced expiratory volume or FEV 1 test is the best single test to use for evaluation.

Typically the disorder is characterized as:

  • NORMALFEV greater than 80% with no symptoms.
  • MILD- FEV 65- 79% minimal to no symptoms
  • ModerateFEV 50-64% mild dyspnea on exertion can climb 2 flights of stairs
  • Severe- FEV 40-49% dyspnea on slight effort, fatigue noted and can climb about 1/2 flight of stairs.
  • Very Severe- FEV 35-39% very dsypnecic on slightest effort, some cynosisl, weight loss, tachacardia, unable to climb stairs
  • ExtremeFEV less than 35%- use of oxygen

From a life insurance underwriting perspective we will focus on the normal to severe category since most cases of very severe to extreme are uninsurable with traditional insurance, but may be insurable thru a guaranteed issue type plan.

As menitoned earlier, smoking is a big factor in how life insurance carriers will evaluate the risk for COPD. If someone is a non-smoker he can expect his rates to be approximately 50% of what a current smokers rate will be. Now let’s look at some scenario and get some idea of where you may qualify if you have COPD.

Examples of Risk Classification

Bob, age 60 is a former smoker that has been quit for 5 years. He was recently diagnosed with a Mild case of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. His most recent FEV 1 test came back at 70%. With no other medical history and good lab results, Bob could still qualify for standard non-tobacco rates.

Not it is important to remember that we are talking about companies that actually underwrite these particular risks more aggressively than the typical companies. They are out there and we are here to help you find them. 

Jim is 70 years of age and continues to smoke about a pack a day. He was diagnosed 2 years ago with COPD. His most recent FEV 1 result was 45%. This put him in the severe class. His best possible rating is probably about 300% above the standard rates for someone his age. From an insurance companies rating scale a 300% increase is about the maximum an insurance company would assign before you are classified as a declination.

Treatment for COPDCOPD and life insurance

Once diagnosed, it is important from a general health point of view and an undewriting of life insurance point of view to get the best possible treatment to help you improve your mortality risk. Here are some of the most common treatments:

  • Smoking cessation– Of course this is the most essential step to help with COPD.
  • Bronchodilators- These medications usually come in an inhaler. They relax the muscles around your airway. This can help coughing and shortness of breath.
  • Inhaled steriods– Corticosteriods medications can reducte airway inflammation and help prevent exacerabations.
  • Oral Steriods- For people who have moderate or sever exacerbation, short courses of oral steriods can prevent worsening of COPD.
  • Oxygen Therapy– If there isn’t enough oxygen in the your blood, you may need supplemental oxygen. There are several devices that can help deleiver oxygen to your lungs.

Questions for underwriting COPD

When you work with a special risk agent it is important to provide as much information as you can in order for your agent to shop the marketplace. Here are some of the questions your agent will need answered:

  1. Date of birth
  2. Height/weight
  3. When were you diagnosed with COPD?
  4. Most recent FEV1 reading?
  5. Current treratments and medications?
  6. Use of tobacco within last 5 years?
  7. Any other major medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, etc.

Any addition to this information it is important to know the amount of protection needed as well as the plan of coverage. (Term or whole life)


We are experts in the special risk marketplace. We have over 30 years in this special niche. If we can help you find affordable protection, please don’t hesitate to contact us at 1-888-393-9003 or mike@specialriskterm. com Thanks for reading this blog post.




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Mike Raines

I am an independent life insurance agent with over 30 years’ experience. I am an expert in finding coverage for those with past or current medical history such as heart disease, diabetes, post cancer, etc. I also specialize in those that participate in scuba diving, mountain climbing, private pilots, etc. I work with the best life insurance companies in the nation, such as Prudential, AIG, Protective Life, Transamerica to name a few. Each carrier has different opinions on rates and underwriting, and it is my job to match you with the best company. To do that, I need to ask you a few questions about your health and lifestyle to qualify you.

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