What Is a Life Insurance Health Class?

Life Insurance Health Classes Explained

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A life insurance health class, or rate class, is a risk category an insurance company assigns you based on your health, habits, and medical records. Your health class plays a large part in determining the premium on your life insurance policy.

Learn what a life insurance health class is, how it works, and common life insurance health classifications.

Definition and Examples of a Life Insurance Health Class

A life insurance health class is part of a system insurance companies use to determine the premium you’ll pay on your policy. An insurance company places applicants into figurative groups or classes based on their projected mortality risks.

When you apply for life insurance, you need to answer questions about your occupation, hobbies, and whether you smoke. You’ll also typically answer questions about your health history and your family’s health history, and may be required to take a medical exam. Your insurer then uses the information to project your mortality risk and which health class you fall into. Based on this, the insurer decides whether to offer you a policy and at what price.

If the insurer thinks you are likely to die sooner than your peers, you’ll be placed into a higher-risk health class. In this case, you’d pay more for a life insurance policy, or possibly not be offered one at all. But if the insurer considers you a low risk, you’ll be in a lower-risk class, or a “preferred” or “plus” category; you’ll likely be approved at a relatively low premium for your age group.

Insurance companies have different names for life insurance health classes, but common health-class names and categories are:

  • Preferred plus or super preferred nonsmoker
  • Preferred nonsmoker
  • Standard plus nonsmoker
  • Standard nonsmoker
  • Preferred smoker
  • Standard smoker

How Does a Life Insurance Health Class Work?

In order to provide life insurance to a range of people, insurance companies need to appropriately group applicants according to their degrees of risk—which roughly translates to how long they expect you to live for.

To do that, insurers consider the entirety of your application, including your answers to questions about your health, health history, family’s health history, lifestyle, habits, and occupation, as well as your age and sex. They also may access your driving records, prescription history, and credit score to help determine which risk class to put you in.

Once this information is reviewed, the underwriter creates your risk profile and places you in the corresponding health or rate class.

A risk class is a group of insurance applicants who present to the insurer an equivalent mortality risk for life insurance.

The process of health-risk classifications protects insurance providers by letting them charge premiums that match the level of risk. Risk classification also ensures a fair underwriting process; otherwise, healthier insurance applicants would unfairly subsidize individuals who are less healthy to make up for the earlier claims made by the unhealthy individuals.

Types of Life Insurance Health Classes

The specific names for various health classes vary somewhat between insurance companies, as do their requirements. But the following can give you an idea of what’s required to qualify for each health class.

Preferred Plus

Offering the lowest possible premium rate, an insurance company’s top-tier classification is reserved for applicants with clean bills of health and uneventful medical histories. This health class might use the following underwriting standards:

  • Tobacco use: Must not have used any nicotine or tobacco-based products within the last five years. Occasional smoking (up to 12 cigars per year) is allowed if disclosed on the application and urine has no trace of nicotine.
  • Alcohol/drug abuse: No history of alcohol or drug abuse or treatment.
  • Family medical history: No death of a sibling or natural parent from heart disease or family cancer prior to age 60.
  • Personal medical history: No history of cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and heart disease. Non-melanoma skin cancers may be excluded.
  • Blood pressure: Whether treated or untreated, readings should be below 135/85.
  • Cholesterol/HDL ratio: Up to 5.
  • Height and weight: Height and weight are considered together and should be indicative of a healthy body mass index (BMI).

Insurance companies may only make the most preferred health classes (those with the lowest rates) available to applicants who take a life insurance medical exam.

Preferred

You might be grouped into the preferred or second-tier life insurance health class if you’re in good health but take medication for the treatment of a minor condition or present other minor risks:

  • Tobacco use: Must not have used any nicotine or tobacco-based products within the last three years. Occasional smoking (up to 24 cigars per year) is allowed if disclosed on the application and urine has no trace of nicotine.
  • Alcohol/drug abuse: No history of alcohol or drug abuse or treatment for seven to 10 years.
  • Family medical history: No death of a natural parent from familial cancer or heart disease before the age of 60.
  • Personal medical history: No history of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, or cardiovascular disease. Non-melanoma skin cancers may be excluded.
  • Blood pressure: Readings should be below 140/90.
  • Cholesterol/HDL ratio: Up to 6.
  • Height and weight: Height and weight are considered together and should be indicative of a healthy body mass index (BMI).

Standard Plus

If you qualify for this or a similar health class, you may have issues you’re managing with medication or treatment, or other characteristics that disqualify you from higher-tier classes:

  • Tobacco use: No use of any tobacco or nicotine-based products within the last one to three years.
  • Family medical history: No more than one death of a parent from cancer or heart disease before age 60. Some insurers will allow this classification even when both parents died from cancer before attaining 60 years.
  • Personal medical history: Some cases of cancer may qualify.
  • Blood pressure: Readings should be below 145/90.
  • Cholesterol/HDL ratio: Less than 7.
  • Height and weight: Height and weight are considered together and should be indicative of a reasonable body mass index (BMI).

Standard

The standard classification groups people with average life expectancy who may be treating one or more significant health conditions:

  • Tobacco use: No use of any tobacco or nicotine products within the last 12 months.
  • Family medical history: May not be considered.
  • Personal medical history: Some cases of cancer may qualify.
  • Blood pressure: Readings should be below 150/92. 
  • Cholesterol/HDL ratio: Less than 8. 
  • Height and weight: May have a higher-than-average body mass index (BMI).

Tobacco or Smoker Classes

There are specific categories for tobacco users, such as preferred and regular smoker. Physical and family history requirements may be similar to the corresponding non-tobacco class. Life insurance for smokers is almost always more expensive than for nonsmokers.

You may become eligible for a nonsmoker class if you give up smoking for at least one year.

Table Ratings

Life insurers have additional health classes when applicants don’t fall into any of the categories above. These are referred to as table ratings or substandard classes, and represent the most expensive life insurance ratings. If you need life insurance and have cancer, you could be table-rated. But lifestyle and non-medical issues can put you in one of these categories as well.

Key Takeaways

  • Insurance providers use health classes to determine your eligibility for a life insurance policy and your premiums.
  • Each insurer has its own set of underwriting standards to determine its health risk classes, but categories are often similar across insurers.
  • You’ll pay a higher premium if an insurance company places you in a higher-risk health class.
  • Your health class will depend on several factors, including your current health, tobacco use, family medical history, and lifestyle.
  • If your health improves over time, you may be eligible for a better life insurance health class.