How cancer can affect buying insurance

Insurance protects your finances against unexpected events. If you’re affected by cancer, it’s important to think about insurance.

Insurers assess your personal information to estimate how likely you are to claim. The amount you pay is called a premium. If you are living with cancer or have had cancer, you may face higher premiums, special conditions or refusal when trying to buy life, health or travel insurances.

You may be asked some difficult questions about your health or asked to have a medical examination. While unfair discrimination is illegal, insurers can treat a person differently if their disability increases the risk of claiming. But this is only if it is based on relevant evidence. If challenged, the insurers will need to show they have met this condition.

Getting insurance unrelated to your health should not be a problem. Car insurance, for example, is not normally affected.

Premiums will vary from one insurer to another – it’s important to compare deals. Contact our financial guides on 0808 808 00 00 for advice on your options or making a complaint.

What is insurance?

Insurance helps you protect yourself against risks and financial loss. For example:

  • Health insurance may pay you money if you become ill and are not able to work.
  • Life insurance may provide your family or spouse with money if you die.
  • Travel insurance may pay for medical treatment if you have an accident while on holiday.
  • Car insurance may pay for repairs if you have an accident.

There are many different types of each kind of insurance. These protect you against different things. It is very important to understand what you are covered for and how much money you will receive if you need to claim.


How insurance works

The amount of money you pay for insurance is called the premium. Insurers set their premiums so they will have a big enough pool of money to pay out all the claims they get from customers, cover their costs and earn a profit.

Insurers look at the information you give them. They use this to estimate how likely you are to claim. They also check how often other people in similar situations have claimed before. They then decide what premium to charge you. If the risk of you claiming on insurance looks higher than average, the insurer may do one of the following:

  • They may charge you a higher premium than the standard rate. The insurance provider needs to make sure this increase is proportionate to the increased risk of you making a claim.
  • They may apply an excess. This is the first part of the claim that is not covered by your insurance provider. You may need to pay a certain amount of money towards a claim or it may be deducted from the money you receive. If you choose a policy with a higher excess, the premium may be cheaper.
  • They may apply exclusions. This is what isn’t covered by the insurance provider. If you choose a policy with exclusions based on your medical history, make sure you understand which claims will and won’t be paid.
  • They may refuse to insure you at all.

Here are some possible examples of where a higher premium is charged or exclusion is applied:

  • Your car insurance may increase if you have an accident.
  • You may have to pay more for travel insurance if you want to go skiing.
  • If you already have a chronic illness, health insurance providers may exclude this condition from the cover.

To assess the risk of you claiming, insurers will ask you questions. With health or life insurance, they may want to see your medical reports or ask you to have a medical examination. The insurer, not you, pays for medical reports and examinations.

If you don’t answer the questions fully and truthfully, the insurer may refuse to pay out if you make a claim later on.

You don’t have to agree to medical reports or examinations. But if the insurer doesn’t have enough information to assess your application, they may refuse to cover you.

The insurance market is competitive and premiums vary from one insurer to another. So it’s important to shop around, especially if you have a medical condition. Insurers call this having a pre-existing medical condition. An insurance broker can help you compare deals from different companies. To find an insurance broker, contact the British Insurance Brokers’ Association.


How cancer can affect buying insurance

If you’ve had cancer or you’re living with cancer, you can sometimes face higher premiums, special conditions or refusal when buying life insurance and some types of health insurance. This includes policies that have a health insurance element, such as travel insurance.

Does cancer affect all forms of insurance?

You shouldn’t have problems getting insurance unrelated to health, for example, home insurance. If you do, contact our financial guides on 0808 808 00 00 for information about making a complaint.

Family members

Your close relatives (children, brothers and sisters) may also find it hard to get life and health insurance on standard terms. This is because, in a small number of cases, people whose close relatives have had cancer may be at a higher than average risk of getting the same cancer.

It may also affect your close relatives’ travel insurance if you are receiving or waiting for hospital treatment or have a terminal condition. We have for more information on how cancer can affect travel insurance.

Being prepared for questions

When talking to insurers, you may be asked some difficult or upsetting questions about your health, for example about the likely outcome of your cancer (prognosis). Unfortunately, not all insurers are sensitive to the needs of people affected by cancer. Depending on how you feel about talking about your cancer, you may want to contact only a couple of companies at a time. Alternatively, you could contact an insurance broker who will do the research for you.


Unfair discrimination of people with cancer

Cancer is classed as a disability under the Equality Act 2010 (England, Scotland and Wales) and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (Northern Ireland). These acts make it illegal to treat people less favourably because of a disability, but there is an exception for insurance.

An insurer can treat a person with a disability differently if the disability increases the risk of claiming, but only if:

  • the assessment of your risk of claiming is based on relevant information
  • the information is from a source that’s reasonable to rely on, such as statistical data or medical reports
  • the way the insurer treats the person is reasonable, given the information available.

If challenged, the insurer will have to provide evidence to show that it has met these conditions.

For information and help about unfair discrimination because of cancer, you can contact the Equality Advisory Support Service (England, Scotland and Wales) or the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland.

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