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Insurance Helpline | Can diabetics buy life insurance?

Published:Sunday | February 14, 2016 | 12:00 AM

QUESTION: I am a 40-year-old male, who recently learned that I have Type II diabetes. The news took me by surprise. I am still struggling with it. I had planned to buy additional life insurance this year to protect my family. Will this still be possible?

- J.H., Kingston 7

INSURANCE HELPLINE: It is important to look at the big picture in order to put your particular situation into context. This will also help you to understand some of the insurance issues. Type II diabetes, as you know, is a very complex and chronic illness in which people have problems regulating their blood sugar.

Diabetics have high blood sugar because their bodies: a) do not produce enough insulin; or b) are not responsive to insulin; or c) their bodies do not produce enough insulin and are unresponsive to insulin.

Excessive amounts of blood sugar are very harmful to the proper functioning of the human body.

There were 202,600 cases of diabetes in Jamaica in 2015, according to information on the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) website.

Jamaica is one of 24 countries in IDF's North American and Caribbean region - NAC. The federation estimates that "415 million people have diabetes in the world and more than 44.3 million people in the NAC region".

IDF projects that by 2040 the number of diabetics will rise to 60.5 million. In the next 25 years, there should be nearly 300,000 local cases.

These numbers tell only part of the story. When the prevalence of diabetes in Jamaica is compared with the incidence in North America and the rest of the Caribbean and with data for the rest of the world, Jamaica leads both groups. The graph accompanying this article, courtesy of IDF, tells the chilling tale.

One of the challenges that insurers face is to identify and insure those diabetics who are 'good risks' and avoid the others.

The Diabetes Association of Jamaica says on its website that: "Education in good management techniques and faithful adherence to the diabetes management plan can enable a person with diabetes to live a long and productive life".

Awareness about the illness plus the execution of an effective plan to manage it - developed in co-operation with members of the medical profession namely, doctors, a nutritionist, an ophthalmologist, a dentist and a podiatrist among others - will go a far way in helping you to keep it under control. To use the analogy of an orchestra, in managing the illness you are the conductor. Members of the medical team play the instruments.

The other bit of good news is that life insurance is available for some diabetics. I asked Kelsa-Marie Pinnock, assistant vice-president of individual life operations at Guardian Life Limited about the availability of life insurance for diabetics in Jamaica.

This is what she wrote about Type II: "Non-Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus (NIDDM) is the most common form of diabetes. The body produces insulin, but does not utilise it properly. Some people with Type II can control their blood glucose with healthy eating and adequate exercise, but oral medication and/or insulin may be required to maintain proper blood sugar control.

"Doctors recommend that diabetic persons regularly check their blood sugar levels to ensure proper control. The Glycosylated HBA1C is the test mainly used in the life insurance industry. Haemoglobin is the substance inside red blood cells that carries oxygen to the cells of the body. Glucose molecules in the blood normally become stuck to haemoglobin molecules - this means the haemoglobin has become glycosylated (also referred to as haemoglobin A1c, or HbA1c). As a person's blood sugar becomes higher, more of the person's haemoglobin becomes glycosylated. The glucose remains attached to the haemoglobin for the life of the red blood cell, or about two to three months. The glycosylated haemoglobin (or A1c) test shows what a person's average blood glucose level was for the two to three months before the test. This can help determine how well a person's diabetes is being controlled over time.

"Life insurance is available for individuals with diabetes, with extra charges in premium. These charges vary depending on a number of health-risk factors, determined by the applicant's current medical condition, medical history, and control of the disease.

"Other considerations in making an assessment include age at diagnosis, duration of illness, and other risk factors such as hypertension, (high blood pressure) hyperlipidaemia (high cholesterol) and smoking. Compliance with treatment is also important in assessing the risk.

"Excess mortality will occur due to increases in cardiovascular and renal disease due to diabetes mellitus.

"Based on the above factors, not all diabetics qualify for life insurance at the time of application, and are deferred for reassessment at a later date.

"Guardian Life offers a range of plans to meet the various needs of their clients. Premium rates charged will vary based on the age, coverage, plan chosen, and the underwriting assessment of the risk."

Guardian Life is one of about seven insurers that offer life insurance locally. It would be wise to compare the premiums it quotes with those of other companies before making a decision.

I hope that this short article gives you an indication of how one company handles insurance for diabetics. By the way, do not forget to share information about your condition with your motor insurer. Failure to do so could cause problems.

n Cedric E. Stephens provides independent information and advice about the management of risks and insurance. For free information or counsel, write to: aegis@flowja.com.