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Life Insurance For Smokers With COPD

Written by Cody Marchant

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a term used to describe many types of progressive lung diseases. This includes emphysema, refractory asthma, and chronic bronchitis.

The disease itself is characterized by increasing breathlessness as you lose lung capacity. Right now it is a progressive which means it gets worse and incurable disease.

However, with a proper diagnosis and treatment, it can be properly managed.

Are COPD and Emphysema the Same Thing?

No, they are not the same thing. Again, emphysema is simply one lung disease that falls under the umbrella of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.


With emphysema, the tiny air sacs inside of your lungs are damaged. The walls become damaged as they stretch out and this makes your lungs bigger.

It also makes it more difficult for you to move air in and out of your lungs. Therefore, old air gets trapped inside of those delicate air sacs with no room for new air to get in.

Basically, you can’t get oxygen in or carbon dioxide out.

Chronic Bronchitis

With chronic bronchitis, your breathing tubes inside of your lungs are inflamed. There are tiny structures that line your airways and help to keep the airways clean.

But these tiny structures get damaged so they can’t clean your airways of mucus and then you are unable to cough up that mucus.

Eventually, your airways become swollen and clogged so the amount of air that is able to get in and out of your lungs is reduced which makes it significantly harder to breathe.

Refractory Asthma

With refractory asthma your asthma is non-reversible and it doesn’t respond to asthma medications.

So when you have an asthma attack your bronchial airways start tightening up and swelling and normally medications can reverse this so that your airways return to normal, but in these cases, the medications don’t reverse that swelling.

The American Lung Association notes COPD as the third leading cause of death in America.

Recent statistics state that 134,676  Americans have this disease. By comparison, there are at least 4.7 million Americans living with emphysema, of which 92% are 45 years or older.

In contrast, 10.1 million Americans suffer from chronic bronchitis.

How Does COPD Affect Your Life Insurance Rates?

Just because you’ve been diagnosed with this does not mean that you will automatically be declined for life insurance.

The condition exists in various stages and the lower levels of severity mean that you can get better life insurance coverage at affordable rates.

If you have a mild case you will likely be placed into the standard rating for life insurance. In its mild form, the effect of this condition is minimal but you will have coughing and shortness of breath after exercise. Medication in this instance is rarely a necessity.

Moderate cases have the same side effects but you will typically need to be on some form of medication. At this level, there is an impact on your life insurance policy application. In order to get approved, you have to work with a company that specializes in patients with this problem.

Not every company does. You will be charged a higher premium as a result. In severe cases, you will have less than 50% of your lung capacity and in extreme cases, you will have less than 40%.

At this stage, there are only a few life insurance companies that will give you coverage. And typically speaking the rights they provide you with will be in the high-risk category.

If your diagnosis is Extreme your only option will be graded coverage which means they will not pay death benefits for the first two or three years of your policy.

Below is a chart to illustrate what potential rating you will get based on your COPD condition:

Degree Symptoms Treatment FEV1 Possible Rating
Minimal Asymptomatic, normal exercise tolerance, no medications, stable chest x-ray. none > 80%, stable for at least 2 years Regular classifications, based on other aspects of health and lifestyle
Mild occasional throat-clearing and respiratory infections none 60% to 80% Standard, table B
Moderate shortness of breath with moderate exertion, such as climbing up two flights of stairs inhaler 50% to 60% Standard, table D
Severe shortness of breath with any mild physical activity like getting dressed or walking 1 block steroids, multiple medications 40% to 50% Standard, table G
Extreme disabled, shortness of breath at rest home oxygen less than 40% likely to be declined

The table rating system simply means that your pricing will be in the standard plus price, with 25% for every step down that table you are listed.

Your insurance company might use tables A through J for lettering or tables 1 through 10 for numbering.

Life Insurance Rates

For minimal severity, you might get Preferred or Standard.

Example: an otherwise healthy 40 year old male applicant, getting $500,00 in coverage for a 20 year term with minimal severity COPD can be approved for “preferred” and pay $43 per month on average.

For mild severity, you would get Standard, table B. This would be the standard cost plus 50% for your monthly premium:

Example: a 40 year old male applicant, getting $500,00 in coverage for a 20 year term with minimal severity COPD can be approved for standard table B.

The standard policy is $60 per month, plus 50% of that rate, which would equal $90 per month.

For moderate severity, you would get Standard, table D. This would be the standard cost plus 100% for your monthly premium:

Example: a 40 year old male applicant, getting $500,00 in coverage for a 20 year term with minimal severity COPD can be approved for standard, table D.

The standard policy is $60 per month, plus 100% of that rate, which would equal $120 per month.

Questions That Life Insurance Companies Will Ask

In order for life insurance companies to figure out your risk and subsequently what category you fall into for your premiums, they do need to ask certain health questions.

Health Questions Will Include:

  • When were you diagnosed?
  • Do you have other lung issues?
  • To what degree is your COPD and what symptoms do you have on a regular basis?
  • Are you currently a smoker
  • If not, when did you stop or have you never smoked?
  • What medications are you taking for COPD, if any?

The answers to these questions will help them to determine your condition severity and therefore, which rating system to use.

How Can I Still Get Coverage

With any of these, there are other risk factors that the company has to take into account. In addition to suffering from this condition if you have other major health problems like high cholesterol, recently had a stroke, or you are obese, this will significantly reduce your chances of getting approval with premium rates. The healthier you are above and beyond this condition, the higher your chances of getting more affordable coverage.

That said this is not the only option you have. Yes, most term and permanent policy will lump you into a significantly higher risk category which means that you get reduced coverage with more strings attached for a higher premium.

However, there are plenty of insurance companies out there which offer smaller, guaranteed life insurance policies.  These do not require a medical exam and therefore having this disease and any other comorbid issues would not impact your cost.

It is up to you to work with a specialized agent and insurance companies that specifically target this disease in order to figure out what the cost would be based on your personal health and management of the condition. Compare those cost to what a guarantee policy would be.

The linchpin on the guarantee policy is that while you don’t have to undergo a medical exam, you typically don’t get more than $25,000.  If it is absolutely necessary that you have a higher face amount, then you will have to work with a specialized insurance company to find a policy that is favorable and affordable to people living with this condition.

Why Does Someone With COPD Need Life Insurance

Millions of Americans have this problem and it remains one of the leading causes of death. The symptoms can be managed by certain medications but currently, there is no cure for the disease. As a result of somebody with it will need to consider the financial obligations they leave behind their family.

Realistically having a disease for which there is no cure significantly shortens your lifespan. This means that your chances of passing away early and leaving behind a great deal of debt not only from things like a mortgage or child care expenses but from the healthcare cost you were going to continue to build until that time are exponentially higher.

Therefore it is in your best interest to make sure that your family and your beneficiaries are prepared and not left to deal with the financial strain and their grief.

How Much More Money do Smokers Pay for Life Insurance and Why?

Smokers pay much higher rates comparatively because they are simply a bigger risk to health insurance companies because of their additional health risks.

Each company handles their rates differently, but let’s look at a comparison of one company, North American Company, and their term policies.

Below is a sample of the rates available for a 60 year old female living in California, with a $500,000 policy. Note that these rates indicate the annual/monthly premiums:

Super Preferred Non-Tobacco Preferred Non-Tobacco Standard Non-Tobacco Preferred Tobacco Standard Tobacco
ADDvantage 10 year Term Policy $935.00/ $82.28 $1,130.00/ $99.44 $1,710.00/ $150.48 $3,650.00/ $320.76 $4,780.00/ $420.64
ADDvantage 15 year Term Policy $1,180.00/ $103.84 $1490.00/ $131.12 $2,365.00/ $208.12 $4,760.00/ $418.88 $6,455.00/ $567.16
ADDvantage 20 year Term Policy $1,760.00/


$2,090.00/ $183.92 $3,265.00/ $287.32 $6,090.00/ $535.92 $7,765.00/ $683.32
ADDvantage 30 year Term Policy N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A

You can see the financial difference in cost for the non-tobacco users compared to the tobacco users.

Finding the Best Life Insurance Rates

The chart above shows life insurance rates for smokers with COPD from one life insurance company.

There is a multitude of life insurance coverage options on the market for smokers.

When it comes to finding the best coverage, especially with a health condition like COPD, it is very important that you speak with a life insurance agent who can help you understand the coverage available to you, and what the best life insurance option is for you and your family.

Our life insurance agents work with some of the best life insurance companies for smokers and take the time to understand your situation in order to find you the best life insurance rates, policy, and provider.

Give us a call today to begin working with an agent, or get started using our online quoting engine for quick and easy life insurance rates for smokers.

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