Life Insurance and HPV

Michael Douglas by David Shankbone
Michael Douglas said his
throat cancer was caused by HPV.
Photo by David Shankbone

Remember when actor Michael Douglas told The Guardian that his throat cancer was caused by HPV, (human papillomavirus), which he said was in turn caused by oral sex?

If you need us to refresh your memory, here is the exact quote:

Xan Brooks: Do you feel, in hindsight, that you overloaded your system? Overloaded your system with drugs, smoking, drink?

Michael Douglas: No. No. Ah, without getting too specific, this particular cancer is caused by something called HPV, which actually comes about from cunnilingus.

The above set off a tabloid firestorm as the media latched onto to the fact that Douglas was blaming his cancer diagnosis on oral sex. Whether that was actually the case for Douglas, the truth, as reported by the Toronto Star, is that HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection.

About three out of four Canadians will have at least one infection in their lifetime, according to Toronto Public Health. Often a body’s immune system can fight the infection, but if it doesn’t go away on its own, it can progress to cancer. The virus has been associated with cancer of the cervix, genitals, head, and neck and it can also cause genital warts.

Seventy-five percent of women and men will have this type of infection at one point of their life or another, and between 10% and 70% of women and men have HPV at any one time. HPV is most common in young women and men who are in their late teens and early 20s.

According to the HPV Facts Page at McGill University, HPV can be transmitted through skin-to-skin sexual contact, whether or not there is penetration. It can be transmitted through vaginal or anal intercourse, oral sex, and mutual masturbation (genital touching).

The vaginal and anal tracts are particularly susceptible to sexually-transmitted HPV and the risk of transmission is greatest during penetration without a condom. This being said, HPV is also found on parts of the body such as the vulva, scrotum and inner thighs which are not covered by a condom. It is thus possible for partners to transmit HPV even when a condom is used.

Most often, HPV is very low-risk and the symptoms never present themselves to any great degree. However, sometimes high-risk strains mutate surrounding cells and cause cancer. High-risk HPV are the cause of nearly all cervical cancers.

They can also cause cancers of the anus, penis, vagina, and vulva — and yes, just like Michael Douglas, cancer of the mouth and throat. On the other hand, low-risk HPV types do not cause cancer.

Some low-risk HPV types can cause genital warts (these are called condyloma) and other low-risk types cause lesions that are of no medical consequence or there are no lesions at all.

There probably won't be a question about HPV directly on your life insurance application, but there will likely be a question asking about sexually transmitted infections. However, in most cases, you'll probably still be able to qualify for life insurance depending on the severity and stability of the symptoms. For example, if you haven't had an occurrence of your most severe symptoms for two to five years, you can probably still qualify for a life insurance policy at standard rates. 

Obviously, if you have cancer of any kind as a result of HPV, you probably won't be able to qualify for life insurance. However, if your symptoms are pretty minor and only express themselves in potentially non-lethal ways, at best there will be no repercussions and you will receive your policy free and clear. At worst, you may get a rating, which could see you paying policy ratings of anywhere from 50% to 300% on top of standard rates. If the insured receives a policy rating of 100%, they would pay double the normal standard rate.

Since HPV occurs most often in women, your gender also greatly factors into the disclosure of an HPV diagnosis on your insurance application. For traditional fully underwritten life insurance, we surveyed a few insurance carriers, and here is what we found.

A female prospect with human papillomavirus (HPV) and no other issues  was treated with some cream and the last PAP test done within one year ago and the results were normal. This type of applicant would get coverage on a standard basis. The only rate that you won't qualify for is a preferred rate.

Preferred rates are given to individuals who are in excellent health and have very good family health history. Preferred rates are often broken down into "Preferred" and "Super Preferred" categories. Super Preferred are given to the healthiest individuals with the best family health history and can result in a savings of up to 30%.

However, keep in mind that even if your situation happens to be the worst-case scenario outlined here and you would be declined for traditional individual life insurance due to the severity and frequency of your symptoms caused by HPV, you still have a life insurance option.

Guaranteed life insurance is available for those in the above situation because such policies carry no health questions or medical tests as a barrier to acceptance, so you can automatically receive coverage. However, be warned that the coverage amounts available on guaranteed-issue policies are less than those offered by comparable traditional life insurance policies and the premiums you must pay are significantly more expensive than the rate offered on traditional plans.

If you believe you can qualify for a slightly better deal under similar health circumstances, you may want to try for a simplified-issue policy, which has no medical tests but a few health questions. We recommend working with an independent broker to find a simplified-issue policy with no HPV-related or sexually transmitted infection–related questions.

If you are able to answer no to the questions provided on the policy, you will qualify for coverage and you will likely be able to choose from a wider variety of plans with bigger coverage amounts than what are typically available from guaranteed-issue policies. The premiums you must pay are also likely slightly cheaper than those rates available with guaranteed-issue plans.

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2 Comments

  1. Ian 09/04/2014 at 6:37 am

    Interesting post. I though life insurance for someone with HPV is a no go. Not taking a moral stance just looking at the risk

  2. LSM Insurance 09/04/2014 at 8:14 am

    Thanks Ian. As mentioned in the article in many instances applicants can qualify for standard rates. Higher risks applicant should still be able to qualify for a No Medical Simplified Issue policy

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