Do Women Who’ve Had Postpartum Depression Have To Lie to Get Life Insurance?

Not so long ago, I heard from a mother and advocate I know who had just found out she was being denied life insurance coverage because she had been treated for postpartum depression in the last five years. She was told their policy stated that she must wait until five years after the experience with PPD was over (it had already been 4 years!), and could then re-apply for life insurance.

What?!! Who came up with that arbitrary bullshit?! You can imagine my shock and dismay. I had never heard of such a thing. But then I reached out to several professionals I respected to ask if they had seen this happen to their patients, and was disappointed to discover that they had. Here were some of their responses:

“This practice applies for survivors of breast cancer as well — even if you have been ‘cured’ for over a decade! Discrimination against women’s issues for sure! Men who have had life-threatening conditions can get [life insurance] but they have to pay more. With women there are also plans that will offer minimal coverage but are still astronomically expensive.”

“Sadly, it is legal and commonplace for life insurance companies to deny coverage based upon a wide range of mental health conditions, including postpartum depression … The life insurance companies justify this based upon their actuarial tables that show people diagnosed with certain mental health diagnoses have shorter life spans. Not sure how significant it is across the board, but apparently significant enough for them to deny taking people’s money for policies.”

“I have heard of people being denied because of a history of depression. It makes no sense, since most policies don’t cover suicide anyway. Interestingly, now we know about connections of depression to other chronic illnesses and heart disease. But since approximately 20% of women get perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, this really wipes out a lot of women. It’s discrimination, especially since the prognosis is so good.”

My first piece of advice for those of you seeking life insurance who have been treated for a perinatal moodor anxiety disorder like postpartum depression is to try shopping around. Different insurance companies have different underwriting policies and you may find one that is willing to insure you, or that perhaps has a shorter waiting period than 5 years.

If that doesn’t work, the website Insure.com suggests working with “… brokers who specialize in finding life insurance for applicants with medical conditions and other red flags. These ‘impaired-risk specialists’ know which insurers are likely to approve applications for folks with a variety of ‘insurability’ problems, such as smokers, the overweight and those with a cardiac history.”

If that doesn’t work, there is another last-ditch option: You could lie.

I know I’m gonna get it for this one.

At first I wasn’t going to write about this option. I teach my children not to lie. I avoid lying, unless it’s about somebody’s new haircut that I think is not so hot. I don’t think lying is a good thing. But what else is a mother to do who is trying to pay for life insurance that will help her family continue on should something happen to her?

While I was equivocating, I happened to read this reponse in the New York Times’ Magazine by Randy Cohen, the paper’s ethicist, to a letter from a mother whose son had been denied health insurance after answering truthfully that he had smoked pot in the past. This is what he wrote:

“In this situation, there is no good advice. Some problems are simply not amenable to an honorable individualist solution, offering a choice only between disheartening alternatives.

Honesty may not always be the best policy — and, by the way, do these pants make me look fat? — but we rely on the trustworthiness of those we do business with. Were your son to lie on that form, he’d do his small part to erode that trust. And yet it’s hard to see how he’d harm the insurance company. Few dire health consequences result from sporadic youthful pot-smoking or even occasional adult pot-smoking. It is impertinent of the insurer to act on information that is medically insignificant.

And so, were I filling out that form, I’d lie without remorse. (All right, with some remorse. Accompanied by resentment. I blame my upbringing. And my inept, albeit imaginary, therapist.) …”

Cohen’s words made me feel slightly more emboldened to share the last-ditch option. I realize, of course, that he was not writing about life insurance, or postpartum depression or people who are taking prescribed antidepressant medication. I imagine he didn’t foresee me using his words here. I imagine he would say, as he did in his column, that it would be better to write letters to the life insurance company and appeal the denial. (Remember those professionals I quoted earlier? They said those appeals often also get denied.) I imagine he’d say you also should write your elected officials and work to get policies like these changed. And I would agree that this is something we all should do.

But I also believe that, if you have had a temporary illness like postpartum depression or anxiety and were treated and have fully recovered and it hasn’t impacted your long-term health, it’s unfair for you to be denied life insurance. And what does five years have to do with it? If your doctor says you are better and completely healthy, why should you be flat-out denied while the next person is accepted? Any of us could get hit by a bus tomorrow, after all. (Fingers crossed the bus thing doesn’t happen to one of you, or I’m gonna feel really bad about writing that.) I realize you may have to pay higher premiums, but at least then you’d have the opportunity to have the insurance.

You didn’t hear this from me, but here’s a tip someone gave me:

If you are applying for life insurance for the first time after having been treated for PPD, you could say you had been taking antidepressant medication for PMS or perimenopause symptoms.

My sources tell me this has worked for some.If you want to take the risk, you could try it. One side note:If you have already applied for life insurance and been denied, you have to note that denial on future applications with other insurance companies, so this probably wouldn’t work. Insurance companies can access medical data about you from other insurance companies via a clearinghouse called the MIB, and would find out you had PPD. As reported by iVillage in an article called “Getting Past Life Insurance Denial,” ” … if the new application asks you if you have been turned down for insurance in the past, you must answer truthfully. Failure to do so is a misrepresentation and could result in null and void coverage in the future. Through the use of the MIB, the new company may be aware of previously discovered medical indicators or adverse determinations and know that your application is not completely accurate.”

I don’t want you to have to lie. I want you to be able to have life insurance, should you need it. And I want people — everyday people, insurance company people, political people –to understand that postpartum depression is a temporary and fully treatable illness.

 

About Katherine Stone

is the creator of this blog, and the founder and executive director of Postpartum Progress. She has been named a WebMD Health Hero, one of the fiercest women in America by More magazine, and one of the 15 most influential patient advocates to follow. She is a survivor of postpartum OCD.

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Comments

  1. Thanks for writing on this topic. I have wondered how that "tag" in my medical file will come back to haunt me. My mom tried to take my kids away from me during my bout with PPD and I have wondered if she tried it again in the future if my medical file could be used against me. Sure wish we were allowed some "patient confidentiality!"

  2. I was denied several times with past dx of PPD (my youngest is eight) and depression. Twice now, I've had to resort to HIPAA policies, usually afteronths of being uninsured in the meantime. I'm categorically uninsurable by any company. The government has mo choice but to take me, and I them. It's criminal.

  3. Also?I hate this tiny iPod keyboard. Makes me look like I can't write!

  4. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    It really is so patently unfair. That's why I wrote this post and shared the "tip", because you have to know this information in advance if you want to have any possibility of getting life insurance.

  5. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    No worries!

  6. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    I can't say I know a lot about how this information is used or how and whether it can be shared once it is in your medical file. I will look into that further. But at least we now know that the life insurance companies share info between each other.

  7. Amber at Beyond Post says:

    Boy do I wish I would have read this post before I disclosed ALL the details of my PPD to our insurance agent a few months ago. I am sure (hope) he had my best interests in mind, since he is a friend of more than 10 years, but I do wonder if I should have shared this "optional" info now. We got insured, but might our premium have been less had I not? Hmmmm….good advice.

  8. Here's the only problem with lying: If they find out you lied they can cancel your policy. Even if your health problem has nothing to do with depression (say that you have a heart attack), they can still refuse to pay and can cancel your insurance on the spot because of the fact that you lied when you signed up. Health insurance policies do this all the time. It's totally legal. I'm not sure if Life Insurance policies do it, but I would bet they do. So if you lie, you are paying premiums the whole time…and then when you need the insurance, they do a medical records search on you and refuse to pay. If I understand it right, HIPPA (health privacy rules) do not apply to insurance companies. They have the legal right to your past and current medical records.

  9. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    This is true, which is why you have to be willing to take the risk. Thanks for your input, Allison!

  10. I was completely denied coverage due to my PPD and hospitalization. When I found out I was denied I kind of felt like it was just another setback. I was sad and it seemed as though they were considering me a broken person. If only they knew all the work I was doing to get better – but I guess that doesn't get taken into consideration.

  11. Teresa Twomey says:

    As usual, your blog does a real service. This is definitely an area where reform is needed.

  12. I had a friend denied because her doctor made a note that she has *inquired* about PPD at her 6 week postpartum visit. THAT is criminal!!! She was never medicated for it by him, diagnosed by him, nothing. They told her she could reapply in a year.

  13. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    Holy cow! That should not be allowed. Disgusting.

  14. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    Thanks Teresa!!

  15. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    Great point Emily. Not only is it frustrating from a financial point of view, but you also point out that it can be hurtful. It's another indignity in the experience. I can totally see how it could impact your view of yourself.

  16. I'm seeking life insurance for myself and my husband now, and I'm totally panicking over what to do. We can barely afford the premiums I've been quoted without disclosing my diagnosis in 2009. Thanks for this article. It's very helpful (though I still don't know what to do).

  17. If you lie on your insurance application, that could be reason for them to deny paying out even a decade or more later.

  18. I wasn’t denied life insurance, but I DID have to pay a much higher rate for it. My husband is on anti-anxiety medications, and he also had to pay a higher rate. It was similar to what smokers pay even though we are completely healthy. One issue according to the insurance company is that the state we live in (Pennsylvania) mandates that all life insurance cover suicide. We asked if we could purchase life insurance that didn’t cover suicide and were told Pennsylvania doesn’t permit that type of coverage. So government interference actually made it harder and more expensive for me to obtain insurance.

  19. I didn’t have PPD, but had lots of mood swings after the birth of my last child in my late 30s. I have taken the lowest dose possible of an SSRI to help with that and IBS. I am otherwise extremely health and happy. The life insurance company, Protective, refused to give me a preferred rate solely because of the antidepressants. They said I was more likely to die than others who didn’t take antidepressants and that I had a psychological disorder. I was truly insulted because this isn’t true. I think it’s high time these insurance companies wake up and understand that antidepressants are very commonly prescribed for people without psychological disorders, and are often used for a season in life, not forever. Because IBS is much more common among women than men, and men do not have the pregnancy and hormones we do, these companies are discriminating against women, and I told them that. I wish there was something more that I could do. This makes me so mad.