Effect of a new diagnosis of Barrett's esophagus on insurance status

Am J Gastroenterol. 2005 Mar;100(3):577-80. doi: 10.1111/j.1572-0241.2005.41422.x.


Background: Barrett's esophagus (BE) is associated with an increased risk of adenocarcinoma of the esophagus. Despite this increased risk, most cohort studies demonstrate that the mean life expectancy of subjects with BE is no different than age-matched controls. The indirect costs associated with a diagnosis of BE are unclear.

Aim: To assess the effect of a diagnosis of BE on insurance premiums.

Methods: We assessed twenty national life insurance companies (10 in southern California, 10 in North Carolina) to determine the effect of a diagnosis of BE on life insurance premiums. Our base case in Los Angeles was a 36-yr-old female nonsmoker, and in North Carolina, a 43-yr-old Caucasian male nonsmoker, both in excellent health except for a diagnosis of prevalent BE with no dysplasia. The policy requested was a 20-yr guaranteed term life insurance in the amount of $1,000,000. Companies were asked for their best price exclusive of the BE, and also their best price when considering BE as a preexisting condition. For those companies not offering the "preferred" rates, the insurance representative was subsequently sent a physician's letter explaining BE and providing data substantiating a normal life expectancy in the condition. Companies were also asked for health insurance quotes, including premiums and deductibles, inclusive and exclusive of the diagnosis of BE.

Results: Twenty national insurance companies were contacted. For the 43-yr-old man with no BE, the yearly "preferred" premium for life insurance averaged $1,255. The mean cost of the policies offered to the same individual with BE as a preexisting condition was $2,731 (p < 0.001). For the 36-yr-old female the base rate exclusive of BE was $517, with a range of $472-$551. After inclusion of the diagnosis of BE, the mean rate rose by 177%, to $1,434, with a range of $1,144-$1,896. Companies either refused to provide health insurance to the individual with BE or would not provide a quote without review of the medical record. None of the insurance companies changed their quoted rates after receiving the letter written by the physician on behalf of the individual.

Conclusions: Despite the preponderance of data demonstrating a normal life expectancy associated with the condition, a diagnosis of BE more than doubles life insurance premiums, and impacts the availability of health insurance. Further steps to educate insurance companies about the risks associated with BE are warranted, and patients should understand this additional "risk" of endoscopic screening for BE. There are significant indirect costs associated with a diagnosis of BE.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Barrett Esophagus / diagnosis*
  • Esophagoscopy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Insurance, Health / economics*
  • Life Expectancy
  • Male
  • United States