Most life insurance policies require you to undergo a medical exam as part of the application process. The exam is similar to a standard physical, but instead of being performed by your doctor, it’s performed by a paramedical professional from a company the life insurance partners with. When you agree to the exam, you agree for the results to be given to the life insurance company for the purpose of determining your acceptance and rates.
Here we’ll cover the life insurance medical exam from A to Z: what’s involved, why you need it, how you can schedule it, and alternatives. Read on to find the answers to all your questions.
What is the Life Insurance Medical Exam?
The life insurance medical exam is a necessary part of most life insurance applications. Before the exam, you’ll be asked to fill out a detailed health questionnaire as part of your application (it’s part of what is called the “underwriting process”).
Health Information You’ll Be Requested to Share on Your Life Insurance Application
Some of the information you’ll be requested to share is basic, like:
- Date of birth
- Weight (to calculate your BMI)
- Smoking status
- Primary physician contact information
Then the requests start to get more detailed. Some of the medical questions you’ll be asked to answer:
- The medications you have taken/are currently taking
- Surgeries/hospitalizations you’ve had
- Family medical history (diabetes, heart disease, cancer, etc.)
- Lifestyle (dangerous hobbies, exercise, alcohol and drug use)
- Whether you suffer/have suffered from:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol levels
- High blood sugar levels
- Chest pain
- Immune deficiency
- Organ transplant
- Cancer and/or tumors
- Brain disorders
- Chronic headaches
- Mental health conditions
- Other issues
Have you caught your breath yet? There’s no denying that the list is long, but take your time and answer everything as fully and truthfully as possible. (In addition to health information, you’ll also be asked to answer questions about your driving records and financial situation.)
Being Truthful on Your Application is Crucial
When filling out the life insurance questionnaire, you may be tempted to fudge the truth or not bother to provide accurate information.
Resist the urge!
On life insurance applications, it’s crucial to provide the most truthful, accurate information possible. There are both moral and practical reasons for doing so. Morally, telling the truth is the right thing to do. Practically, since the life insurance application includes a medical exam, it will be obvious if you lie about your weight or health issues you may have.
Additionally, if you die during the first two years of policy ownership (known as the “contestability period.”), the insurance company can contest the death benefit claim. If the insurer discovers that you omitted or lied about certain information, it can contest the claim and your beneficiaries won’t get the payout. This defeats the entire purpose of life insurance, and frankly, isn’t worth the risk.
If you think that the insurer won’t find out pertinent medical information about you even with a medical exam, think again. Many insurers obtain information about you from these third-party sources:
- The MIB database, which has any previous life insurance applications you filled out
- Your driving records
- Your pharmacy records
- Your credit reports
All of this is on the up and up — when you apply for life insurance, you give the insurer permission to check this information.
What to Expect in the Life Insurance Physical Exam
The life insurance physical exam takes about half an hour and can be scheduled at your convenience. When you apply for life insurance, the insurer will give your information to a paramedical company, which will contact you to set up an appointment. A paramedical professional will come to your home or workplace, so the inconvenience is minimal.
During the exam, the examiner will go over the answers you provided on the health questionnaire. He or she will also check your:
- Vital signs — pulse, blood pressure, temperature, breathing rate
You’ll also need to go through blood tests and urine exams. Through these blood & urine samples, insurance companies check for several things, including:
- Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
- High cholesterol
- Kidney disease
- Drug use
Some of these are health issues that, in theory, you can have and not know about, which is why the medical exam is important. If you didn’t know about a previous health condition, the medical exam will alert you so you can take care of it.
If you’re applying for a large death benefit or are above a certain age, you may be asked to undergo an electrocardiogram (EKG), chest X-ray, and/or a treadmill test. These additional tests will add some time to the standard 30-minute exam.
Do You Need A Medical Exam to Get Life Insurance?
Not always! While traditional life insurance policies require a medical exam in order to qualify for coverage, other options such as no exam life insurance policies do not. The latter is a type of life insurance that allows you to skip the medical exam and still get coverage. The trade-off is that these types of policies are usually more expensive than policies that do require a medical exam. We’ll discuss the reason for that in the next section.
Despite the higher cost, many people choose no exam life insurance because it:
- Allows them to skip the exam, which is good if you don’t feel comfortable with physical exams or if you’re scared of needles
- Is convenient, which is good if you don’t have time for an exam or want a totally online application process
- Offers easier approval, which is good if you have serious health conditions and might not get approved for traditional policies
- Offers fast approval, which is ideal if you need life insurance quickly, especially to finalize a divorce settlement or to secure a small business loan
You can learn more about no exam life insurance in this detailed guide.
Why Do Most Life Insurance Policies Require a Medical Exam?
The medical exam is a crucial component of the life insurance application because it helps insurers determine how much to charge each customer in monthly premiums. A person’s health is related to their life expectancy, and the higher someone’s life expectancy, the lower their premiums will be.
Life insurance underwriters determine your life expectancy by comparing the results of your medical exam (and questionnaire answers) against millions of statistics. They are then able to determine your statistical life expectancy. The insurer has a rating system based on this information, and your rating determines how much you’ll pay in monthly premiums.
With no exam life insurance, the insurer doesn’t have all of your medical information, so underwriters can’t make an accurate assessment of your mortality risk. Therefore, prices are usually higher to cover the risk the insurer takes by offering life insurance without a medical exam.
Life Insurance Ratings
For traditional life insurance, there are several health ratings that insurers give their customers, based on the information in their application and their medical exam. From highest to lowest, the ratings are:
- Preferred plus
- Standard Plus
- Preferred tobacco
- Standard tobacco
While these ratings might be called slightly different names by different insurance companies, the idea is that the higher your rating, the lower your life insurance premiums will be.
As you can see, people who smoke have their own price ratings, and their premiums are always higher than for those who don’t smoke, since smoking significantly decreases life expectancy.
How to Prepare for the Medical Exam
Preparing for your medical exam is fairly easy and straightforward. While you won’t be able to change your overall state of health or BMI, there are certain things you can do to help your body give the best impression.
First, inquire whether you need to fast. If you do, try to schedule a morning exam. In the days leading up to the exam, make sure you’re properly hydrated and drink lots of water. Avoiding alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine is also a good idea since these things can affect blood pressure.
Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats (think avocado, nuts), but avoid red meat, sugar, and salt. You should also avoid certain over-the-counter medications, like cold medicine, decongestants, diet pills, sleeping pills, and more. These can create false positives for drug use.
Also, get a good night’s sleep! According to the Mayo Clinic, “People who sleep six hours or less may have steeper increases in blood pressure.”
Oddly enough, paramedical examiners recommend not doing any strenuous cardio exercise before your exam, since it can raise your blood pressure and pulse.
You should also be prepared to answer questions about your health (which you already answered on the written application). You can bring the completed application itself as well as any important medical records. On a practical level, wearing short sleeves can make it easier for the paramedical examiner to draw blood.
If you wake up on the day of your exam and don’t feel good, we recommend rescheduling. Even a common cold can affect the results of your exam adversely, and as such, your monthly premium payments.
How to Get a Life Insurance Medical Exam
Since insurance companies want to encourage customers to get a medical exam, they make it fairly easy to schedule one. Insurers usually partner with a paramedical company, which will contact you to schedule an appointment once you’ve submitted your application. The appointment can take place at your home, place of work, or other location of your choosing. Of course, it’s free.
After the exam, it can take a week or several weeks for the paramedical and insurance companies to process the results. Depending on the company that performed the exam, you may or may not be able to access the results.
If irregularities appeared during your exam, the insurer may request that you undergo another one. If everything goes smoothly, you’ll receive a quote from the insurance company.
How to Pass the Life Insurance Medical Exam
While the medical examiner will determine what will need to be examined on a case-by-case basis, we saw above that there are some tests that are common to everyone being tested and so there are a few things you can do to increase the odds of you passing the medical exam, both in the weeks/days leading to it and in the date of the exam itself:
Leading up to the exam:
- Stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water can help dilute sugar and protein concentrations, as well as flush out toxins from your body.
- Cut down your salt intake. It can increase your blood pressure and lead to dehydration.
- Eat healthy. It’s been proven that whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products can lower blood pressure. For the same reason, processed foods with added sodium should be avoided.
- Avoid drinking alcohol. And if you drink alcohol, do so moderately (According to the Mayo Clinic, women should drink one drink per day and men should drink two at the most). The more you drink, the higher your blood pressure and the less effective your blood pressure medication.
- Dont’consume nicotine/tobacco products. They can raise your blood pressure. Keep in mind, however, that recent nicotine use will be revealed through a blood or urine test.
- Don’t eat red meat. This is a high-cholesterol food.
- Try to avoid over-the-counter medication. Medications such as antihistamines and nasal decongestants can raise blood pressure.
The day of the exam:
- Make sure you get a good night’s sleep. A study by the Mayo Clinic found that individuals with less than six hours of sleep have higher blood pressure.
- Do not drink caffeinated beverages. Coffee, soda, and tea will increase your heart rate and blood pressure.
- Exercise at a moderate pace. Do not increase your blood pressure with strenuous activity.
What Can You Do If You’re Denied Coverage Based on Your Medical Exam?
If you are denied life insurance based on the results of your medical exam, don’t worry. You still have the option to apply for no exam life insurance, a type of life insurance that allows you to skip the medical exam and still get coverage. There are several types of no exam life insurance, so you can choose the kind that’s best for you. While life insurance with a medical exam may be the more traditional route, no exam life insurance makes it possible for many more people to get the coverage they need.