When you buy life insurance, the carrier completes an underwriting process to determine your risk class and the rate you will pay for coverage. The underwriting process often includes a life insurance medical exam. The exam helps the insurance company determine your health and mortality risk. A medical exam can be nerve-wracking, but Bankrate’s insurance editorial team aims to help you understand the process and help you prepare for your life insurance medical exam.

Key takeaways

  • Life insurance medical exams are part of the underwriting process and typically consist of a medical questionnaire and physical examination.
  • The exam may help the insurer determine your health and mortality risk, and the results can affect your coverage eligibility and premium.
  • Life insurance without a medical exam is available, but it typically has lower death benefits and higher premiums.
  • Getting plenty of rest, staying hydrated and wearing comfortable clothing may set you up for success on the day of your exam.

What is a life insurance medical exam?

A life insurance medical exam is typically a simple physical. It’s often part of the underwriting process, or the process your insurer has you go through in order to determine your specific characteristics and risk level. The information helps the carrier determine if it will approve your application and how much it will charge you for your insurance policy. As a result, the life insurance physical exam is a step you’ll most likely need to take before you can get a life insurance policy. (That assumes the policy requires a medical exam. We’ll address no-exam life insurance products later in this article.)

Instead of going to your doctor for this exam, you can usually arrange to have the life insurance company send a technician to your home or office at a time that works for your schedule. You may also be able to go to a lab facility if you prefer. A life insurance medical exam usually consists of two parts — a medical questionnaire and a physical examination — and the entire process generally takes around 30 minutes.

1. Medical questionnaire

A medical exam for life insurance may include a medical history interview. The interview may be conducted over the phone prior to your medical exam or during the physical exam. You will usually be asked a series of health-related questions designed to give the life insurance company an idea of how healthy you are. There are usually questions about any medications you take, how often you take them and their dosages.

Other questions may cover your family medical history, what doctors you’ve seen recently, their recommendations and whether you’ve been hospitalized recently. These questions are usually the same as what you have answered on your application. It’s important to be careful that there are no discrepancies between your answers to these questions and the information you supplied on your application.

2. Physical examination

The technician will usually begin by checking your driver’s license or other government-issued ID to verify your identity. They will then start the physical exam, which typically includes checking your height, weight, pulse, blood pressure and also taking blood and urine samples.

Other examination requirements could include an electrocardiogram (EKG), stress test and/or a chest X-ray, depending on the insurance company’s underwriting guidelines. Carriers may request them based on your age and desired coverage amount.

When the exam is complete, the lab will screen the blood and urine samples for a variety of possible health conditions. These conditions can include:

  • High cholesterol: This condition can lead to heart disease, as it makes it harder for your heart to pump blood through your veins. Cholesterol ratios above 5.0 are an indicator of heart disease, which could affect how much you pay for life insurance.
  • Diabetes: Both Type 1 and 2 diabetes can affect your approval and risk rating. The type you have and your maintenance protocol may also factor into your cost of life insurance.
  • HIV/AIDS: Although HIV or AIDS may not automatically disqualify you for life insurance, you can probably expect to pay higher premiums if you test positive for the virus. If it’s well-controlled and you are following your doctor’s treatment plan, you may still be approved for a new policy.
  • Nicotine usage: Using any form of tobacco can shorten one’s lifespan and lead to a variety of health issues. Smokers have their own rating class with premiums that are typically higher than non smokers.
  • Recreational drugs: Insurers test blood and urine to see if you are using any form of drugs, whether legal or not. If you use other drugs besides tobacco or alcohol, like marijuana, cocaine or methamphetamines, then you may be declined for coverage.
  • Prescription drugs: Taking medications your doctor prescribes can affect eligibility and pricing, depending on the reason you are taking them and the types of medication. Insurers also want to make sure you have listed all medications on your application and did not omit anything.
  • STDs: The blood test will determine if you have any sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Although STDs usually will not get you denied, they can affect your rates in some circumstances.
  • Liver disease: The blood test will look at liver enzymes to see if anything is affecting your liver function, including hepatitis or other diseases. While this may not be something that gets you declined, it can affect your premium.
  • Kidney disease: Like liver testing, kidney testing is done to check for signs of kidney disease. The lab will test your blood’s hemoglobin, leukocytes, creatinine levels and blood urea nitrogen (BUN) score to determine your risk level.
  • Hemoglobin A1C: Your glucose levels may be tested to determine if you are at risk for diabetes, combined with other exam factors, like your family history, lifestyle and weight.

All in all, the life insurance health exam should be a quick and convenient process for you. It allows your insurer to check for a broad range of health conditions. This, in turn, helps it determine your life expectancy and, consequently, your premiums.

Why do life insurance companies require medical exams?

The life insurance medical exam is important because it provides an in-depth look at your health status, combined with your application answers. If an exam is required, the insurer will use the results and completed application to determine your risk class and your life insurance cost. It might also uncover potential health concerns, which you may or may not be aware of.

There are several risk classes you could fall into, including:

  • Preferred Plus
  • Preferred
  • Standard Plus
  • Standard
  • Substandard

These classes exist for both smokers and non-smokers. The better your risk class, the lower your premiums typically are.

Can I get life insurance without a medical exam?

Yes, you can get life insurance without a physical medical exam. Some carriers offer term and permanent life insurance with no medical exam, which means the insurer typically relies on a more detailed application, a health questionnaire, and other factors to determine your eligibility and risk class.

The different types of life insurance without a medical exam are usually referred to as simplified issue, guaranteed issue or final expense life insurance. Simplified issue and final expense typically have health questions on the application, while guaranteed issue has no health questions or medical exam.

While it may be faster and easier to get life insurance with no medical exam, it may be more expensive and the death benefits are generally lower. With no health qualifications, guaranteed issue is typically the most expensive form of life insurance available.

How to prepare for a life insurance health screening

Your insurer will probably give you some guidelines in advance of the medical exam. They’ll likely tell you to fast for at least six hours before it, for example. Here are some tips that may help you get the best life insurance medical exam results possible:

  • Schedule your exam in the morning: Since you’ll likely need to fast before your exam because of the blood work, it can be helpful to schedule your physical for first thing in the morning. If you normally do a morning workout, you may want to skip it on the day of your exam to make sure your blood pressure levels aren’t elevated.
  • Drink lots of water: Get hydrated leading up to your exam. This usually makes it easier for your technician to collect the necessary blood and urine samples.
  • Wear short sleeves and lightweight clothing: Short sleeves will make it easier for the technician to take blood samples and measure your blood pressure. Lightweight clothing won’t add a lot of extra weight and might help you feel more comfortable during the exam process.
  • Make changes in advance: If you’ve been wanting a push to make some health strides, this is it. Changes you make before your life insurance physical exam might translate to dollars saved. For example, you might consider stopping smoking, getting into an exercise routine and watching your food choices in the weeks and months leading up to your exam. Keep in mind that, typically, you would need to have quit nicotine at least a year in advance in order to qualify as a non-smoker.
  • Have your medical records and contacts on hand: So you can easily answer any questions your technician asks, it can be helpful to have your medical records, including a list of current medications, pulled up on your computer or printed out to reference. Note any family history of medical conditions and procedures you’ve had recently performed.

What comes after the life insurance medical exam?

Your insurer will most likely take a few weeks to process your life insurance medical exam results. Generally, the carrier isn’t looking for every tiny thing that could be abnormal. Instead, it’s typically screening for the major indicators of shorter life expectancy.

There’s a chance your insurer might request a follow-up exam if any of your lab tests come back with unexpected results. Although this may be frustrating, the best course of action is usually to keep following the steps of the process to move toward the point where your insurer will issue your policy. The entire underwriting process, even with repeat medical exams, usually shouldn’t take more than a couple of months.

If you do end up getting denied coverage for a health-related reason, you might consider pursuing coverage with another carrier or addressing the health condition that led to your denial. Don’t forget that you could explore simplified-issue or no-medical-exam  life insurance and get coverage that way.

Frequently asked questions

    • There’s no real step-by-step on how to pass a life insurance medical exam because it is not a pass-or-fail situation. It determines your health status and mortality risk, so the life insurance company can determine your eligibility and premium. The healthier your lifestyle, the cheaper your rate typically is.
    • Before a medical exam, there are things you might want to consider not doing to get the best results. Things to avoid may include:
      • Eating lots of salty and fatty foods
      • Drinking caffeinated beverages
      • Taking part in strenuous physical activity in the hours leading up to the exam
      Staying hydrated and getting plenty of sleep before the exam may also improve your results and help calm your nerves.
    • If you have chronic high blood pressure, this is likely an issue you will need to manage with the help of a medical professional. However, there are several things that might lower your blood pressure for a life insurance test. Eating less salt, maintaining a healthy weight, relieving stress, limiting your alcohol and caffeine intake, eating more potassium and performing regular aerobic exercise may help lower your blood pressure. You might want to consult your doctor before taking a life insurance medical exam to discuss how you can get healthier before the exam.
    • It is not common for a life insurer to use telemedicine to complete a medical exam. However, you may be able to complete the health questionnaire component virtually. If you are unwilling or unable to travel for an exam, your potential life insurance provider may send a healthcare professional to your home upon request.