When you buy life insurance, the carrier completes an underwriting process to determine your risk class and the rate you will pay for coverage. Often, but not always, part of the underwriting process is a life insurance medical exam. The exam helps the insurance company determine your health and mortality risk. Although a medical exam can be nerve-wracking, understanding the process and the reason behind it can help you prepare for this part of the life insurance purchasing experience.

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What is a life insurance medical exam?

A life insurance health exam is typically considered 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 risks. Using this information helps the carrier determine if they will approve your application and how much they 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 can also go to a lab facility, if you prefer. The exam itself usually lasts about 30 minutes. There are two parts to a life insurer’s medical underwriting process:

1. Medical questionnaire

A medical history interview may be conducted over the phone prior to your paramedical exam, or during the physical exam. If conducted during the physical exam, the technician will ask you 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 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) and/or an X-ray. The insurance company’s underwriting guidelines will determine if this is necessary. Carriers usually request them based on age and 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 will 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 can 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 more expensive premiums than non smokers, and any other risk factors can affect how much you pay.
  • 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 are 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 them determine your life expectancy and, consequently, your premiums.

Why is the life insurance medical exam important?

The life insurance medical exam is important because it provides an in-depth look at your health status, combined with your application answers. The insurer uses the exam results and completed application to determine your risk class and your life insurance cost. It can 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
  • Substandard

These classes exist for both smokers and non-smokers. The better your risk class, the healthier you are and the greater your life expectancy, which translates into lower premiums.

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 can 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 the life insurance health exam

Set yourself up for success during your life insurance physical exam to score the lowest possible premiums on your policy.

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, 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 will make 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 will make you 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 could translate to dollars saved. Stop smoking, get into an exercise routine and watch 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. They’re not looking for every tiny thing that could be abnormal. Instead, they’re really 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. Don’t worry. Both you and your insurer want the same thing: for you to get life insurance. Keep following the steps of the process to move toward the point where your insurer will issue your policy. Usually, the entire underwriting process, even with repeat medical exams, shouldn’t take more than a couple of months.

If you do end up getting denied coverage for a health-related reason, don’t forget that you can explore no-exam medical insurance and get coverage this way.

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