What to Expect During a Life Insurance Medical Exam


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Updated: May 22, 2024

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Life insurance medical exams help insurers assess risk and determine policy rates. These health exams provide a snapshot of your health, influencing the terms and cost of your life insurance policy.

A typical life insurance medical exam might include a urine test, blood test and other related examinations. Depending on your age, coverage level and the insurer's underwriting guidelines, the exam may also require an X-ray or EKG.

Most life insurance policies require a medical exam, but specific policies, like guaranteed acceptance and simplified issue life insurance, do not. Guaranteed acceptance life insurance doesn’t require an exam or health questions. Simplified issue life insurance asks health questions on the application but doesn’t require a medical exam.

Key Takeaways

A life insurance medical exam typically consists of blood pressure readings, height and weight measurements, pulse-taking, blood draws and urine samples.

Companies look for current and future health indicators to check for conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol.

Although most life insurance policies require an exam as part of the application process, some don’t, like guaranteed acceptance or simplified issue life insurance.

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Why Life Insurance Companies Require Medical Exams

A medical exam for life insurance evaluates your current health and determines your life expectancy so that the insurer can assess your suitability for coverage. This health screening typically takes 15 to 45 minutes to complete. The physician conducting the exam will evaluate your overall health, administer blood and urine tests and possibly perform a drug test. Usually, the insurer pays for the medical exam.

Life insurance companies require medical exams to assess your risk class, which they use to determine if you qualify for coverage and the insurance rates you’ll pay. There are several life insurance rating classifications. Generally, the healthier you are, the cheaper your premium can be.

The chart below details each rating class and what insurers typically look for in each class. Note that these guidelines will differ by the insurer.

Rating
Criteria

Preferred Plus

Reserved for applicants in excellent health, which can include the following characteristics:

  • No risky hobbies, sports or jobs
  • Healthy height and weight ratio
  • Nonsmoker
  • Clean driving history
  • Positive family health history, such as no cancer or heart disease in an immediate family member under age 60

Preferred

Preferred means you’re still in optimal health but may exhibit:

  • Slightly out of ideal height and weight ratio
  • Slightly elevated cholesterol or blood pressure levels
  • Use of tobacco within five years
  • Minor moving violation in last three years

Standard Plus

This class means you’re in great health but might have:

  • Tobacco usage in the last three years
  • Well-controlled high blood pressure or cholesterol with medication
  • Cancer history more than 10 years ago
  • A DUI/DWI more than three years ago

Standard

Standard is the average rating most people receive, and it means you may have the following traits:

  • Overweight
  • One immediate family member with heart disease or cancer under age 60
  • Personal history of high cholesterol or blood pressure

Substandard

A rating for those with recent health issues or complicated health history, such as:

  • Heart attacks
  • Obesity
  • A stroke in the last year
  • Diabetes
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WHAT IF YOU CAN'T GET A PREFERRED PLUS RATING?

Certain things will automatically disqualify you for the preferred plus rating, like being obese or having alcohol, drugs or tobacco detected in your blood test or urine sample. Being disqualified for the preferred plus rating means you will pay higher premiums in a lower classification. If you’re a smoker, you could still get a preferred tobacco rating with some companies. We found the best life insurance companies for smokers to help you get the best coverage rate.

Understanding the Underwriting Process

Underwriting in life insurance is a detailed assessment process where insurers evaluate an applicant's risk and eligibility for coverage. This procedure takes into account various factors such as age, health, lifestyle and medical history. Medical exams are pivotal in this process, providing insurers with a comprehensive view of an applicant's health.

The results from these exams, such as life insurance blood and urine tests, enable insurance providers to customize policies based on each applicant's individual risk. Healthy individuals often benefit from lower premiums, reflecting their lower risk, while those with higher health risks might see higher premiums or additional policy stipulations. In extreme cases, significant health risks identified during the exam could result in policy denial. The medical exam is critical in obtaining life insurance coverage and shaping its terms and costs.

What Life Insurance Companies Test for During a Medical Exam

Life insurance companies assess several health indicators using body mass index (BMI) and urine and blood samples. Below, we highlight the significant factors physicians pay particular attention to when conducting a life insurance medical exam.

Blood Pressure
Cholesterol
Nicotine Use
Recreational Drug Use
Prescribed Medications
Diabetes
Hemoglobin and Glucose Levels
STDs
HIV or AIDS
Kidney Conditions
Liver Conditions
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MEDICAL QUESTIONNAIRE

Your application for life insurance typically includes a health questionnaire unless you apply for guaranteed acceptance life insurance coverage. These medical questions help the insurer determine risk classification. Expect questions about your personal health history, such as the last time you used tobacco, whether you are taking any medications and if you have been diagnosed or treated for anything by a medical professional. You will also have to list any prior surgeries or medical procedures. Your family’s health history will also come into play, particularly if a close family member has a history of diabetes, cancer, stroke or heart disease.

Impact of Medical History on Life Insurance

The medical history of an applicant significantly influences life insurance underwriting. Insurers carefully evaluate past medical conditions to assess potential future health risks through procedures like health exams and blood tests. Conditions such as heart disease, diabetes or a history of serious illnesses are particularly noteworthy, as they can increase an individual's risk profile. This might result in higher premiums or specific conditions attached to the policy.

Family medical history is a key consideration. Insurers consider hereditary conditions or a history of early-onset diseases within the family. For example, a family history of heart disease or cancer might lead to more in-depth scrutiny by insurers, potentially affecting premium rates. Such a family medical history suggests a higher likelihood of the applicant encountering similar health issues.

Applicants should provide a thorough and accurate medical history encompassing their personal health history and their family's medical background. This enables insurers to make a well-informed assessment and offer policy terms that accurately reflect the applicant's risk profile. This approach ensures a fair balance between the insurer's need to manage risk and the provision of equitable coverage to the applicant. It also reduces the chance of a coverage dispute in the future.

How to Prepare for a Life Insurance Medical Exam

Preparing for a life insurance physical exam can help your testing day go smoothly. Use these MoneyGeek tips to prepare for your exam to get the best possible rating class with the cheapest life insurance premiums.

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    Have your medical history ready

    The examiner may have you fill out a questionnaire or verify your medical history as written on the application. Come prepared with a copy of your life insurance application questionnaire and all of the following:

    • A list of your medical conditions, including details on diagnosis and treatment dates, treatment results and other pertinent information
    • Your doctor’s names, addresses and phone numbers from the last five years
    • Names and dosages of medications
    • Dates and details of any recent surgeries
    • Names and dosages of supplements you’re taking
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    Bring your personal documents

    The examiner needs to verify that you are the same person being insured. Bring a government-issued ID, such as a driver’s license or passport, to confirm your name, date of birth and address.

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    Eat mindfully

    Be mindful of your diet the week before your life insurance test. Avoid processed foods containing high amounts of salt, sugar, cholesterol and fat. Instead, focus on eating fruits, vegetables and lean meat sources.

    Avoiding alcohol for at least 24 hours before the exam, up to a week prior, can also help you stay hydrated and avoid high blood pressure readings and high liver enzyme levels.

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    Drink plenty of water

    Increasing your water intake the week before your scheduled physical exam can help flush toxins, which can affect the blood and urine samples you provide on the day of the exam. The increased hydration will also make your blood draw easier.

    It also helps to avoid caffeine at least two hours before the exam. This limits anxiety and keeps your pulse and blood pressure regular.

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    Avoid over-the-counter medications unless necessary

    Antihistamines, decongestants and specific vitamins or supplements can affect glucose levels and blood pressure readings. Avoid taking them a week before your exam unless absolutely necessary.

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    Check your menstrual cycle

    Women should consider their menstrual cycle when scheduling a life insurance medical exam. It could affect the urine sample you provide if you’re in the middle of your period.

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    Avoid strenuous exercise

    Strenuous activity within 24 hours of the medical exam can affect your blood pressure and cholesterol readings. For best results, opt for less intense exercise leading up to your physical.

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    Get a good night’s sleep

    Sleeping for at least seven to eight hours the night before your exam will help optimize your vital signs, such as blood pressure and pulse.

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    Abstain from food or drink

    Although your life insurer may not require it, fasting 12 hours before the exam can help improve your glucose and cholesterol levels.

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    Wear appropriate clothing

    Lightweight clothing will help the examiner get an accurate reading when checking your weight. Wearing a short-sleeved shirt makes it easier for them to draw your blood.

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    Schedule the exam in the morning

    Since fasting is recommended for best results, scheduling your exam in the morning can help you achieve this goal.

What Happens After a Life Insurance Medical Exam

After the medical exam, the lab forwards the results to your insurer’s underwriting department. The results typically take 7–14 days, and the insurance company will use the results to determine the next steps.

POSSIBLE RESULTS AFTER THE MEDICAL EXAM

Acceptance

If you're accepted, the insurance company will probably take another week or so to finish the process. It will send you an approval, which includes your rating class and premium for the coverage you applied for.

Follow-Up

Your insurer may ask you to do a follow-up, including getting an attending physician's statement or going back for another exam. Depending on the insurer's instruction and reasoning for follow-up, you may need to complete another blood draw or urine sample.

Rejection

After reviewing your application and medical exam results, the insurance carrier may reject your application and decline to offer you coverage. If this happens, you can apply for no-exam life insurance or guaranteed acceptance life insurance, depending on your health status.

Alternatives to Medical Exam-Required Policies

No-exam life insurance policies offer a practical solution for individuals who prefer not to undergo a medical exam or need faster policy issuance. These policies leverage medical history and lifestyle information to expedite the application process.

No-exam life insurance policies eliminate the need for a medical exam, simplifying and speeding up the application process. These policies are ideal for consumers who have health concerns or need immediate coverage. They assess risk based on disclosed medical history and lifestyle factors.

Pros of No-Exam Policies

Fast Approval

One of the most significant advantages is the rapid approval process. Without a medical exam, policies are often approved much faster than traditional life insurance, benefiting those needing immediate coverage.

Convenience

This policy type appeals to those who want to avoid the hassle of scheduling and undergoing a medical exam, offering a more streamlined application experience.

Accessibility for Those With Health Issues

Individuals with pre-existing health conditions might find it easier to obtain coverage through no-exam policies, as they do not require the stringent health evaluations of standard policies.

Cons of No-Exam Policies

Higher Premiums

As insurers take on more risk without the detailed health information from a medical exam, these policies typically require higher premiums.

Limited Coverage

Compared to traditional policies, no-exam life insurance often has lower coverage limits, which might not be sufficient for all applicants’ needs.

Potential for Limited Policy Options

Some no-exam policies might offer fewer features and flexibility than traditional life insurance policies, limiting the customization options for policyholders.

Compare Life Insurance Rates

Ensure you are getting the best rate for your insurance. Compare quotes from the top insurance companies.

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Insurance Rates

FAQ About Life Insurance Medical Exams

A medical exam is a standard part of the life insurance application process. Below are our answers to the most frequently asked questions from consumers.

What is a paramedical exam?
What do life insurance companies test for in a medical exam?
What do life insurance urine tests look for?
What do life insurance blood tests test for?
Can life insurance blood tests detect cancer?
Why do you have to undergo a medical exam for life insurance?
How can you prepare for life insurance medical exams?
How long is the life insurance exam?
How long does it take to get your medical exam results?
Who pays for your medical exam when you apply for life insurance?

About Mark Fitzpatrick


Mark Fitzpatrick headshot

Mark Fitzpatrick has analyzed the property and casualty insurance market for over five years, conducting original research and creating personalized content for every kind of buyer. Currently, he leads P&C insurance content production at MoneyGeek. Fitzpatrick has been quoted in several insurance-related publications, including CNBC, NBC News and Mashable.

Fitzpatrick earned a master’s degree in economics and international relations from Johns Hopkins University and a bachelor’s degree from Boston College. He is passionate about using his knowledge of economics and insurance to bring transparency around financial topics and help others feel confident in their money moves.


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