At PolicyGenius, we’re making buying life insurance easier than ever by bringing a lot of the process online.
Unfortunately, there are still a few things you can’t do digitally – namely, getting a health checkup. Maybe in the future you’ll be able to get a clean bill of health from WebMD, but in the meantime you’ll have to make due with a paramedical exam before you can get life insurance.
A paramedical exam is a lot like a standard physical in most ways. However, there might be one thing that worries you a little: the blood test. But it’s an important part of your exam, and the amount you end up paying for your life insurance policy depends heavily on it.
Why you need a paramedical exam
Before you can be approved for a life insurance policy, you have to go through the underwriting process. An underwriter will look at your health information and history to determine your health risks for the future. If you’ve had a heart attack, for example, or your family has a history of certain illnesses, that makes you riskier to an insurer and will affect your life insurance policy premiums.
Depending on the risk assessment by the underwriter, you’ll be put into a classification, ranging from Preferred Plus (you’re basically Captain America) to Substandard (Captain America before he becomes a super soldier).
Your doctor’s records will only reveal so much, and that’s where a paramedical exam comes in. The insurer will schedule an exam (at no cost to you) so they can get a current snapshot of your health, figure out how to price your premiums, and offer you a life insurance policy that fits your individual circumstances.
Why you need a blood test
So, broadly speaking you take a paramedical exam so an insurer can dig into your health more deeply. But your height, weight, and blood pressure can only tell someone so much. That little vial of blood they take can tell an insurance company a lot more about you: health concerns, what prescription drugs you’re on, or other, more recreational drugs you’re taking.
Here are the basics for what an insurer is on the lookout for from your blood test.
Heart disease and stroke
Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States? (Probably, because it has been for a while.) High cholesterol puts you at increased risk for heart disease, and a blood test can help reveal your cholesterol levels.
There are two types of cholesterol: high-density lipoproteins and low-density lipoproteins, also known as good cholesterol and bad cholesterol, respectively. Insurers will look at your total-cholesterol-to-HDL ratio and your total cholesterol levels to help classify you. Check out our article on life insurance and cholesterol for a full writeup on what your cholesterol levels mean for your policy and what you can do to prepare yourself before you apply. Blood tests will also measure your level of triglycerides; high levels can contribute to stroke, heart attack, and heart disease.
While we’re on the topic of hearts, your blood test will also reveal the presences of beta blockers. Beta blockers are used to treat heart failure, and while it’s good that you’re taking medicine, it could be a red flag about your overall health. Medication like beta blockers should come up well before you get to the paramedical exam, and that’s another goal of the exam: to catch anything you forgot to disclose (or "forgot" to disclose) to the underwriter.
Your blood test will also determine your blood sugar levels through a glycohemoglobin test. Glycohemoglobin levels measure your average glucose levels over several months, so they’re more useful than your blood sugar level at that very moment, and help diagnose diabetes.
Bloodborne illnesses like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis can be discovered with blood test screenings. Some diseases are more fatal than others and will affect your classification, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get insurance. ÆQUALIS, for instance, provides term life insurance for people who are HIV-positive.
You should be upfront about your smoking habits when you’re looking to get life insurance (just like you should with everything else) but in case you’re not, insurers have a way of finding out. Blood tests will reveal cotinine levels, found in nicotine and related to tobacco smoke.
If you’re a smoker, you’ll likely be classified in a way that takes your habit into account. For example, a Preferred Smoker classification means you would have gotten a Preferred classification (and better rates) but the health risks associated with smoking bump you down.
And don’t think e-cigs get you out of consequences scot-free. Insurers (for now) include e-cig usage in the same category as regular old cigarettes.
Blood test results highlight issues with organs throughout the body. Besides the obvious implications of things like high cholesterol on your heart, hemoglobin levels can alert underwriters to problems with your kidney, hepatitis damages your liver, and red-flagged glucose levels could mean there’s a problem with your pancreas.
That’s why blood tests are so important: not only do they uncover problems that surface-level tests don’t, but they give a more holistic view of how your body is working. This gives insurers a much more detailed idea of just how healthy you are, and it lets them provide the most accurate premium rates they can.