If you're shopping for a life insurance policy, there's a good chance that after you get your term life insurance quote you'll be asked to undergo an insurance medical exam, also known as a life insurance physical exam. (Technically it's called a "paramedical exam," just in case someone asks you.) If you've never had one before, you might have some questions about it—like what goes on during it, and why are you being asked to take a disability insurance or life insurance medical exam in the first place? Here are some answers.
What does the life insurance medical exam (or paramedical exam) entail?
The point of the exam is to get a snapshot of your health, so you'll be asked to fill out a questionnaire about your health history. The technician or nurse will also take some basic measurements:
your height and weight
your blood pressure
Typically, there will also be a blood test for life insurance and disability insurance applications, so your doctor will draw a blood sample. Sometimes, but not always, you'll be asked to provide a urine sample as well. If you're an older candidate for a big life insurance policy, you might also be required to undergo an EKG.
What is the insurer testing for?
The testing company will do a full work-up of your blood and urine samples. The following are the most common conditions we see that result in a downgrade in health rating (and higher premium on your policy):
high blood pressure
elevated glucose (which could be an early sign of prediabetes)
The other big thing insurers look at is your BMI, which is why they measure your height and weight.
What are some life insurance medical exam tips?
There's nothing in particular you need to do, but if you're the kind who feels calmer when you've done some homework beforehand, here are some basic tips from our life insurance guide:
24 hours before the exam
Avoid caffeine, sugar, and alcohol.
Avoid over-the-counter drugs as they might interfere with your test results.
6-8 hours before the exam
Don’t eat anything else until you’ve completed the exam.
Don't engage in any strenuous exercise.
1 hour before the exam
- Drink a glass of water to help ensure you’ll be able to provide a urine sample.
Where does it happen?
It's up to you. The nurse or technician can come to your place of work or to your home, whichever you find more convenient.
How long does it take?
About 30 minutes.
How much surgery is involved?
None! There is zero surgery involved.
What happens if either side cancels?
Sometimes something will come up where you need to reschedule the appointment. When this happens, you can call your broker to help you set up a new appointment, or you can reschedule the appointment yourself by calling the company that's performing the exam. (Insurers hire medical testing companies like ExamOne to perform the actual exam.)
Sometimes the vendor will need to cancel the appointment, in which case someone from the company should call you to set up a new time. If you're running into what seem like too many delays on the vendor's side, contact your broker to see if she can help you move things along, because you'll need the results of your exam before you can move ahead with your insurance application.
What happens once the exam is complete?
You can go back to your normal routine and wait to hear from the insurer. If the insurer's underwriter has any more questions—for example, if the tests or questionnaire turn up a medical condition that might affect your premium or benefit amount—she'll contact you to ask for more information, or will ask your doctor (with your permission).
Read more expert advice on life insurance and long-term disability insurance
How much does all of this cost?
It costs you nothing. It's a standard part of the application process for both life and disability insurance, so the insurers pay for it. Even if you take an exam and then go to a different insurer, you won't have to pay. The same goes for when you you shop for different types of insurance—for example, if you took an insurance medical exam while shopping for life insurance, you can use the results of that same exam when you shop for long-term disability insurance as well. Exam results are generally good for 6 months.
So this is basically a free medical exam?
Yes! You'll receive a full copy of the results of your exam. If for some reason you don't, just ask the testing company or contact your broker.
What if I don't agree with the results?
Although the insurance medical exam is designed to accurately gauge your average level of health, sometimes you just have an off day when the exam occurs, and you don't think the results are accurate. If this happens, you can contact your broker to see whether the insurer will accept a second medical exam. But this isn't a full do-over, because the results of your first exam will still be considered—so don't expect to wipe the slate clean if you disagree with how your first exam turned out.
Another good thing to know is that after you purchase an insurance policy, you can request a new medical exam at a future renewal date to see whether you qualify for a better rate. Generally, at the first policy anniversary for life insurance you can request new medical underwriting. If your test results are worse than before, you can just keep your current policy; if they're better, then you can ask the insurer to re-evaluate your risk by including the new results, to see whether you qualify for a better rate.
What if I decide not to purchase a policy after I take the test?
That's fine—you can walk away any time. You can also shop for a policy from another insurer and use the results of your medical exam with them; you don't have to undergo a new medical exam for each insurance company (as long as your medical exam was taken in the past 6 months).
Remember, though, that once you've taken an insurance medical exam, the results of that exam will become a permanent part of your health record. That means that even if you move to another insurer or decide to buy a new policy five years from now, your previous exam results will be factored into any new underwriting decision.
And if you decide you want life insurance without a physical exam? Well, no-physical life insurance policies do exist, but since an insurer doesn't have a good idea of your health, those policies will cost you a lot more.
Photo: Wesley Wilson
If you have any other questions about the life insurance shopping process, jump over to "What to expect from the application process" in our comprehensive PolicyGenius Guide to Life Insurance.