The life insurance medical exam

The life insurance medical exam confirms the details you provided to the carrier when you first applied but also uncovers new information that could affect your premium

When you purchase life insurance, you are quoted a rate that becomes the premium you’ll pay to keep the policy in effect. Your medical history, including your current health status, is one of the most important factors insurance companies use to determine what to charge you for your coverage.

That’s why the process of determining your premium, called underwriting, almost always includes a medical exam that the insurance company uses to get a direct read on your current health.

What is the medical exam?

The medical exam, technically called a paramedical exam, is a standard part of both life and disability insurance, and it not only confirms the details you provided to the carrier when you first applied but also uncovers new information that could affect your premium.

The life insurance medical exam is free to you – the life insurance company pays for it, and you can keep your results.

What happens during the medical exam?

The paramedical is just like going to your doctor to get a physical. However, the life insurance company knows that scheduling an appointment can be difficult, so you can choose to have the medical technician come to your home or work. The whole thing should take about 30 minutes.

The tech will perform the routine health checks you expect from your regular doctor. That means checking your pulse and blood pressure and recording your height and weight (and figuring out your body mass index). If you’re an older applicant, or you’re applying for a large amount of life insurance coverage, you may also have to undergo an electrocardiogram, or EKG, where the technician will put electrodes on your skin to measure your heart’s electrical activity.

The tech will ask you a series of health-related questions to help the insurer confirm the information on your application. Expect to get asked about the kinds of prescriptions you’re taking and what doctors you’ve seen recently.

You’ll have to take a blood test, so be ready for that if you’re afraid of needles. In many cases, you’ll have to provide a urine sample.

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Medical exam takeaway

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Common conditions the medical exam looks for

The medical exam and the health questions you answer reveal a lot about the risk your health poses to the insurer. The less healthy you are, the riskier you are, so your premiums will be higher if you’re sicker or have a more checkered medical history. The medical exam tests for a number of conditions, including the following:

  • High blood pressure. Your test could reveal the existence of beta blockers, a medication to control high blood pressure, so it’s best to bring up the beta blockers beforehand rather than try to hide your high blood pressure.

  • Elevated cholesterol, which increases your risk for heart disease and stroke.

  • Hyperglycemia, or elevated glucose, which could be an indicator of diabetes.

  • Nicotine usage: Smoking and tobacco use are one of the major factors in determining your premium because they could cause so many health problems, from shortness of breath to various cancers. And vapers don’t get off easy, either. Nearly every insurer considers e-cigarettes in the same category as regular cigarettes and price as such.

  • Recreational drugs: This one should be obvious. If you’re asking a life insurance company to pay out in the event of your untimely death, you can bet it isn’t going to look too fondly on recreational drugs, no matter how careful you are.

  • HIV/AIDS and hepatitis: Along with other diseases, you’re going to be tested for these, which greatly increase the risk of insuring you to the carrier.

Preparing for the medical exam

During or after your phone interview, the life insurance carrier will work with you to set up an appointment time. You may also schedule a time with the medical exam company who works with the insurance company, such as ExamOne.

The first thing you can do to prepare for the paramedical exam is to be completely upfront about any conditions you have when initially applying for the life insurance policy. The underwriter will be doing his or her homework, so you’ll only delay the process if the medical tech discovers health concerns you never mentioned. Plus, your actual premiums will look much different from your quotes (spoiler: they’ll be higher) if you don’t disclose a condition upfront.

Avoid the following substances the day before the exam:

  • Alcohol.
  • Over-the-counter medication, including herbal supplements.
  • Caffeine, but if you need to have a daily coffee you should mention it to the examiner.
  • Sugar, also tough to cut, but try your best if you think it could disproportionately affect your glucose levels.
  • Tobacco: However, quitting smoking the day before your test will hardly nudge your premium, because signs of smoking stay in your blood for up to a week. Plus, the insurer looks at your smoking habits across the last 12 months.

On the day of the exam, try to avoid eating anything or exercising six to eight hours before the exam. For the optimal experience, Policygenius recommends scheduling your appointment in the morning so you don’t have to go hungry or skip leg day.

You should also wear comfortable clothing, the better for the tech to do his or her work. Wear a short-sleeved shirt or one with sleeves that roll up easily.

After the medical exam

After the paramedical exam, the technician will submit your information to the insurance company to complete the underwriting process.

In addition to other factors like your age, family medical history and lifestyle, the results from the medical exam help determine your life insurance classification. From best (lowest premiums, lowest risk) to worst (highest premiums, highest risk), the life insurance classifications are Preferred Plus, Preferred, Standard Plus, Standard and Substandard.

If all goes according to plan, you should hear back with your actual quote in a few weeks’ time. However, depending on the follow-up, the process can take anywhere from three to eight weeks.

You can request a copy of your medical results. The record can be used to apply with other life insurers, if need be, or for other types of insurance, including disability insurance, for up to six months. In some ways, receiving the life insurance medical exam is kind of like getting a physician’s checkup for free, although, like a trip to your usual doctor, it does become part of your health record and could be factored into future insurance premium quotes.

In an ideal situation, you’ve already been getting plenty of exercise, watching your diet and staying clear of environmental toxins. If you’ve been keeping healthy, you’ll pass the medical exam with flying colors and score a low premium on your life insurance policy.

If you’re concerned that the results of your medical exam aren’t accurate, you can ask the insurance carrier to schedule a second exam. The results from the first don’t get expunged, but they will be combined with those from the second to create a composite. This may or may not have an effect on your premiums.

After purchasing your policy, say you spend the next year getting fit. Some carriers will let you retake the medical exam at your one-year anniversary, and if your results have improved, they may lower your rate.

Life insurance without the medical exam

Don’t want to take a medical exam for coverage? There are life insurance policies that let you skip the medical exam, but they generally tout higher premiums, since the insurer has less information about your risk of death. Here’s a quick guide to the main types of non-medical life insurance policies out there:

  • Simplified life insurance: If you’re young and healthy, you might qualify for a simplified life insurance policy. You’ll likely pay a higher premium than you would for traditional term life insurance at the same coverage amount, but you’ll get coverage more quickly because you won’t have to go through so many hoops. Simplified life insurance carriers determine your premium by having you fill out a health questionnaire. The questions are geared toward your health, including whether you have any serious illnesses or habits that could affect your health. Sometimes just answering yes to any of these questions will disqualify you from receiving simplified life insurance.

  • Final expense insurance: These policies are for seniors with health issues who can’t qualify for traditional term life insurance, but need a policy to help cover end-of-life costs and outstanding debts, Premiums are generally high and coverage amounts are limited. You can learn more about these policies — also known as guaranteed life insurance — here.

Policygenius’ editorial content is not written by an insurance agent. It’s intended for informational purposes and should not be considered legal or financial advice. Consult a professional to learn what financial products are right for you.