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Guide to Life Insurance Medical Exams

Life Insurance Medical Exam

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Holly Johnson
Updated March 13, 2022
6 Min Read

Life insurance medical exams are used as a means to determine insurability, as well as the premiums you'll pay if you're approved for a policy. After all, the life insurance company is promising to pay your beneficiaries a specific amount of money while your policy is in force, so they need to have an idea of the risk they're taking in that agreement.

It is possible to get life insurance without a medical exam if you're relatively young and healthy, or if you're older and planning to buy whole life insurance coverage for final expenses. However, you'll be limited in terms of the type and the amount of coverage you can buy. 

Generally speaking, a life insurance medical exam is a necessary evil when it comes to buying enough life insurance to provide your family with sufficient financial protection. 

Why Life Insurance Companies Require a Medical Exam

Life insurance companies use medical exams because the process allows them to gain true insights into your overall health, including any medical conditions you may not know about. Medical exams also let life insurance providers avoid extending coverage based only on the information in your application, which may not be entirely accurate.

Medical exams also make it possible for life insurance companies to set premiums based on information beyond your age and gender. With crucial information about your health, life insurance companies have the chance to elevate or lower your monthly insurance costs to account for the corresponding level of risk. 

In addition to discovering information that leads to a denial, life insurance companies use the results in your medical exam to assign health classifications. These classifications are used to determine your health insurance premiums, or how much you pay for coverage each year. 

While different life insurance companies may use different terms, these are the four basic health classifications you could be assigned. 

  • Preferred Plus
  • Preferred
  • Standard Plus
  • Standard

Individuals whose medical exam results don't allow them to qualify for one of these classifications can also receive a "substandard" designation.

What a Life Insurance Medical Exam Entails 

If you're stressed about enduring a medical exam for life insurance, you shouldn't worry too much. Life insurance medical exams can often be completed in 30 minutes or less, and they are similar to a routine physical you would get at a doctor's office. 

During the medical exam, a nurse or other medical professional will gather information such as your medical history and your height and weight. Other tests they'll administer include:

  • Blood pressure and pulse
  • Life Insurance blood test
  • Urine sample

You may need to visit a local medical center to complete a life insurance medical exam, yet some companies will send a medical professional to your home. 

What Do Life Insurance Companies Test For?

By checking your blood pressure and pulse, as well as your blood and urine, life insurance companies are able to check for conditions that have the potential to shorten your lifespan. Conditions they're looking for include:

  • Abnormal liver or kidney functions
  • Abnormal blood sugar levels
  • Signs of substance abuse
  • Signs of nicotine use
  • Medical conditions that might indicate heart disease or cancer
  • Signs of diabetes
  • Evidence of cognitive impairments
  • Hepatitis
  • High body mass index (BMI)

Life insurance companies will also look at your family medical history to see which conditions you may be prone to later in life. If you have a family history of cancer or heart disease, for example, these details could impact your rates.

Other Information Life Insurance Companies Ask For

According to Protective Life Corporation, there are instances where more information is required to approve you for a policy or set your life insurance premiums. If you're ages 50 or older, for example, you may be asked to undergo additional tests to determine your health. This next level of testing could include a treadmill stress test, an electrocardiogram (EKG) or both. 

In some cases, life insurance companies may also request your medical records from your primary care physician. This allows them to see any conditions you have been treated for in the past, as well as surgeries you have undergone.

Life insurance companies can also cross check your information using your driving record and public records. They also use information reported to the Medical Information Bureau (MIB), which keeps your data on file for seven years when you apply for life insurance. 

How to Prepare for a Life Insurance Medical Exam

If you're gearing up to go through a life insurance medical exam, there are steps you can take to increase your chances at a positive outcome. Generally speaking, treating your body well can help you show better results, whereas neglecting your health will achieve the opposite.

For the best possible medical exam results, consider taking the following steps several days before your medical exam:

  • Eat fruits and vegetables. Focus on foods that tend to improve your overall health, such as fruits, vegetables and lean meats. 
  • Avoid red meat and processed foods. Skip foods that have a lot of sugar or sodium, as well as red meat and too much cheese since they can raise your cholesterol.
  • Avoid alcohol. Say no to alcoholic beverages for several days before your medical exam. Alcohol can cause you to become dehydrated, raise your blood pressure and affect your liver enzymes — all bad signs in a medical exam.
  • Drink more water. You should be drinking eight glasses of water per day anyway, but make sure to start several days before your exam. Doing so can help you hydrate and clean out any toxins that could show up in your blood or urine.
  • Consider fasting. Ask the life insurance company if you should fast before your medical exam, and for how long. If you're asked to fast, follow all instructions carefully for the best results. 
  • Plan a good night's sleep. Make sure you have time for plenty of sleep in the days leading up to your medical exam.

Also consider taking the following steps the day of your medical exam:

  • Avoid vigorous exercise before your exam. Avoid working out the morning of your exam since exercise can raise your blood pressure. 
  • Wear lightweight clothing. Your weight class can affect your life insurance rates, so don't wear unnecessarily heavy clothing or shoes.
  • Skip coffee, tea, and other caffeinated drinks. Avoid beverages that contain caffeine since they can cause high blood pressure and a rapid heart rate.
  • Drink plenty of water. Hydrate as much as you can until your medical exam begins since being hydrated makes it easier for the medical professional to draw your blood.

How to Get a Life Insurance Medical Exam

A life insurance medical exam will be requested and set up by the life insurance company after you apply, or as part of the application process. In other words, you'll have to select a provider to work with before you can move on to this phase of the process.

As you compare life insurance plans and costs, you should note that the premiums you're shown as you shop around are an estimate, and that your actual premiums will be dependent on the results of your medical exam. If you find you're eligible for "Preferred Plus" or "Elite" rates, you may pay less for coverage. Likewise, individuals whose health is only considered "Standard" or worse could wind up paying more, if they're approved for coverage at all.

How to Get Life Insurance Coverage Without a Medical Exam

A handful of life insurance companies offer life insurance coverage with no medical exam required. Examples include Haven Life, Ethos, Bestow, and more. These companies use the information provided in the application and advanced algorithms to determine how much risk applicants pose, and to assign life insurance rates.

Just note that you'll typically be eligible for a lower death benefit if you opt for life insurance without a medical exam. With Haven Life, for example, term life insurance without a medical exam is only available with a death benefit of up to $500,000, but you can get coverage with a medical exam in amounts up to $3 million. 

On the other end of the spectrum, you'll also find guaranteed issue life insurance policies geared to older adults who want coverage for their funeral and other final expenses. As an example, consider the details of the final expense coverage offered by Mutual of Omaha. This life insurance plan is available for individuals up to the age of 85, and the maximum death benefit is $25,000. There are no medical exams or health questions to answer, and coverage remains in force for your whole life provided you continue paying premiums.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How far back do life insurance companies look?

Information on file with the Medical Information Bureau (MIB) is kept for seven years. Meanwhile, medical records are often kept on file for up to 10 years. Some insurers will look at the information readily available to them, yet others may request your entire medical history from birth. 

How long does a life insurance medical exam take?

A life insurance medical exam shouldn't take more than 30 minutes from start to finish. 

Can I drink before a life insurance exam?

You should drink water before your life insurance medical exam. However, try to refrain from drinking caffeinated beverages like coffee or tea since they can cause your blood pressure to spike.

Can you retake a life insurance exam?

You won't be given a second chance if you receive poor results during a life insurance medical exam. Your best bet is taking steps to improve your health before you apply.