Buying Life Insurance? What You Need to Know About Medical Exams

Buying Life Insurance? What You Need to Know About Medical Exams

September 12, 2023


If you’re in the market for life insurance, a required medical exam can feel like a deal-breaker. And with good reason: No one wants to be poked and prodded. 

But if you understand what it’s for and what to expect, you might be more open to it.

What the medical exam is for

Life insurance companies often require a medical exam as part of the underwriting process. During underwriting, the company collects and weighs various factors to determine your risk (life expectancy). The purpose of underwriting is to price your policy correctly and protect the company from taking on too much risk. 

But the medical exam doesn’t just benefit the insurance company. It can also significantly lower your insurance rate. That’s because the more the insurance company knows about you, the better it can pinpoint your risk. If you’re young and healthy, you’ll generally get a better rate than someone who’s older or in poor health. 

What to expect 

If you’re buying a fully underwritten life insurance policy, the insurance company will pay for a paramedical professional to meet you at your home, your workplace or another location of your choosing. 

There are typically two parts to the paramedical visit: the medical exam and the questionnaire.

The medical exam

According to Forbes Advisor, the exam typically lasts 15 to 45 minutes, depending on what tests the insurance company requires. The paramedical will take:

  • Your height, weight, blood pressure and pulse
  • A urine sample
  • A blood sample

You may also be asked to submit to an electrocardiogram (EKG) test. And in some cases, the insurer may require an X-ray, a treadmill test or a cognitive ability test. These may need to be done in a doctor’s office.

The questionnaire

In addition to the medical exam, you’ll be asked to fill out an application with your personal and health information. Among other things, a fully underwritten life insurance application typically asks about your:

  • Personal medical history
  • Family medical history
  • Alcohol, tobacco and nicotine use
  • Driving record
  • Military service
  • High-risk activities like skydiving
  • Travel plans

How to prepare for the exam

Since your medical exam can influence your insurance rate, you’ll want to prime your body. Forbes Advisor recommends:

  • Drinking plenty of water 
  • Cutting back on salt 
  • Avoiding red meat 
  • Eating fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products 
  • Avoiding alcohol and nicotine 
  • Getting plenty of rest 

The day before the exam, you should also avoid caffeinated beverages, over-the-counter antihistamines and decongestants, and strenuous exercise. These can artificially raise your blood pressure. 

Tips to help you get the best blood pressure reading include:

  • Emptying your bladder beforehand
  • Keeping your feet flat on the floor
  • Not crossing your legs

If you don’t want a medical exam

If you don’t feel comfortable submitting to a medical exam or you simply don’t have time, you still have options. There are several types of life insurance policies you can get without a medical exam:

Simplified issue life insurance: With this type of policy, you provide personal and medical information in the form of a questionnaire. This gives the insurance company some insight into your health while sparing you the medical exam.

Guaranteed issue life insurance: A guaranteed issue policy does what it sounds like: You’re guaranteed to be approved. However, you’ll get minimal coverage at a higher price. (Without your medical information, the insurance company will assume you’re higher risk.) Guaranteed issue policies always have a waiting period, usually two to three years. If you die within the waiting period, your beneficiaries will not receive death benefits but the insurance company will reimburse the premiums you've paid with interest. 

Group life insurance: You may already have group life insurance through your employer. However, it probably isn’t enough. According to the Life Insurance Marketing and Research Association, the median employer-provided group policy pays out just $20,000 or one year’s salary. You may be able to increase your coverage, but you’ll probably lose it if you leave your job. Review your voluntary group life insurance coverage for portability or conversion clauses that allow you to buy or convert your policy when you leave your employer.

Accelerated or express underwriting: This is a way to expedite your life insurance application. Express underwriting uses data available through third parties like prescription databases to gauge your risk using predictive modeling. Data may include your medical history, age, credit score and history, driving records, social media, etc. If you fit a company’s data parameters, you could get a policy as high as $1 million within a few days. If data reveals you don’t qualify, you can continue the traditional process, including a medical exam.

Remember, convenience comes at a price. While there are lots of products on the market that don’t require a medical exam, skipping the exam might not be in your best interest. 

Ask your insurance agent

An experienced life insurance agent will ask about your life insurance goals to help you get the right policy. They’ll also understand each company's underwriting process, how quickly they make payments after death, and whether they’re prone to investigate or deny death benefits. (It’s standard for companies to do a detailed investigation if you die within two years of getting your policy, regardless of your medical exam results.) 

Your agent can help match you with the best company for your needs. They’ll also help you complete the application accurately, leaving less to chance for your beneficiaries. Depending on the complexity of your needs, you might also contact a life insurance attorney for a second set of eyes before your sign. 

Using a DIY life insurance app or an 800 number for coverage might be tempting, but you could miss the nuances of the coverage. And the last thing you want is for your loved ones to experience a hassle with their benefits when they are already mourning your passing. This is one time it pays to get things set up correctly with professional guidance.

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