The lowdown on life insurance medical exams

A medical exam often is required in order to buy a life insurance policy, but if you’re in good health you have nothing to fear. Following a few easy tips will help to ensure that you receive the best possible results – and thus the best rates.

Generally, you won’t have to budget much time for this.  A basic exam takes just 15 or 20 minutes and typically includes height and weight checks, blood and urine samples, a request for medical records and some questions, says Jack Dewald, a past chairman of the Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education.

"With a typical exam, a paramedical is going to come to a person's home or office at their convenience," Dewald says. "You don't have to go to a doctor's office."

life insurance medical examsAnd keep in mind not every type of life insurance policy requires a medical exam. With a guaranteed issue life insurance policy, there are no medical questions and no exams. "You fill out the application and you're pretty much good to go," says Cindy Gentry, president of BBA Life Brokerage Agency in Corpus Christi, Texas.

But you'll pay a price for choosing to keep the details of your health private from life insurance companies.

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"Guaranteed policies are the most expensive," Dewald says. "Typically a person buying a guaranteed issued policy is one who’s had medical problems."

With a simplified issue life policy, an applicant answers some medical questions but there is no medical exam. The cost of a simplified policy falls between the high cost of a guaranteed issue policy and a more cost-effective underwritten policy, which asks for more detailed medical information on the application and may require an exam, Dewald says.

With an underwritten policy, a medical exam may be required depending on your age and the amount of insurance you are buying. If you're seeking such a policy with a low face value, you may not even be asked to undergo an examination. "Typically a $250,000 policy is going to require an exam," says Dewald.

Getting the most from your life insurance exam

For optimal medical exam results, schedule an exam early in the morning.

"Eat a healthy meal the night before and schedule a paramedical exam early in the morning before breakfast," Gentry advises.

The day of a medical exam, avoid exercising and refrain from that morning cup of coffee, says Dewald.

After the exam, blood and urine samples from the life insurance applicant will be tested for everything from cholesterol and blood sugar to nicotine and marijuana, Gentry says.

Smokers in general have higher mortality rates than nonsmokers. Don’t bother to try to hide smoking from life insurance companies.

Waiting for your results

The length of time for results will vary by insurer.

Gentry says that lab results are sent to insurance companies within three to five days and it might take another five days or more for an underwriter to review them. If an underwriter decides to request medical records from an applicant's doctor or request an attending physician's statement, these steps will lengthen the process.

Dewald says it’s typical for 40 to 60 days to pass before an application for a life insurance policy to be approved.

Some life insurance companies will send applicants the results of medical exams automatically, Gentry says. Other life insurance companies may need some prodding.

"You can request it," says Dewald, who recommends putting the request in writing. "You just write your insurance company and they'll provide it -- typically to your doctor."

These life insurance basics provide an overview of policy types.

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