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Penny Gusner Consumer Analyst

What do life insurance companies test for in a health exam?

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 life insurance rates.

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 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." 

Tests within a life insurance health exam

Generally, you won’t have to budget much time for your exam.  A basic exam takes just 15 to 30 minutes and typically includes:

  • Height and weight measurements.
  • Collecting blood and urine samples.
  • Blood pressure check.
  • Medical questions.
  • A request for medical records.
  • In some cases, an insurer will require an EKG.

Don't be surprised if the paramedical professional asks you all the same questions that you answered on your application.

Getting the most from your life insurance exam

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

These steps can improve your results:

  • Avoid alcohol the night before.
  • Get a good sleep the night before.
  • Avoid strenuous exercise the morning of the exam.
  • Don't drink caffeine on your exam day.
  • Avoid salty food, as it could elevate your blood pressure.
  • Drink water -- especially an hour before the exam, so that you can give a urine sample.
  • Stay away from nicotine the day of your exam.

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.

After your life insurance exam

The length of time for results will vary by insurance company.

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 is approved.

Don't be surprised if you don't get the results of the exam, but you can request them. "You just write your insurance company and they'll provide it -- typically to your doctor," says Dewald.

Life insurance with no health exam

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.

Final expense insurance, which is intended primarily to pay for a funeral, is one type of guaranteed issue life insurance.

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

"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 term life insurance policy, an applicant answers a few medical questions but there is no medical exam. The cost of a simplified issue 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 and may require an exam, Dewald says.

If you're in the market for a life insurance policy, Insure.com's life insurance calculator can help you determine the best policy type and coverage amount. Then, you can compare the ratings from surveyed policyholders of the best life insurers.

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