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To find out if you’re as healthy as you say you are on your life insurance application, insurance companies sometimes require saliva samples. The test is simple. A swab is rubbed on the inside of your cheek, and the sample is sent to a lab.

Although blood and urine tests are still very common, swab testing is faster and easier.

The procedure may be short, but that little sample of saliva can tell a lot about you, including whether:

  • You smoke
  • You take drugs
  • You’ve been infected with HIV or hepatitis B or C

The answers will impact your life insurance quotes.

Key Takeaways

  • Insurance companies may use lab work or an easier swab test to see if applicants are drug or tobacco users.
  • Swab tests are generally used for younger applicants applying for lower face amounts.
  • Swab tests can detect nicotine and other drug use as well as HIV.
  • Insurance rates are higher for smokers and other drug use.

When are saliva tests used for life insurance?

Swab Testing for life insurance

Not all life insurance companies use swab tests. Those that use swabs don’t necessarily use them for every applicant. Insurers may rely on saliva samples for younger life insurance applicants and people who purchase policies with lower face amounts. Insurers don’t use the swab test for genetic testing.

Saliva samples are a less-expensive alternative insurers use when they don’t think fuller screening is necessary.

New York Life Insurance Co., for example, uses swab tests on all applicants 18 and older for policy face amounts from $50,000 to $99,000, says Stephen Bloom, New York Life’s first vice president and chief underwriter. Blood tests are used for people 18 and older who apply for policy face amounts of $100,000 and over.

Why are saliva swab tests used?

The saliva test is easy and only takes a few seconds, enabling life insurance agents themselves to collect the swab samples from clients in many instances. In others, the medical professionals conducting exams give the swab tests.

Swab tests have a couple of advantages over blood and urine tests for insurers:

Swab tests have a couple of advantages over blood and urine tests for insurers:

  • Less invasive for the customer
  • Less costly for the company 
  • Doesn’t require a licensed medical professional to collect

The test is so easy, in fact, that life insurance agents themselves collect the swab samples from clients in some instances, Anderson says. In others, medical professionals conducting exams administer the swab tests.

What are life insurance companies looking for in saliva?

Life insurance companies vary in the types of tests they run on saliva samples. Insurers most commonly want to know whether the applicant is a drug or tobacco user or is HIV-positive. Insurers are especially interested in cocaine use because of the risky behaviors that accompany abuse of that drug, but the samples can also be tested for use of other drugs. Swab tests are additionally used for detecting methamphetamine.

To find out whether you’re a smoker, the lab tests the sample for cotinine, a chemical the body makes from nicotine. If you’re not a regular smoker, and you just happen to take a few puffs on a friend’s cigarette at a party, the level of cotinine probably won’t be detectable after a couple of days.

But if you’re a regular smoker, it will take longer for the level to drop. The length of time could vary from several days to two months in rare cases, Anderson says.

It’s best to be honest about your lifestyle when making a life insurance application. Lab tests likely will catch you in a lie. If you lie about smoking and then die due to a smoking-related illness, your beneficiary’s claim could be denied and they may end up with nothing.

To ensure an accurate test, don’t eat anything right before the test. If you do happen to eat or drink something, rinse your mouth out with water.

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