Life insurance rates are largely based on life expectancy. A life insurance medical exam is commonly used as part of a life insurance application to find out what health "rate class" you'll be in and to determine a final life insurance quote.

What does a life insurance medical exam consist of?

The life insurance medical exam consists of two parts:

  • A questionnaire about your health, past diagnoses and medications, and your family's medical history (parents and siblings) -- mirroring the questions you've already been asked by the insurance agent.
  • A short physical exam that includes things like weight, blood pressure, and a life insurance blood and urine test.

What's in a life insurance medical exam

Where do I take the life insurance medical exam?

You can choose the date, time and location of the exam. Many people choose to do the exam in their home.

Who performs the life insurance medical exam?

A life insurance medical exam is performed by a paramedical who is a certified medical professional. They typically work for a company hired by the insurance company. Your own doctor cannot perform the exam, although the life insurance company will typically request your medical records from your doctors.

What does the life insurance medical exam look for?

Type of test Why it’s being tested
Body mass index (BMI)
  • The BMI is your height & weight ratio. If it’s high, the greater your chance of developing health conditions such as heart disease and/or diabetes.
Blood pressure
  • High blood pressure can contribute to heart disease, hardening of arteries and kidney damage or failure.
Blood sample
  • A blood sample is usually tested for cholesterol, blood sugar, liver, kidney and pancreatic functions.
  • Screens for HIV-1/HIV-2.
Urine sample
  • Measures liver and kidney functions.
  • Indicates use of tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, narcotics and medications.
  • Screens for HIV-1.
Electrocardiogram (EKG)
  • Records signs of disease, how well your heart is pumping and how well your valves are working

What should I do before a blood test for life insurance?

There are steps to take before a life insurance blood test to give yourself the best test results possible. While a lot of factors are beyond your control, like a current medical condition, there’s plenty you can do to optimize your results.

In the weeks leading up to the exam:

  • Eat foods that improve your blood pressure and cholesterol (think leafy greens, whole grains and lean protein).
  • Eat foods that improve your HDL cholesterol, like avocados, nuts and grapefruit.
  • Avoid processed foods high in sugar and sodium.

A few days before:

  • Avoid alcohol. A test for ethyl glucuronide (called an EtG test) can detect drinking even five days later, according to the National Institutes of Health.
  • Avoid nicotine. But if you are a nicotine user, whether it's cigarettes or chewing tobacco or another form, you need to state that on your application. You'll likely be charged smokers rates. The time to admit nicotine use is when you shop for life insurance quotes, because some insurers offer better rates for nicotine users than others.

On the day before the exam:

  • Avoid salty and high-cholesterol food.
  • Get a good night's sleep.
  • Avoid over-the-counter medications (but continue to take prescribed medications).
  • Drink plenty of water.

On the day of the exam:

  • Have a photo ID ready.
  • Have contact information for doctors or clinics visited in the last five years.
  • Have the names and dosages of current medications.
  • Have a list of all medical diagnoses (the agent will tell you how far back they're needed), including the date of the diagnosis, treatment results and the name of the treating physician.
  • Wear short sleeves or easily rolled-up sleeves (for the blood pressure check and blood sample).
  • Avoid caffeinated drinks like coffee, tea and soda (they increase blood pressure).
  • Drink water and eat only a light meal.
  • Avoid exercise (it can raise your blood pressure).
  • If you're not feeling well, reschedule the exam (especially if you've taken cold or flu medication).

Can I get my own life insurance exam results?

If you don't receive your lab test results automatically, you can usually request them. Ask your agent or the paramedical company how to do so. If the insurer hired ExamOne to perform the test, for example, you can log in and access your results when they're available.

What if I "fail" the medical exam?

If you're denied life insurance, you'll want to get the reason(s) for the denial in writing. Ask for this to be very specific. It's possible your medical exam produced a "false positive" or something that appears to be more serious. For example, drinking tea with cocoa leaves can produce a false positive for cocaine. In some cases, you may be eligible for another test.

Make sure you understand exactly why you're being denied. If possible, try to improve on any areas of health that have been flagged in the medical exam. If you immediately submit an application with another insurer and take a new medical exam, it could result in another denial.

Life insurance application denials are often kept on record at a company called MIB Group. Denials will hurt your chances of buying coverage in the future.

Can I avoid a life insurance medical exam?

There are many types of policies that offer life insurance without a medical exam. However, these plans tend to be more expensive because the life insurance company doesn’t have any information on your health and can’t price the policy based on life expectancy. In general, if you are healthy or even have some health issues, buying life insurance with an exam can often mean cheaper rates.

How long do you have to quit smoking for life insurance?

The longer you’ve quit smoking, the better the chance you have of qualifying for better life insurance rates. For example, if you haven’t smoked or used tobacco in two years, you could qualify for preferred rates, depending on the life insurance company. If you haven’t smoked in five years, you could qualify for a preferred plus rates, depending on the company.