For many types of policies, a medical exam including a blood test is part of the application process.

Life insurance rates are largely based on life expectancy. A life insurance medical exam is commonly used to find out what health "rate class" you'll be grouped into and to determine your final quote.

If you're in very good health and you don't take any medications, you'll qualify for better rates than someone who is of average health and takes multiple medications.

How the exam works

The life insurance company will pay for the medical exam. The process will take about 30 minutes. Your own doctor cannot do it. The 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. You choose the date, time and location of the exam. There may also be a nearby lab, if that's your preference.

The medical exam has two parts:

  • A questionnaire about your health and your family's medical history -- mirroring the questions you've already been asked by the insurance agent
  • A short physical exam that includes things like a life insurance blood test

 

What's usually in a life insurance medical exam?

 

What do life insurance companies test for?

Type of test Why it's being tested
Body Mass Index (BMI)
  • The BMI is your height & weight ratio. If it's too high, the greater your chance of developing health conditions such as heart disease or diabetes
Blood pressure
  • High blood pressure can contribute to both heart disease, hardening of arteries and kidney damage or failure
Blood sample
  • Measures your 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)
  • Checks for signs of disease, how well your heart is pumping and how well your valves are working

How to prepare for a life insurance medical exam

There are a lot of things that are out of your control, such as a family history of medical conditions or a pre-existing condition. However, there are steps you can take to not only make the exam go as smoothly as possible, but also to ensure you'll get the best possible results.

 

A few weeks before

 

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 grapefruits
  • Avoid processed foods high in sugar and sodium

A few days before

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 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 quotes, because some insurers offer better rates for nicotine users than others.

The day before

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

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 of the treatment and the treating physician
  • Wear short sleeves or easily rolled-up sleeves (for the blood pressure check and blood sample)
  • Avoid any caffeinated drinks like coffee, tea and soda (they increase blood pressure)
  • Drink water and eat only a light meal. If you can book your appointment first thing in the morning, you may want to fast eight hours before the exam.
  • 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)

Life insurance health class ratings

Life insurance companies review the results of the medical exam and group applicants into risk classifications. The standards can vary among insurance companies, but are typically divided into the classes below.

 

Life insurance underwriting ratings

 

Applicants who don't fall into one of the above classes can still qualify for coverage. There's a further classification system referred to as a "table rating." Applicants that fall under the table rating typically have a health condition, such as a heart attack in the last five years or diabetes. With a table rating you'll pay a certain percentage higher than the class ratings shown above. For example, a particular health condition might mean you pay 25% more than a standard-rate policy.

Can I get my own test 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 kept on record at a company called MIB Group. Denials will hurt your chances of buying coverage in the future.

Can I avoid a medical exam?

There are many types of policies that do not require medical exams. They range from very expensive (like guaranteed issue life insurance) to competitively priced. If you're interested in avoiding a medical exam, have your insurance agent tell you what the options are.