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What To Expect From a Life Insurance Medical Exam

Questions about preexisting conditions may be comfortable for the doctor’s office, but what about a medical exam for life insurance? What will the insurance company be testing, and will certain events in medical history result in exam failure? These exams don’t have to feel shrouded in mystery; you can prepare to improve exam results.

Key takeaways:

What to expect from a life insurance medical exam

While a medical exam is not always required when applying for life insurance, it can be necessary depending on the policy type, benefit amount, evidence of past medical history, or other events. This is part of the greater underwriting process that helps insurance companies know how to determine insurance costs and insurability.

However, a life insurance medical exam does not necessarily have to cause concern or worry. These exams can be routine and are often short, usually no longer than an hour, and can be completed at the insured’s home or place of work.

The exam typically involves a nurse or other healthcare professional checking blood pressure, taking a urine or saliva sample, measuring weight and height, and medical history and lifestyle habit questions. Other tests may be required if the insured is older, such as a blood test or electrocardiogram.

What does a life insurance medical exam involve?

Typically, insurance companies will partner with a medical organization to conduct the exam. A time and place will be scheduled, but it can typically be done wherever is most convenient for the insured.

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The exam is short, lasting around 30 minutes. The insured must be prepared to give a detailed:

  • Medical history
  • List of prescription medicines
  • Family medical history
  • Name and address of their primary care physician
  • Answers to general lifestyle questions

The lifestyle questions may include work history, tobacco use or other drugs, driving record, travel habits, and dangerous hobbies. All of these can impact one’s insurability, but the presence of a hazardous job or hobby or even the use of tobacco doesn’t necessarily mean one is uninsurable, but it could cause an increase in insurance premiums.

What does the medical exam look for?

While the medical exam is a general test to determine an insured's health and potential risks, there are a few specifics that the medical exam will look for. The chart below indicates what each part of the exam is generally looking for:

Exam sectionPurpose
QuestionnaireThe questionnaire typically looks for evidence of dangerous hobbies, tobacco or drug use, or other dangerous behaviors from driving records or a criminal history.
Urine or saliva sampleThe sample is used to test for diabetes, kidney or liver problems, cystitis, and to do a drug screening.
Blood sampleA life insurance blood test may be conducted to test for drugs, tobacco, STDs, AIDS, enzyme levels, or blood sugar levels.
Blood pressure testUsed to determine general blood pressure concerns.
EKGAn EKG may be used. This measures electrical activity in the heart to determine heart disease or abnormalities.

Do I need a medical exam to get life insurance?

While a medical exam is often required for whole life insurance policies that hold a high death benefit value, plenty of other options may not require a medical exam. If there are no major medical concerns, a lower benefit insurance policy or a term life policy that provides ample coverage without the likelihood of a medical exam is available.

Even if there are medical concerns or a history of major illness or past insurance disqualification, there are life insurance policies called Guaranteed Life policies that guarantee an applicant approval given that they meet the policy conditions. These policies often have lower coverage amounts or higher premiums but can be an excellent option, particularly for those who hold concerns because of advanced age.

How to best prepare for a life insurance exam

While there is no foolproof method for passing a life insurance exam, some ways can increase the likelihood of meeting the requirements for life insurance. Some strategies are listed below:

  • Remain hydrated. Drinking water helps prevent dizziness or nausea when giving blood and can also help prevent higher blood pressure levels.
  • Avoid high cholesterol or high-sugar foods and caffeine. Avoiding foods such as red meats and sugar can help maintain blood sugar levels and promote an accurate reading of blood pressure as well.
  • Avoid overly strenuous exercise. While it may be tempting to exercise a little more before the test to promote good numbers, exercise outside of the norm for one’s body can cause increased blood pressure levels.
  • Avoid nicotine. Regardless of whether pursuing a policy that requires a medical exam, perhaps the most common question one is asked is if the insured uses nicotine or other drugs. The presence of nicotine, even if a couple of years before the life insurance application, can cause premiums to increase. If planning to apply for coverage, it is wise to withhold from using nicotine products.

Other information insurance companies use when processing life insurance requests

The process of underwriting is complex and involves the insurance company using whatever tools they can to get a holistic picture of the overall risk of the insurance applicant. Insurance companies will use social media profiles to confirm drug use or dangerous hobbies if this is a concern. Companies will pull up criminal and driving records to determine additional risky behaviors. Public records, credit scores, and financial documents may also be used to determine the applicant's insurability.

While it can be tempting to feel discouraged by the thoroughness of the life insurance test, this process is to gather a clear picture of the insured’s health. This process should encourage insureds to be open and honest during the medical exam, knowing the insurance company will likely be able to determine if facts are fabricated. One simply should be clear and concise, understanding that being upfront is in the interest of both parties.


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