UPDATED: Jul 28, 2011

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Written By: Laura BerryReviewed By: Daniel WalkerUPDATED: Jul 28, 2011Fact Checked

Many life insurance companies require a medical examination before issuing certain policies. By applying for the policy, you agree to undergo this exam and allow your results to be given to the insurance company for examination. You also agree that the company has the right to refuse to issue you a policy if the exam shows a condition for which it does not insure. However, if the exam does not show any medical concerns, the company agrees to offer you a policy at a rate based on your overall health, age, and gender. In most cases, the company agrees to pay the costs associated with the test, but you must often visit a doctor of the company’s choice to have the examination.

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Not everyone is required to take a physical examination to acquire life insurance. In order to save money, insurance companies generally order tests for people who are older, who have obvious health issues as determined by a questionnaire, or who are applying for very large policies, such as $1 million dollars in coverage. For some policies, the insurance company will compromise by requesting only a blood test or some other simple exam rather than a full physical. For smaller policies, insurance companies often screen through questions alone, relying on the applicant to give accurate answers to the health questions.

However, if it is discovered later that you were not honest with your answers, the company can refuse to pay the benefits. For example, if a person declared himself or herself a non-smoker, but it was later discovered that the person in fact did smoke, the company could refuse to pay the benefit to the survivors. It is always best to be completely honest about your medical history and any behaviors or habits you have. Even if you do smoke, have done any drugs, or have some pre-existing medical condition, you can probably still get coverage, although the premiums may be higher.

Should I be concerned of a Medical Exam?

Many people are a bit frightened by the prospect of a life insurance medical examination. They may feel that personal information could be shared with others, or that the tests will show some condition of which they were not aware. Some people are even concerned that former drug use might be detected and cause legal trouble.

Actually, a life insurance medical exam is usually looking for very specific things, and the results are shared with few people. Only the underwriters who need the information to generate a policy are allowed to see them, and often the company takes the extra precaution of making these results anonymous by assigning a number to the results for those who review them. Of course, someone at the company is going to know your medical history, but this is not information that is handed out to everyone.

Medical exams are often carried out in the home or workplace, as the insurance companies hire medical groups to visit applicants and give simple tests, such as blood, urine, and EKGs. Older applicants may be asked to travel to a medical facility for further testing, such as a treadmill test or some type of scan.

Always be honest with the Life Insurance Company

It is very important to inform the company of any medications you are taking, as these can significantly affect the result of tests. Life insurance companies will routinely perform tests for HIV (the virus that causes AIDS), diabetes, and liver and kidney diseases. Depending on the company, the medical team may also screen for auto-immune conditions such as lupus, or incipient diseases such as Parkinson’s. Each company has its own list of diseases that it considers important.

The medical exam will also screen for the presence of illegal drugs. Even if you do not use illegal drugs for a period of time before the test, it is very possible to test positive through today’s testing methods. If illegal drugs are detected, it is almost sure to cause a denial of your policy.

The use of tobacco is one of the biggest concerns for an insurance company, as it is well-documented that tobacco use causes a variety of diseases. Some people who have quit smoking may define themselves as “non-smokers,” but an insurance company may charge higher premiums for a period of time, usually 6-12 months, after the person stops smoking. This is because most relapses occur during this time period, and because 12 months gives the medical professional a chance to assess the person’s health after being smoke-free for a period of time. It is very important for you to disclose any tobacco use during the health exam, as this can be detected for quite some time after you stop smoking, dipping, or chewing tobacco.

The most important thing to remember is that life insurance companies want your business. In reality, few people are turned down completely on the basis of a life insurance medical exam, although rates may be higher for someone with a medical condition.

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A former insurance producer, Laura understands that education is key when it comes to buying insurance. She has happily dedicated many hours to helping her clients understand how the insurance marketplace works so they can find the best car, home, and life insurance products for their needs.

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Written by Laura Berry
Former Insurance Agent Laura Berry

Dan Walker graduated with a BS in Administrative Management in 2005 and has been working in his family’s insurance agency, FCI Agency, for 15 years. He is licensed as an agent to write property and casualty insurance, including home, auto, umbrella, and dwelling fire insurance. He’s also been featured on sites like Reviews.com.

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Reviewed by Daniel Walker
Licensed Car Insurance Agent Daniel Walker