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Life Insurance Medical Exams: What You Need to Know

Christy Bieber
By: Christy Bieber

Our Insurance Expert

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Buying life insurance is important to protect loved ones. But consumers purchasing a policy may need to undergo a life insurance medical exam. Here's what's involved in a life insurance exam, as well as some insight into why this is a common requirement.

What is a life insurance medical exam?

A life insurance medical exam is a physical that is typically requested by a life insurance company. It's part of the process of buying life insurance in most situations. The purpose is to provide insurance companies with the information they need to set premiums. Life insurers usually pay for it, and there is both a verbal questionnaire and a physical exam.

Medical questionnaire

How do life insurance companies check medical background? Generally, by asking questions as part of the life insurance application process. During the life insurance exam, consumers will be asked about their past health status. They'll be asked questions about their lifestyle and social habits, as well as their general health.

Physical exam

A life insurance physical is part of a life insurance application process. During the life insurance physical exam, the medical professional performing the process will check weight, collect a blood and urine sample, and check blood pressure.

Why do life insurance companies require an exam?

Life insurers require an exam because insurance companies want to assess the likelihood of paying out claims. To do this, the insurance company wants to know as much as possible about an applicant's physical health.

The insurer wants to see if the potential policyholder has medical conditions that could make their death during the term of coverage more likely. The insurance company also wants to make sure an applicant isn't hiding any possible health issues.

Is an exam required for life insurance

A life insurance medical exam is required by most life insurance providers -- but not all. A small number of life insurers offer term life insurance with a reasonable amount of coverage without requiring a medical exam. They've harnessed new technologies and algorithms to determine who to cover.

There are also some guaranteed issue life insurance policies that provide coverage without mandating a life insurance medical exam. However, coverage limits are often low with these policies. There may also be restrictions such as a lengthy waiting period before the full death benefit is paid.

What do life insurance companies test for in the medical exam?

When a potential policyholder undergoes a life insurance health exam, the purpose is to identify red flags that could make insuring a policyholder too risky. While there may be slight variations in what different insurers test for when a consumer undergoes a life insurance exam, here are some common things insurers look for.

High blood pressure

High blood pressure is a common life insurance test as high blood pressure can increase the risk of stroke or cardiac issues.

Blood sugar

As part of a life insurance blood test, insurers may look for elevated blood sugar that could be indicative of diabetes. Diabetes also comes with health risks that could result in a higher risk of an insurer paying out a death benefit.

Nicotine use

Smoking increases the risk of many medical problems, including various types of cancer. As a result, a life insurance medical exam will involve an assessment of current and past nicotine use.

High cholesterol

There's a higher risk of a stroke or heart disease when a person has high cholesterol. A life insurance exam will test cholesterol levels.

Recreational drugs

The use of recreational drugs is a major risk factor that life insurers consider. An exam will look for evidence of recreational drug use. However, some insurers are willing to accept marijuana users, especially as more states have relaxed the laws on cannabis.

Serious diseases

Finally, life insurers use blood tests to look for serious diseases. This can include conditions such as HIV or AIDS, as well as hepatitis. While some insurers provide coverage for people with HIV, others don't -- and a serious illness could make it impossible or expensive to get life insurance.

How to prepare for the medical exam

It's important to follow the life insurance company's instructions when preparing for a life insurance medical exam. These may include fasting prior to the exam to avoid skewing blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

Drinking water prior to the exam can help to flush toxins from the body and dilate veins, making it easier for the technician to draw blood for the blood test. It's also a good idea to avoid strenuous exercise immediately before the exam to avoid elevated blood pressure.

Also, consumers should review their medical history to ensure they can provide accurate, honest answers when asked about their health status.

What happens during the life insurance physical?

During the life insurance physical, a medical professional is typically dispatched to the consumer's home or office. The process will take around 45 minutes and will include both the doctor asking questions as well as a physical examination. The life insurance exam usually includes:

  • A height and weight check
  • A blood pressure check
  • The collection of blood and urine samples

Other ways life insurance companies get information about you

In addition to a life insurance medical exam, insurers may also employ other techniques to find out information about a potential policyholder's health status. This could include checking medical records.

Do life insurance companies call your doctor?

Life insurers generally do not directly ask questions of a person's doctor. Instead, the insurer will ask an applicant for medical information and will arrange for a life insurance medical exam to be conducted by a medical professional of their choosing.

In many cases though, with the permission of the policyholder, an insurer may request medical records from an applicant's doctor's office. However, doctors cannot just disclose patient information to a life insurer without the patient's permission, as doing so could be a violation of federal laws protecting privacy.

Do life insurance companies check medical records?

Life insurance companies may request medical records during the underwriting process. They do this to determine if a policyholder was honest in their answers to medical questions, and to look for red flags that could suggest an increased risk of providing coverage. They must obtain permission from the applicant first.

Do life insurers check your credit?

Life insurers may run a credit check. This is more common with life insurance companies that use algorithms and publicly available information to approve people for policies without a life insurance medical exam.

What happens after the exam?

In most cases, insurers will already be aware of any medical issues based on the information provided by the applicant. However, sometimes abnormalities will be uncovered and an insurer may request additional medical assessments. For example, if a life insurance exam shows high blood pressure, the insurer may request a follow-up test to see if it has remained elevated.

Applicants can request a copy of their results after the exam. The information will be sent to the insurer's underwriting department which will review the results of the life insurance medical exam. Based on this information, the insurer will set premiums. Applicants will then be notified of whether they are approved for coverage and what the costs will be.

What if I'm not happy with the results?

If an applicant isn't happy with the results of a life insurance exam, there are a few options:

  • Buy coverage anyway, even if the premiums are higher, and request reconsideration after some time passes. This has the benefit of allowing the applicant to get immediate protection.
  • Shop for life insurance from another company. This may result in the same issues arising. But some insurers are more forgiving than others of various medical conditions.
  • Request a follow-up exam. Often, an applicant will have to pay for this if the insurer is satisfied that the results of the initial testing were accurate.

What if I'm denied coverage?

If an applicant is denied coverage after a medical exam, they can:

  • Attempt to correct the issues resulting in the denial, such as by quitting smoking or getting high blood pressure under control with medication.
  • Shop with other insurers that may have less stringent qualifying requirements for similar coverage.
  • Obtain a guaranteed issue life insurance policy that doesn't require a medical exam.

How to get a life insurance medical exam

To get a life insurance medical exam, apply for insurance coverage. The insurer will arrange for the exam to occur at its own cost. The medical exam will take place at the applicant's home or workplace.

Options for life insurance without a medical exam

There are several options for no medical exam life insurance, some of which are better than others.

Guaranteed issue life insurance

Guaranteed issue life insurance is life insurance that is available to everyone regardless of medical status. Many insurers offer these policies, although they often have relatively low coverage limits. Many guaranteed issue policies have waiting periods, such as a two-year delay until the full death benefit pays out.

Group life insurance

Group life insurance may be available as a workplace benefit. It's often possible to obtain a set amount of coverage through an employer's group life insurance plan without a life insurance medical exam.

Final expense insurance

Final expense insurance is a small life insurance policy designed to cover funeral costs. Most final expense insurance policies are guaranteed issue policies. That means no life insurance medical exam is required. However, these policies provide limited protection. They only help families cover a small amount of costs after a death.

RELATED: See The Ascent's guide to the best life insurance with no exam.


  • There is no "passing" or failing a life insurance medical exam. The purpose of the exam is to determine if any health issues would prevent coverage and to set premiums. It's important for applicants applying for life insurance to be honest about their medical conditions, as health issues will be discovered during the exam. It's also essential to follow any instructions, such as fasting and avoiding vigorous exercise in the hours leading up to the exam.

  • Life insurers can only review medical records with the consent of the applicant. The specific terms of the consent agreement will specify how many years the insurer will look back. The number of years can vary by policy.

  • A serious pre-existing condition could disqualify a person from getting most types of life insurance that require a life insurance medical exam. Examples could include kidney failure or cancer. It's a good idea to buy life insurance while still young and healthy to avoid the risk of being unable to get covered.

    Even people with health issues who might be disqualified due to a life insurance medical exam may be able to get some types of coverage. For example, guaranteed issue policies should be available regardless of health status.

  • Whether it's possible to get life insurance with diabetes depends on many factors. One of the most important is how well controlled the condition is. Some insurers are also more forgiving of this condition than others. And it's always possible to get guaranteed life insurance, even with diabetes. Guaranteed issue policies don't require a life insurance medical exam but the coverage is often not as good as policies that mandate a life insurance exam.

  • To prepare for a life insurance exam, it is a good idea to review health records. It's important to be honest and provide comprehensive information to the insurer. Also, follow any instructions the insurer provides. This could include things such as fasting to avoid an abnormal result on a cholesterol or blood sugar test.

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