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Published: Feb 21, 2023 15 min read

Most life insurance companies require a medical exam before you buy a policy. But is it absolutely necessary? And what should you expect from a medical exam for life insurance?

This guide will walk you through the ins and outs of life insurance medical exams, including how they work, why they’re required and when you need one.

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What is a life insurance medical exam?

Let’s start with the basics: what is life insurance?

A life insurance policy will provide financial support to your family, dependents and loved ones after your death. There are several types of life insurance policies — we’ll break down the difference between them later in this guide — but they all require regular payments and offer a payout at the end of the policyholder’s life.

It’s common practice for life insurance companies to require a basic health exam before you buy a policy. The exam is similar to an annual physical and includes a review of your medical records. This helps identify potential health conditions affecting your policy rates and eligibility.

Your exam will be conducted by a certified medical professional who works on behalf of the insurance company. There is no risk of your health records being made public. It’s a safe, standard procedure practiced by all legitimate insurers.

Why a medical exam is required

An exam is the best way for a life insurance company to match you with the best policy for your needs.

Insurance agents use a process called underwriting to determine the risk of each potential policyholder. This process helps to match applicants with the best insurance rates. A healthy person with no serious conditions will qualify for lower life insurance rates than an applicant who is considered high-risk.

In the eyes of the insurance provider, a “high-risk” applicant is someone whose health or lifestyle might put them at risk, whereas a “low-risk” applicant has less potentially harmful conditions.

Insurance underwriting doesn’t always require a medical exam. “No medical exam” or “no-exam” life insurance policies are available from top insurers. They may only involve a basic health questionnaire and no medical exam. However, you may benefit from a medical exam if you’re looking for the best life insurance coverage with the lowest rates. That’s because an exam helps the insurance provider get the clearest possible picture of your risk level.

What happens during the medical exam

The medical exam will last around an hour and may take place at home, in your workplace or at a medical office, depending on the insurance company’s protocols. There will be some physical tests, but most of that time will be spent answering questions. The exact requirements of your medical exam will depend on your insurance policy.

You should prep for a life insurance medical exam to make sure your results are as accurate as possible. It isn’t a matter of passing or failing, just a measure of your current health.

Medical history questionnaire

Your doctor will examine your personal and family history to identify potential health risks. Some information that may be included on the questionnaire includes:

  • Tobacco, drug or alcohol use
  • Your driving record
  • Any potentially dangerous hobbies or sports
  • Current prescriptions
  • Past hospitalizations
  • Neurological or psychiatric conditions
  • Allergies and immune system illnesses
  • Chronic conditions like diabetes or arthritis
  • Family history of cancer, heart disease and other disorders

The health questionnaire is confidential and only used to determine your level of risk. It’s important to be as honest as possible to ensure your payout isn’t denied on the basis of material misrepresentation or withheld information that could affect your policy. If you don’t know your family’s medical history, just provide as much information as possible.

Physical exam

The physical exam aims to test for any health risks you might not be aware of. It will involve measurements of your height, weight and blood pressure. Depending on your insurance company’s requirements, you may also be asked to provide urine or blood samples.

More advanced tests like an EKG, chest X-ray or treadmill stress test may also be required to examine heart and lung health, especially in older policyholders. These tests might seem excessive, but they provide a clear picture of your health and will identify any potential risks.

Your insurer covers the costs of your medical exam, so you won’t be charged for any additional tests.

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Preparing for a life insurance medical exam

To be clear, a medical exam is not a matter of passing or failing. It’s an assessment of your health and risk level. But there are some steps you can take to make sure you provide an accurate picture of your health. Here are a few tips on how to prepare for a life insurance medical exam:

  • Stay hydrated. Make sure you drink plenty of water in the days leading up to your exam.
  • Cut back on high-cholesterol foods. Red meat, fried foods and dairy can raise your cholesterol levels. Try to cut back on them once your exam is scheduled.
  • Take measures to lower your blood pressure. This might mean reducing your intake of alcohol, caffeine and nicotine before the exam. A good night’s sleep and stress-reducing activities like meditation can also help.
  • Avoid unnecessary medication. Decongestants and antihistamines can interfere with drug screenings.
  • Postpone if you’re sick. A mild cold or flu could result in false results on your medical exam. Postpone it if you aren’t feeling 100% healthy.

When you schedule your exam, ask about the physical tests and other details so you know what to expect. You may be asked to fast for 24 hours beforehand. Be sure to drink plenty of water to provide a urine sample, and wear short sleeves if your doctor needs to take blood.

Receiving the results of your exam

It can take up to two weeks for your test results to be processed. Your medical exam results will then be shared with the insurance underwriter so they can evaluate your results. You will have access to the results and be notified of any immediate health risks.

After that, the insurance company will match you with the best policy. The entire underwriting process, from application to the beginning of your policy, can take between 30 and 60 days. That time span will vary depending on your insurance company and the type of policy you’re applying for.

What to avoid prior to a life insurance medical exam

If you’re applying for life insurance with a medical exam, you should take steps to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Any breaks from your regular routine, such as a stressful event, a trip or a big party, could lead to inaccurate results.

You will want to avoid these things in the days leading up to your exam:

  • Strenuous exercise
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Tobacco use
  • High-cholesterol foods
  • Over-the-counter medications such as antihistamines and decongestants (ask about any medications you’re taking when you schedule your exam)
  • High-stress activities

These factors can raise your blood pressure, cholesterol and stress levels. To make sure your medical exam is accurate, avoid them as much as possible and stick with your standard routines. It might help to avoid scheduling your exam around a holiday, vacation or major life event that can affect your eating and exercise habits.

Types of life insurance policies that require medical exams

Not all life insurance policies require a medical exam. But it might be necessary if you’re looking for low rates and a significant death benefit.

Permanent life insurance policies, such as whole and universal, as well as term life insurance, often require medical exams. When considering term vs. whole life insurance, take into account your priorities and current situation. You may need a medical exam to apply for either policy type.

Whole life insurance

Whole-life insurance policies last for a policyholder’s entire life. Most of these policies have two main components: a death benefit to your beneficiaries at the end of your life and a cash value savings account. A portion of your premium goes to the cash value account every month and can be accessed during your lifetime.

The best whole life insurance companies require a medical exam for most of their whole life policies. If you apply for guaranteed or simplified issue life insurance, it is possible to get whole-life insurance with no medical exam. These policies are accessible to most people but have a limited death benefit (generally $25,000).

Should you get life insurance in your 20s? If you're in your 20s, you might be in the perfect position to buy a whole-life policy. Young, healthy people often get the lowest insurance rates on whole life insurance because rates are based on risk factors, including age-related health conditions. In addition, some policies come with a cash value component that you can borrow against in the future.

Term life insurance

Term life insurance coverage lasts for a pre-set term instead of the policyholder’s entire life. Premiums remain the same throughout the span of your term.

Some term life policies don’t require a medical exam. Depending on your insurance company, you might be able to buy a term life insurance policy for a 5, 10, or 20-year term.

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Who pays for a life insurance medical exam?

You will not have to pay for an exam for life insurance. The insurer covers the costs of the exam.

Life insurance medical exam companies work with insurers and provide fast services. You can schedule an exam with one of these companies even if you don’t have health insurance or a primary care provider.

No medical exam life insurance: does it exist?

Life insurance without a medical exam exists and is a perfectly valid option. You shouldn’t be denied coverage because you have a pre-existing health condition or don’t want to take an exam.

The best no-exam life insurance policies offer a speedy application process and come with great benefits. A few popular policies include:

  • Guaranteed issue life insurance. This whole life insurance policy is available to people aged 50-80 who meet the minimum requirements. No health questionnaire or medical exam exists, but death benefits have a low cap.
  • Simplified issue life insurance. These policies are similar to the guaranteed issue but require a basic health questionnaire that includes medical history. The death benefit for these policies can be up to $100,000.
  • Group life insurance. Group insurance is a form of term life insurance often offered by employers. There is little or no cost, but your policy won’t continue when you leave your job.

If you’re looking for life insurance that does not require a medical exam, it’s essential to do your research. Unfortunately, there are scams out there. Ensure you’re working with an established, well-reviewed insurance company before buying your policy.

No medical exam life insurance quotes are often available online. You can get a quote by providing a little information about yourself. This is a great way to compare insurance companies before you buy a policy, but the best way to get a detailed cost estimate is to talk directly with an insurance agent.

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What happens if you're denied coverage after the exam?

There are a few factors that can cause you to be denied coverage. Those include high health risks such as heart disease, a chronic illness or a terminal condition. Perfect health isn’t required — you won’t be denied coverage for ordinary issues like high blood pressure.

An insurer might deny coverage for non-medical issues, too. A history of arrests for DUI or other dangerous crimes can result in denial. If you commonly engage in high-risk activities like scuba or skydiving, it might also cause your underwriter to raise your rates or refuse coverage.

If your insurance application is denied and you don’t know why you can appeal the decision based on incorrect or insufficient information. It is rare for an insurer to get something wrong, but mistakes happen. Start your appeal and schedule another medical exam as soon as possible.

You still have options if you don’t think the decision can be appealed. Life insurance is accessible to people of all ages, abilities and lifestyles. You just have to find the right policy. Talk to your insurance agent about other policies you can apply for and get quotes from different companies.

Review of Money's best life insurance companies

Ready to start shopping for the right life insurance policy? Check out our guide on the best life insurance companies.

Whether you’re looking for a whole-life policy or want to find insurance without a medical exam, the right insurer will make all the difference. Take your time, do your research, and find the company that works best for you.