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By Nathan GoldenRuben Ramos and Amarilis Yera
November 23, 2021
silhouettes of a man and a woman sheltering under an umbrella with no exam written on it
Money

No-exam life insurance lets you apply for coverage without the need for a physical exam. That can help make it a faster and more convenient option than traditional life insurance policies, which usually require medical check-ups and lab tests. No-exam policies can also provide either term life or permanent coverage, including whole life policies, but they do have some limitations.

Read on to learn more about no-exam life insurance and whether it’s the right fit for you.

And, for more more information on other types of policies, check out our guide to the best life insurance companies.

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What is no-medical-exam life insurance?

As the name implies, no-exam life insurance skips the medical examination that’s usually required to get standard life insurance. The exam is a procedure designed to identify pre-existing conditions and determine possible health risks.

But not having to undergo an exam doesn’t mean the insurer won't ask about your health. Depending on the type of no-exam life policy you choose, the insurer might still ask medical questions or request access to certain health records.

Despite the possibility of such requests, no-exam coverage can still be a suitable alternative for people with medical conditions that make them ineligible for standard policies. It's also worthwhile for those who'd like to avoid doctor visits or who prefer not to wait for the conclusion of the lengthy risk-assessment process known as underwriting.

That application process for traditional life insurance may take up to six weeks, during which the insurer waits for and then assesses the exam results. Sometimes, requests for follow-up tests may follow. No-exam providers, on the other hand, may be able to grant you approval in as little as a day.

Types of life insurance policies with no medical exam

Three main types of life insurance policies don't require a medical exam: simplified issue, guaranteed issue and accelerated underwriting.

Simplified issue life insurance

Simplified issue policies let you skip the medical exam but require a health and lifestyle questionnaire. Insurers will want to know about the following:

  • Past and current health conditions
  • Biological family’s health conditions
  • Recent hospitalizations
  • Smoking habits and history
  • Drug usage (prescribed or recreational)
  • High-risk hobbies (skydiving or motorcycle riding, for example)

Most simplified issue policies have maximum coverage of no more than $100,000. The exact coverage amount and monthly premium depend on how the applicant answers the questionnaire, as well as on their age and gender and — in the case of term coverage — the desired term length.

Guaranteed issue life insurance

Guaranteed issue life insurance not only skips medical exams but omits questionnaires as well. As the name implies, approval is all but guaranteed as long as you meet the insurer's age requirements — this is usually between 50 and 80 years old, although some providers raise that limit to 85.

This type of life insurance plan is a good option for those who may be ineligible for standard life insurance policies due to advanced age or serious health issues. However, terminally ill applicants may be denied even a guaranteed issue policy by some insurers.

Guaranteed issue policies have the lowest coverage limits of all life insurance options, with most capping the death benefit at around $25,000.

Additionally, these policies often feature have a graded death benefit. This means that the company won't pay the full benefit amount if you die within the first two or three years after obtaining the policy. If that occurs, your beneficiaries would receive a refund of the premiums that you paid, plus interest (rates that vary between insurance providers.)

Accelerated underwriting policies

Some insurance companies offer policies that use an instant application process known as accelerated underwriting. This process uses algorithms or artificial intelligence to assess your health risk, rather than physical exams and questionnaires.

Under this process, people in good health, with stable finances and who have no family history of serious medical conditions, could potentially get approved for up to $1 million coverage in a matter of minutes.

Data used in the process can include your motor vehicle record, prescription drug history and, sometimes, what’s known as an MIB Group report. Formerly known as the Medical Information Bureau, the MIB Group is a consortium of life and health insurance companies that collects information you might have submitted in previous applications for life, health, disability or long-term care insurance.

Insurance providers may also check your credit report for your credit score and evidence of bankruptcies or defaults. These negative items are considered possible indicators of poor physical and mental health.

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How does no-exam life insurance work?

Traditional life insurance providers require medical underwriting. The process typically requires disclosure of your weight, height, and blood pressure, along with other details of your lifestyle and medical history. You may also have to provide blood and urine samples.

With no-exam life insurance, insurers forgo the medical test altogether — although some companies might still ask you to fill out a questionnaire regarding your family history and lifestyle.

However, while no-exam policies have their benefits, they also have major downsides. Since insurers are taking a greater risk by insuring you without a medical check-up, premiums will be much higher and coverage limits much lower than for traditional policies.

What do no-exam policies cover?

No-exam life insurance policies generally only cover death due to natural causes. Some insurers might offer optional riders such as one for an accidental death benefit. An accidental death rider provides your beneficiaries with financial protection if you die from a car accident, drowning, poisoning or other mishap.

Term life versus permanent

No-exam policies are available as term or permanent life insurance. Term life insurance covers you for a specific term length, usually between 10 and 30 years. By contrast, permanent life coverage (such as universal and whole life insurance) never expires as long as you pay its premiums on time.

Term life insurance policies are more affordable than permanent ones, sometimes costing up to $300 less per month. However, permanent life insurance does have the additional benefit of a cash value account. In these cases, the insurer invests a portion of your monthly payment in stocks, bonds or mutual funds. (Alternatively, insurers may offer a fixed rate of return on the accumulated cash value.)

You can tap into this money in a number of ways — through withdrawing funds, taking out loans or using it to pay the policy’s premiums. Note, however, that making withdrawals and failing to repay loans do reduce the total payout your family would receive upon your death.

Who is eligible for no-exam life insurance?

Eligibility criteria for no-medical-exam life insurance policies differ between providers. Maximum age limits vary, for example, as does whether the diagnosis of a terminal disease disqualifies you from applying.

When you skip the medical exam, underwriters rely on your medical records to assess your eligibility. With your permission, they will also seek data through:

  • A questionnaire: Questions may include those about your current health and smoking status, as well as your family’s medical history
  • Databases: Underwriters may obtain details about your prescription history as well as results from previous life insurance health exams
  • Driving Records: Insurers typically research your speeding tickets and at-fault crashes. A history of dangerous driving may trigger higher premiums
  • Your doctor: Underwriters may request a statement about your health from your primary care doctor

Benefits and downsides to no-exam life insurance

Benefits Downsides
Quick access to life insurance, sometimes within a day. Premiums may be twice as high as for traditional policies with the same benefit.
No medical exams are required — although some insurers might ask you to answer a medical questionnaire. Policies may have a graded death benefit. If you die within the first two or three years after buying the policy, your beneficiaries won’t receive the full payout.
Available to applicants with chronic health conditions who wouldn’t pass a standard medical exam. Coverage options are usually limited to $500,000 or less, where policies that require medical underwriting can offer as much as $3 million in coverage.
Available to older applicants (over 60) who may not be able to obtain a traditional policy. Approval isn’t guaranteed for all applicants.

What are the costs?

The cost of life insurance without a medical exam varies according to your age, the amount of coverage you want, whether you choose a term or permanent policy and your answers to the medical questionnaire (if required).

For example, a simplified issue policy with a 20-year term and $100,000 coverage from Haven Life can cost around $10 a month for a 31-year-old woman who doesn't smoke and is in excellent health. The same woman might pay $20 or more for a policy of the same term length and coverage if she is a smoker and has high blood pressure.

The provider you choose also impacts your monthly premium. Following the above-mentioned Haven Life example, the 31-year-old woman who doesn't smoke and is in excellent health would pay around $18 for a 20-year term policy with Bestow Life.

Bear in mind that, because premiums tend to be higher than for regular life insurance, no-exam life insurance may not be the best choice if you qualify for standard policies.

No-exam life insurance might not be worth it if:

- You're young and healthy: Applicants under 45 and in good health usually get better rates with traditional policies.

- You need a high coverage limit: The coverage limit for no-exam policies is usually around $500,000, and guaranteed issue policies may offer no more than $25,000.

No-exam life insurance may be worth it if:

- You’re a smoker or have a critical illness: These applicants might be denied coverage by many traditional life insurance providers.

- You’re older: Buying traditional life insurance costs more as you age. For example, a 70-year-old male applicant might pay around $750 per month for a 20-year term policy with a $500,000 coverage limit. A 30-year-old purchasing the same policy would spend closer to $17 per month.

To keep monthly premiums low, older applicants may consider purchasing a no-exam guaranteed issue policy. These policies can cost $400 or less per month depending on your age. However, keep in mind they have low coverage limits of around $25,000.

How to avoid getting turned down for a no-exam life insurance policy

An insurance company could deny your no-exam life insurance application based on your age and pre-existing medical conditions. For example, applicants who have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, HIV or other medical conditions often struggle to find even no-exam policies because providers worry about their life expectancy.

To avoid getting denied for a no-exam life insurance, you can:

Talk to an insurance agent

Every insurance company takes a different approach to underwriting. Ask an independent life insurance agent to help you find the right policy or premium for your condition, as they could have access to policies from as many as 10 or 12 companies.

Look into guaranteed issue coverage

Guaranteed issue life insurance is aptly named. Almost everyone who applies is guaranteed approval because the insurer does not ask many — if any — health questions. However, insurance agents call this “last resort” life insurance for several reasons:

  • Low coverage amounts: These policies usually offer only up to $25,000 in coverage, compared with between $100,000 to up to $3 million with a fully underwritten life insurance policy.
  • High premiums: Guaranteed issue policies can cost twice or more what you’ll pay for a traditional one, while also offering less coverage.
  • Delayed coverage: There’s a 2- to 3-year waiting period before the policy kicks in. If you die during this period, your beneficiaries won't receive the full death benefit.

Consider group life insurance

Many employers offer life insurance as an employee benefit. In this case, you can usually opt in without undergoing a medical check-up and, as an additional benefit, you might not even have to pay the premiums yourself. It’s a nice perk, but it may have some limits:

  • Low coverage limits: group policies usually don’t offer the same coverage level compared to a simplified issue or fully underwritten life insurance product
  • Temporary coverage: you lose coverage if you change jobs or are fired

What to do if you’re denied a life insurance claim or application

If you want to appeal a denied life insurance claim or application, a life insurance lawyer can help. A lawyer specializing in insurance can offer expert advice and help you reach an agreement with your insurer.

However, you can minimize your chances of getting denied by ensuring your initial application is completely accurate and discloses all your medical conditions and potential risk factors.

Once you have a policy, make sure to consistently pay your premiums on time. If a person dies and is behind on their payments, the insurer might deduct those late payments from the payout or even deny the claim altogether.

The Bottom Line

No-exam life insurance could be worth looking into if you’re older, have chronic health conditions, need a policy quickly or simply prefer to skip lab tests.

There are important factors to keep in mind though. Because insurers are taking a risk by not requiring a thorough medical assessment, premiums might be higher than for traditional policies — especially for guaranteed and simplified issue policies. These policies can be twice as expensive as fully underwritten ones.

Additionally, these policies might not provide the amount of coverage you need. While some no-exam life insurance providers offer up to $1 million in coverage, most cap it at around $500,000. By contrast, traditional policies that require medical underwriting can give you coverage of $3 million or more.

When it comes to how much life insurance coverage you need, no-exam policies might not provide enough. Experts suggest your life insurance payout should be between 10 and 20 times your current income.

For example, an individual who currently earns $60,000 per year should get around $600,000 or more of coverage. No-exam simplified issue and guaranteed issue policies wouldn’t be enough considering most have coverage limits of $500,000 and $25,000, respectively.

However, not everyone is looking to replace their income. A no-exam life insurance policy might be enough if:

  • You’re getting a loan, and your lender requires life insurance as collateral
  • You’re estate planning and wish to provide liquidity for your heirs
  • You’re an empty nester, your mortgage is paid off, and you have no dependents

However, if you’re in good health and time is not an issue, you can apply for a fully underwritten policy, which usually will get you a better rate in comparison.

If not, no-exam life insurance policies can provide quick and hassle-free coverage for those that don’t qualify for traditional policies, or who prefer not to go through the medical checkups required by most types of life insurance.

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