What to Expect in a Life Insurance Physical

In this article...
  • Find out what to expect in a life insurance physical. Learn how you can prepare for the examination to improve your chances of application acceptance.

Life insurers examine many things when deciding whether to approve a life insurance policy and what to charge for a premium, with medical history being an important factor. People with medical problems are more likely to pass away early in their policies, and for insurance companies, this means increased risk. To gain an accurate picture of your current health, an insurance company may require you to undergo a medical examination. Knowing what to expect from a life insurance physical can help you prepare and reduce any stress that you feel about the exam.

What to Expect in a Life Insurance Physical

Insurers hire paramedical companies to perform physicals on your behalf. After you apply for insurance, the company will usually call you to set up an appointment. Normally, you can choose the location for the test, including at home or work. Some paramedical services have exam centers that you can visit.

Normally, a nurse performs a life insurance physical. Depending on what the insurer wants to be assessed, the exam may last for 15 to 45 minutes. You'll likely have to show a valid driver's license to prove your identity before the exam begins.

What's Included in a Life Insurance Physical?

The specific tests required for a life insurance physical vary. When you schedule your appointment, you can ask for details of what's involved. Some things that may be included are your medical history, a physical exam and routine tests.

Medical History

The nurse may ask about:

  • Medications you currently take or have taken over the past few years
  • Medical conditions you are currently being treated for or have been in the past
  • Names and contact information for all medical providers you've seen in recent years
  • The medical history of your immediate blood relatives like your parents, children and sibling

Vital Signs

Most life insurance physicals involve checking your:

  • Height
  • Weight
  • Blood pressure
  • Pulse

Blood Tests

Your blood may be drawn to test for:

  • Cholesterol level
  • Blood sugar level
  • Nutritional deficiency
  • Signs of nicotine or drug use

If you're going to undergo a blood test, wear short sleeves or long sleeves that roll up easily. In some cases, you may need to fast before blood work. Fasting blood tests normally require you to avoid eating or drinking anything for 12 hours.

Cardiovascular and Respiratory Tests

People over the age of 50 seeking a policy with a large death benefit may need to undergo the following tests to assess heart health:

  • EKG or electrocardiogram, which shows the electrical activity of your heart and can spot irregularities in heartbeat and rhythm. Before the test, a medical professional places 12 electrodes on your chest and attaches them to an EKG machine. You won't feel anything, but you'll need to lie still during the test. Most EKGs only last a few minutes. Wearing clothing with buttons in the front can make placing the electrodes easier.
  • Chest X-rayto check for signs of skeletal problems or the presence of tumors
  • Stress test, during which you exercise on a treadmill while your heart rate is monitored

If your life insurance physical involves a chest X-ray or a stress test, you'll likely need to visit a testing center, clinic or hospital for that portion of the exam.

Cognitive Tests

Older adults may need to take tests to assess cognitive ability. The tests help screen for dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Normally, they involve memory skills, problem-solving and critical thinking.

How Do You Pass a Life Insurance Physical?

Because a physical can assess your overall health, you can't take any specific steps to ensure that you'll pass. Living a healthy lifestyle is the best way to ensure a positive outcome. If you can wait to purchase insurance, you may wish to improve your diet, begin exercising and reach a healthy weight, if needed. The following tips may help improve the results of your physical exam:

  • Avoid salty and fatty foods for at least 24 hours.
  • Don't take any over-the-counter medications like allergy pills or pain relievers for 24 hours.
  • Abstain from intense exercise for 12 hours.
  • Don't drink alcohol for at least 12 hours.
  • Drink a glass of water one hour before your test.
  • Stay away from caffeine and nicotine for at least an hour.

Life insurance exams aren't graded on a pass-fail basis. Instead, the insurance company uses the gathered information to rate your risk level. You may be classified into a certain category based on the insurer's risk table. Being placed in a premium plus or premium category generally means a lower life insurance premium. If the insurance company determines that you're a high risk, they may deny your application, charge you a higher premium or offer a lower death benefit.

Can I See the Results of My Life Insurance Physical?

Life insurance companies are not required to share your exam results with you, but they may do so upon request. Sometimes, you can access the results online within a few days or weeks of the exam. You may have to opt in to this service or register online. Ask the person who schedules your test or call customer service for more information about receiving test results.

How Does an Insurance Company Get Information About Me?

When considering your application, life insurers may gather information from other sources by:

  • Requesting your medical records from your doctor — you may have to give your consent
  • Checking your medical history using a third-party software program
  • Reviewing your motor vehicle report to look for signs of reckless driving
  • Obtaining public records
  • Running a credit check and background check to see if you're able to pay for the policy and if you have any criminal convictions
  • Looking at your social media account to see if you use drugs, drink excessively or engage in risky recreational activities
  • Analyzing accountant-prepared financial statements if you're applying for a policy with a large death benefit

Do You Always Have to Undergo a Physical to Get Life Insurance?

Voluntary employee life insurance usually doesn't involve an exam for basic coverage, but you must purchase coverage through an employer. The following types of individual life insurance normally don't require a physical:

  • Accelerated underwriting, where computer algorithms primarily determine risk
  • Simplified issue, which usually only requires you to answer questions about your medical history
  • Guaranteed issue, where you typically won't be denied coverage due to your medical history

All three types of insurance generally have higher premiums than ones that involve an exam.

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