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No Medical Exam vs. Taking an Exam Life Insurance

Licensed Life Insurance Agent/Staff Writer
May 14, 2020

A life insurance medical exam can be the least convenient, most time-consuming part of applying for life insurance. It could involve scheduling an appointment, giving blood and urine samples, and waiting several weeks for your results (and therefore, approval of your application). To avoid this experience, many people apply for no-exam life insurance.

But life insurance that requires an exam isn’t all bad. Most insurance companies send a paramedical professional to you, so you don’t have to go to a doctor’s office. And submitting to an exam could give you access to more policy options and lower premiums, since many insurers offer few or no exam-free options.

Do the advantages of taking a medical exam for life insurance outweigh the disadvantages? That depends on your goals and situation. Here's what you need to know to decide.

What is no-exam life insurance?

No-exam life insurance isn’t technically a type of life insurance policy. It’s more like a type of underwriting (the process insurers use to understand your health, determine your costs, and decide whether to approve or deny your application).

As its name implies, no-exam life insurance allows you to skip the bloodwork, urine sample, and other aspects of a medical exam. You might receive a fast (or even instant) decision, but there are some potential downsides.

No-exam life insurance pros and cons

Pro HeadingPros
  • Pro BulletFaster approval possible
  • Pro BulletLess time-consuming
  • Pro BulletPossibility of skipping a medical exam altogether
Con Heading Cons
  • Con BulletPossibly more expensive
  • Con BulletLimited policy choices

Not all insurers offer no-exam life insurance, and companies that do might charge more. Still, if you don’t have time for a lengthy application process, you might be able to get a decision in minutes or days—instead of weeks or months—by finding a no-exam life insurance company that offers an online application. 

If the insurer doesn’t require a medical exam as part of your application, it will usually obtain your health information in other ways. That might include looking up your medical history using the Medical Information Bureau (MIB) or requiring you to fill out a health questionnaire. Some insurers offer policies with small (less than $50,000) death benefits that ignore your health altogether.

Applying for no-exam life insurance

While, in theory, any life insurance policy could be no-exam, most insurers limit no-exam options to term life and low-death-benefit whole life policies.

Term life insurance is the least expensive, most straightforward type of life insurance. If you’re young and healthy, there’s a good chance you’ll find multiple no-exam term life insurance options. You might have to fill out a medical questionnaire, and the insurer might limit you to shorter terms (20 years instead of 30) or a lower death benefit ($1 million or less).

No-exam whole life insurance typically comes in two (similar) flavors. With a guaranteed-issue life insurance policy, the insurer can’t turn you down for coverage and may base your life insurance rates solely on your age. This option could be ideal for someone with preexisting health conditions that would otherwise result in a coverage denial.

Meanwhile, final expense insurance may be the right option for older adults looking for small amounts of coverage—just enough to cover a funeral and a few other end-of-life costs. With this option, you might still need to complete a medical questionnaire. You won't be able to hide a preexisting condition, and you may pay a higher rate or go through a waiting period before coverage begins.

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What is exam-required life insurance?

Exam-required life insurance is simply coverage that is fully underwritten using the results of your medical exam. You can expect that a paramedical professional will take your vital signs, test your blood and urine, and confirm your medical information.

You can learn more about what a medical exam tests for, but there are some general pros and cons.

Exam-required life insurance pros and cons

Pro HeadingPros
  • Pro BulletPossibly cheaper
  • Pro BulletMore policy options
Con Heading Cons
  • Con BulletTypically longer approval process
  • Con BulletMore time-consuming
  • Con BulletExam might feel invasive

This coverage is more common than no-exam life insurance, so if you’re willing to submit to the medical exam, you may have more options. And because the insurer has a fuller picture of your health, it's more likely to give you lower life insurance costs if you don’t have any pre-existing health conditions. 

But you might have to wait several weeks while the insurer processes your results and underwrites your policy. You’ll also have to block out time in your schedule for an appointment, and if you have an aversion to needles or having strangers in your home, the exam might make you feel uncomfortable.

Still, the downsides of a medical exam are short-lived, while the perks of exam-required coverage—such as buying the right policy and paying low premiums—could benefit you for life. For many people, the hassle is worth it.

Applying for exam-required life insurance

If you don't mind taking a medical exam, the world of life insurance is your oyster. You'll be able to choose from more term life and whole life options, as well as universal life insurance policies. So start by wrapping your head around the various types of life insurance.

Also, consider working with a licensed life insurance agent. An independent agent works with multiple insurers and should be able to give you pricing and policy information from numerous companies. Get started with a life insurance quote.

If you have a specific insurer in mind already, you may be able to go directly to that insurer's website or work with a captive agent (one who sells only that company's policies).

Next, you’ll fill out an application that likely includes some medical questions and schedule an appointment for a medical exam. You should choose a time that allows you to present your healthiest self—that is, when you can get a good night’s sleep, eat well, and feel relaxed. To gain an edge, check out these tips for getting the best medical exam results.

Exam vs. no exam life insurance: Which should you choose?

So which is right for you: life insurance that requires a medical exam, or life insurance that doesn’t?

A no-exam policy could be right for you if you're looking for term, guaranteed issue, or final expense life insurance. It could also be a solid option if you need coverage quickly, and you're willing to pay more. Check out some of our favorite no exam companies such as Bestow, Fabric, Haven Life, and Ladder Life.

If you’d prefer lower premiums and more choices to fast coverage—and you don’t mind the hassle or discomfort of a medical exam—consider an exam-required policy. You’ll be able to choose from just about any insurer, so check out the best life insurance companies.

No matter what your situation and goals, don’t let a medical exam stand in the way of getting the coverage you need.

Written by
Kathryn Casna
Kathryn Casna is a licensed insurance agent and life insurance specialist who has appeared on The Simple Dollar and Best Company. On a weekly basis, she dives into complex life insurance topics to wring out genuinely useful information. When she’s not wrangling big ideas into easy-to-understand articles, Kathryn nerds out on budget-tracking spreadsheets and tries to coax her leash-trained cat to take outdoor adventures.