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What You Need To Know About The Life Insurance Medical Exam

Licensed Life Insurance Agent/Staff Writer
December 09, 2019

A life insurance medical exam is often part of the process of applying for a life insurance policy. A paramedical professional will draw blood to test for specific health conditions, drug and alcohol use, and overall health indicators. They will also review your medical history, obtain basic health information, and take a urine sample. The results of your medical exam will affect whether the insurer will accept you, and if so, what your life insurance coverage and rates may look like.

If that sounds intimidating, don’t worry. We’re going to break down what life insurance companies test for during the medical exam. We'll also show you how to prepare for the medical exam and what to expect when you get your exam results.

You got this.

What life insurance medical exams test for

Every person’s health situation is unique and complex, and every insurer has its own way of understanding an applicant’s risk. But in general, most life insurance medical exams test for the following things:

  • Signs of drug and alcohol use
  • Fundamental health indicators such as height, weight, and blood sugar
  • Your medical history, including surgeries, diagnoses, and prescriptions
  • Your family’s health history

Using this information, insurers place applicants into health rating categories during the underwriting process. If you fall into a riskier health class, you may pay higher life insurance rates or be turned down for a life insurance policy. But if that happens to you, it’s still not time to panic. No two insurers underwrite the same way, so if you don’t like your rates or don’t get approved, you can always get a life insurance test from another company.

Call today: 888-234-8376

What do life insurance companies ask during a medical exam?

In addition to testing for drugs and preexisting health conditions, your paramedic may ask you various health questions. There are two reasons for this. The first is to uncover any additional information about your personal and family medical history, as well as confirm any health information you supplied in your life insurance application.

While every life insurance medical exam is different, insurers include many of the same questions. Expect to be asked about the following topics:

Your medical history

Medical history questions will likely include questions about hospitalizations, surgeries, diagnoses, and medications.

Your family medical history

If your family has a history of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, or other health conditions, it may indicate that you’re at risk of developing the condition as well.

Your lifestyle

The paramedic may ask about tobacco, alcohol, and drug use, as well as other questions designed to uncover risky behaviors or dangerous hobbies.

Physician contact information

To facilitate gathering or clarification of your medical records, the paramedic will likely ask for a list of doctors and hospitals you’ve visited in the last few years.

What health issues are tested for during a life insurance medical exam?

Insurers will perform a physical exam for signs that you may have a particular health condition. These conditions might include:

  • HIV or AIDS
  • Kidney issues
  • Liver issues
  • Diabetes
  • Blood disorders
  • Infections
  • Hypertension
  • Heart or coronary disease

If an insurer discovers one or more of these conditions, it may affect your health rating. But each insurer has different guidelines for rating health conditions. If one company declines you for coverage due to a preexisting health condition, try applying with another insurer. Or speak with a licensed agent. They can point you toward insurers that specialize in covering your specific health conditions.

What drugs are tested for during life insurance medical exams?

Insurers typically look for drugs for that indicate health issues, illegal activity, or addiction. Often, the drugs life insurance companies take a blood of urine sample to test for the following substances:

  • Nicotine
  • Marijuana
  • Methamphetamines
  • Cocaine
  • Opiates
  • PCP
  • Barbiturates
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Methadone

Most of the drugs on this list are highly controlled substances, but some do have medical uses. If you have a prescription for one of them, avoid being labeled as someone who exhibits risky behavior—inform the insurance company that your doctor supervises your treatment.

While most of these drugs are checked in a life insurance drug test, a positive result may not be a deal-breaker. Plenty of smokers have life insurance, for instance, but they typically pay much higher premiums than their tobacco-free friends.

Honesty is the best policy

While it’s tempting to cover up risky behavior or a health condition that could affect your life insurance coverage, resist the urge to hide the facts. Insurers check a variety of sources, including your medical records and driving records, to learn more about you. Even if you fool them now, you could be denied coverage, or your beneficiaries could receive a reduced (or no) death benefit if an insurer finds out you misrepresented the facts.

What should I expect during a life insurance paramedical exam?

The purpose of a life insurance medical exam is for the insurer to get a fuller picture of your health than what’s possible on an application or in a phone interview. To accomplish this task, an insurance company will have a licensed paramedic conduct your exam.

Typically, the paramed exam will take place in your own home at the insurer’s expense. The process could take as little as 20 minutes and usually less than an hour.

When your paramedic shows up, you can expect the following activities:

  • Medical and family history questions
  • Basic measurements (such as weight, height, pulse, and blood pressure)
  • Blood draw
  • Urine test
  • Electrocardiogram (for older adults or high coverage amounts)

How should I prepare for a medical exam?

You can’t study for a life insurance health exam, but that doesn’t mean you should go in blind. With a little preparation, you can ensure the paramedic captures a snapshot of your health at its peak. For the best results, start preparing long before the paramedic shows up at your door.

When you schedule your exam

Be honest

The exam will include questions and tests that verify some of the same info you put on your life insurance application. Be honest on the application, or the insurer may later catch you in a lie and deny you coverage.

Find out if you need to fast

Blood sugar and other tests may require you to not eat for several hours before your test. If you’re worried about hunger pangs, schedule your medical exam in the morning so you can sleep through most of your fast.

A tip for our female readers

Try to schedule your exam when you’re not on your period. Otherwise, your test results may not paint an accurate picture of your overall health.

One week before your medical exam

Drink lots of water

Staying hydrated can help your body filter out toxins, alcohol, and other substances. How much water you should drink depends on your gender, how active you are, the climate you live in, and other conditions.

Avoid foods that affect test results

In your daily life, you may consume foods that will adversely affect your life insurance exam results. If possible, stay away from the following items:

  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Shellfish
  • Poppy seeds
  • Foods high in sugar, salt, saturated fats, and bad cholesterol

Eat well

Instead of eating the above foods, load up your plate with fresh veggies, lean protein, and foods with good cholesterol, such as olive oil and avocados. While one week of eating well won’t erase years of unhealthy habits, it could help ensure that your results won’t be swayed by a splurge day or your favorite indulgent meal.

24 hours before your medical exam

Get plenty of rest

A good night’s sleep can keep your blood pressure and stress levels low.

Skip the exercise

A strenuous gym session can temporarily release more cholesterol and protein into your system, which can bring your results down.


Meditate, breathe deep, and avoid stress to keep your blood pressure and heart rate as low as possible.

Follow fasting instructions

Insurers typically ask applicants not to eat for 12 hours before a life insurance medical exam.

The day of your medical exam

Stand up and dress down

The paramedic will find your Body Mass Index (BMI) by measuring your height and weight. The taller you are compared to your weight, the better your exam results. So wear lightweight clothing and stand up straight.

Relax as much as possible

Try to plan any high-stress activities for after your exam or for a different day. Today is about getting the best health rating for your life insurance. The rest can wait.

Gather yourself together

The paramedic will ask for a driver's license or photo ID to confirm who you are, so have that ready. They’ll also ask questions about your medications, doctors, and health history, so jot down some notes to help you remember everything.

Still nervous? Check out these additional tips for passing a life insurance medical exam.

What happens after a life insurance exam?

Once your exam is over, it may take several weeks for the insurance company to process your results. Once it does, you’ll receive one of two responses: approved (with a health rating) or declined.

What if I pass my life insurance exam?

If the insurer approves your application, congratulations! Your life insurance shopping spree is over.

If you paid your first premium when you turned in your application, your coverage is already in force. If not, you’ll need to sign a delivery receipt and a statement of your continued good health when you receive your life insurance policy. And, of course, you’ll need to pay your first premium before coverage can begin.

Getting an unexpected health rating

Sometimes, an insurer will approve coverage with some stipulations or at a higher price than you expected, due to a low health rating. If that’s the case, you may receive a better offer with a different company. Talk to your insurance agent or get a quote to find out.

What if I fail my life insurance medical exam?

Unfortunately, not everyone passes their life insurance physical. If that happens to you, don’t worry. You have options.

Find out why you didn't pass

There are many reasons an insurer may decline you for life insurance. The company should provide you with a reason for the denial and your medical exams test results. If it doesn’t, ask.

Go over your results with your doctor

If your life insurance medical exam returned some surprising results, you might wish to address some health concerns with your doctor. You may also be able to work with your doctor to improve your health and retest again later for better results.

Consider another insurer

A decline from one insurer doesn’t mean you can’t get coverage somewhere else. Insurers rarely have the same rating guidelines as any other company, so there’s a good chance you’ll find the coverage you need with another brand.

Here’s a list of the best life insurance companies to help you get started.

Consider no exam coverage

Not all life insurance policies require you to take a medical exam. If you want to avoid further testing, consider a guaranteed issue life insurance policy. These policies are much more expensive than other types of coverage, but you won’t be denied a policy due to your health.

Should I choose no exam life insurance?

Let’s face it: life insurance medical exams aren’t fun. Taking one means scheduling an appointment, giving blood and urine, and poring over your medical history.

If you choose to skip the exam, you could receive coverage much faster. Companies like Haven Life and Bestow offer fully online applications (with a medical questionnaire) and no exam policies—plus near-instantaneous coverage.

If you don’t mind getting on the phone or seeing an agent in person, plenty of other insurers offer no exam policies, especially for life insurance for seniors and final expense life insurance. Other insurers sell no exam on multiple types of policies, but only to people who appear to be in good health after filling out a medical questionnaire.

No medical exam pros and cons

Pro HeadingPros
  • Pro BulletFaster approval process
  • Pro BulletLess invasive
  • Pro BulletMore convenient
Con Heading Cons
  • Con BulletLimited coverage options
  • Con BulletPossibly higher rates

Learn more about exam required vs. no exam life insurance.

No exam life insurance options

Considering no exam life insurance? Start with our best no exam life insurance companies. You’ll learn about the different types of no exam coverage—and come away with a list of companies to consider.

Your life insurance shopping just got easier.

Life insurance medical exam FAQ
Do other kinds of insurance require an exam?

In addition to life insurance, disability income insurance may require a medical exam as part of the application process. Some health insurance policies, such as Medicare Supplement insurance, require a medical exam under certain conditions as well.

How do I pass a life insurance nicotine test?

A life insurance medical exam can reveal nicotine and other chemicals found in tobacco products up to several weeks after your last cigarette, vape, chew, or patch. Most people have a hard time quitting for that long, and insurers generally ask about your tobacco history on the application anyway. Hiding nicotine use while applying for life insurance is difficult and can result in a reduced death benefit or denied claims later on.

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.