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What does a life insurance medical exam involve?

Last updated: 18/03/2022 | Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

Some life insurance companies may require you to undergo a medical examination before providing you with cover. While these may seem intrusive to some people and make them feel uncomfortable, they typically consist of very basic health checks, and unless you're extremely unhealthy, they can help you to get cheaper cover. 

In This Guide:

What is a life insurance medical?

When you apply for a life insurance policy, insurance companies will ask for information about your health. This is part of their underwriting - the process through which they determine how risky you’ll be to insure.

It sounds morbid, but insurers are forecasting your life expectancy, trying to determine how likely it is that you’ll die within the policy’s term and they’ll have to pay out to your survivors.

While accidents and sudden illnesses can happen to anyone, your current health can provide a great insight into your future health and how long you’ll live. That’s why insurers will ask for your weight, if you smoke or drink, any pre-existing medical conditions you have and any conditions that run in your family. To gather even more information, insurers may ask for a health report from your GP. 

Life insurance providers can also ask you to undergo a medical exam. They’ll direct you to a medical professional who can run basic checks on your health such as your weight and blood pressure. Typically, you won’t have to pay for these tests.

This information can determine whether the insurer offers you cover and how much they charge you for it.

What does the medical exam check for?

A medical exam for a life insurance policy will usually include basic checks on your health that can be performed in a medical office setting, or even at your home or workplace.

The exam may check your:

  • height and weight to calculate your BMI
  • pulse and blood pressure
  • cholesterol levels (with a blood test)
  • blood sugar levels (with a blood test)
  • drug or nicotine use (with a urine sample)
  • conditions such as diabetes, HIV, hepatitis, HIV and immune disorders, and kidney and liver disorders
  • heart health with an electrocardiogram (ECG)

Different insurers may require slightly different tests. They may also not require you to undergo all the tests unless you are above a certain age, have been diagnosed with certain conditions, or are taking out a very large amount of cover.

For example, insurers will often only require you have an ECG if you’re over 50 when taking out the policy or applying for a very high amount of cover (£500,000+).

What to expect in a medical exam

If the insurer decides they want you to undergo a medical exam, they’ll arrange the screening for you. This might involve a nurse coming to your home or workplace, or you visiting a clinic near you.

The exam will usually be conducted by a nurse or another medical professional selected by the insurer, and should last between 15 minutes and 45 minutes. You won’t be asked to pay for the exam.

During the exam, you will be asked questions about your health and that of your family members. You will then typically have your height and weight measured, have a blood pressure reading done, and have blood drawn. You may also be asked to produce a urine sample.

If you’re undergoing an ECG, electrodes will be placed on your body to record the electrical activity of your heart. You won’t have to entirely undress, but may be asked to pull your shirt up or down, so you should wear loose, comfortable clothing.

How can I prepare for a life insurance medical?

While you can’t make dramatic changes to your health overnight, you can take a few steps to produce the best results on the day of the exam.

You should avoid eating salty and high-cholesterol foods like red meat in the 24 hours before the exam. You should also refrain from drinking alcohol and doing strenuous exercise, both of which might increase your blood pressure. 

However, you should never try to deceive the medical examiner. While you shouldn’t drink alcohol on the day of the test in order to not unnecessarily raise your blood pressure, you shouldn’t lie to the examiner and say you never drink alcohol when you enjoy a few beers on the weekends.

If you misrepresent your health and your insurer discovers this, they can refuse to pay out on the policy after your death, depriving your family of vital support.

Do I need to have a medical to get life insurance?

Medical exams are not mandatory for all life insurance policies. Some insurers as a rule don’t require medical exams for life insurance applicants. Others only require medical exams if you’re applying for life insurance above a certain age or with certain health conditions, or for policies with very large potential pay-outs.

However, life insurance policies without medicals may charge you higher premiums than you might be charged if you’re in tip-top shape and undergo an exam to prove this. Your choice of insurance products will also be more limited if you’re not prepared to undergo an exam.

Should I have a medical exam?

Some people looking for insurance are wary about having a medical exam, afraid it might hurt, cost a lot, or reveal unpleasant facts about their health. But there are no drawbacks to having a medical check-up for a life insurance policy. The tests are easy, largely pain-free, and won’t cost you a thing.

If you’re very healthy, these medical checks can reduce the amount you pay for life insurance and ensure you’re not subsidising cover for people who are less healthy. If you’re applying for life insurance at an older age, a medical exam may be the difference between you being accepted or rejected cover.

A medical exam can also ensure your insurer knows all relevant information about your health. This can mean it’s less likely that the insurer will decide you misrepresented your health, and on that basis deny pay-outs to your loved ones after your death.

A medical check-up can also identify issues such as high blood pressure and high blood sugar levels that you can address to improve your health in the future. The NHS says that its medical check-ups, similar to those required by life insurance providers, helped patients prevent 2,500 strokes or heart attacks in just five years. 

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