What is a life insurance medical exam?

A life insurance medical exam is a routine part of most insurance applications. It usually has two parts: First, you’ll fill out a medical questionnaire about your current health, medical history, prescriptions, lifestyle, and habits. Then you’ll have a physical exam performed by a healthcare professional that will be much like a regular yearly checkup.

Woman getting a life insurance medical examination

Why do life insurance companies require medical exams?

It’s not uncommon to be worried about going to the doctor for a medical exam, especially if it’s not your regular doctor. When applying for life insurance, however, a medical exam is usually required, and at the end of the day it’s a pretty easy process.

Why do you have to go through this step? The simple answer is that it helps keep most insurance premiums down. Insurers need to make informed decisions about individuals based on their health status in order to price policies fairly and accurately. To do this, they use medical exams to assess an applicant's overall health and evaluate potential risks associated with providing coverage. The process is called medical underwriting.

Applicants in good health typically receive more favorable rates, while those with preexisting medical conditions may face higher premiums or modified coverage terms. If an insurer had to make coverage decisions without this step, premiums, whether for whole life or term life insurance, would be higher for most people.

The medical exam helps the insurance company to...


Assess your health risks

During the medical exam, a licensed healthcare professional will collect vital health-related data. This information helps the insurer assess your current health status and identify any underlying medical conditions that may affect your life expectancy.


Determine premiums

The results of the medical exam will impact the cost of your life insurance policy. Applicants in good health typically qualify for lower premiums, while those with certain medical conditions may face higher rates or be ineligible for certain types of policies.


Customize coverage

Medical exams enable insurance companies to tailor coverage to your specific health situation. This helps ensure that you receive a policy that aligns with your unique needs and circumstances.


What should I expect from my life insurance medical exam?

Once you've applied for a life insurance policy that requires a medical exam, the insurance company will coordinate with you to schedule the exam at no cost to you, usually at a location convenient for you. Here’s what you can expect:


Medical history questionnaire

Before the exam, you may be asked to complete a health questionnaire detailing your medical history, lifestyle habits, and any medications you're currently taking. Providing accurate information is essential for the underwriting process.


Physical exam

The medical exam is generally quick and painless, often lasting about 20-30 minutes. If you have a normal yearly checkup, you’ll be familiar with most of the tests. The exam is likely to include measuring your blood pressure, heart rate, height, and weight. It may also involve collecting blood and urine samples for lab testing. Depending on your age and the coverage amount you're applying for, you might undergo additional tests such as an electrocardiogram (EKG) or a treadmill stress test, which can help assess your heart health.


Will my insurer check my medical records?

Yes, life insurers will review your medical records if you are applying for a medically underwritten policy. They can do so only with the consent of the applicant, however. The consent agreement between the applicant and insurance company will specify the number of years of medical records that will be examined.


What are insurers looking for?

They are looking for potential health risks in an effort to better understand your physical condition. In order to accurately price life insurance, the company might evaluate several factors to determine coverage and premiums, including:

  • Overall health status
  • Weight and BMI
  • Blood pressure
  • Cholesterol levels
  • Chronic conditions
  • Tobacco and alcohol use
  • Prescriptions and drug use
  • Other lifestyle factors


How to prepare for a life insurance medical exam

It's essential to follow any fasting or preparation instructions that are provided by the examiner. This will help ensure that you get accurate test results and a fair assessment of your health. Here are some tips to consider:

  • Get a good night’s rest
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol
  • Fast if instructed
  • Stay hydrated
  • Gather and review your medical records
  • Be up-front and honest
  • Dress comfortably


Can I get life insurance without a medical exam?

Yes, there are life insurance policies that do not require a medical exam, typically called "no-exam life insurance" or "simplified-issue life insurance." These policies are designed to offer a more convenient and streamlined application process for individuals who prefer to avoid medical exams or have specific health concerns. Applicants will still likely need to fill out a medical questionnaire, and the coverage amounts and policy options may be more limited.


Will no-exam life insurance cost more?

In most cases, since the insurer knows less about you, no-exam policies will cost more than standard medically underwritten policies. If you have significant health issues, however, and are worried that you might not be able to get coverage if there is a medical exam, no-exam policies can be a good option. It’s also important to note that the availability and terms of no-exam life insurance vary among insurance companies. If you're considering this type of policy, go with an insurer you trust, and compare your options before you make a decision.


Life insurance medical exam FAQs

The life insurance medical exam is usually similar to a yearly checkup with your doctor.

The life insurance medical exam may include measuring your blood pressure, heart rate, height, and weight, and taking blood and/or urine samples. If you’re older, it can include more tests, like an electrocardiogram (EKG) or treadmill test.

You should avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nonprescription drug use before your exam. If instructed, you may also need to fast.

A healthcare professional will need to give you the physical exam. It may not always be a doctor; it could be a nurse or nurse practitioner. The insurance provider will coordinate with you to find a suitable examiner and location.

Usually, yes. Most often, you’ll need to sign a HIPAA life insurance waiver so the insurer can check your medical background for issues and accuracy. The insurance company can use the information only to help it set your rates. It cannot use the information for any other purpose or share it with another company.


Discuss your life insurance options with a financial professional.

We can answer all your questions and help determine if a policy with or without an exam is right for you.

New York Life Insurance Company (NY, NY)