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How to prepare for a life insurance medical exam

by Mark Cluett
11 min read

When you apply for life insurance, you go through a process called medical underwriting. This is where the insurance company you are applying to, uses many tools to determine the medical risks of insuring your life for the length of whatever coverage period you have chosen. In many of these cases, the most important tool they use is a life insurance medical exam.

While some people shudder at the thought of doctor’s appointments, nurses poking and prodding, and of course needles, sometimes the actual process is not as invasive as one makes it out to be in their mind. While there are several coverage alternatives available that do not require a medical exam, in many cases a life insurance exam may not be avoidable or can lead to better pricing.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • A medical exam is sometimes part of the life insurance application process depending on the coverage you are applying for.
  • Insurance providers use the results to determine your health classification or rating, which informs how they price your monthly insurance premiums.
  • Your medical history and lab results are the biggest determining factors of your exam results, though you’ll be asked about family medical history and personal habits like smoking and travel as well.
  • If you don’t wish to take a medical exam there are still life insurance coverage options. They may come with a higher cost, but can also be enacted quicker than policies which require a full exam.
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What is a life insurance medical exam?

A life insurance medical exam refers to the in-person process that an insurance company uses to gather your vital medical information and determine the risk involved in covering your life. (This medical information is also used to determine your health classification and price your monthly life insurance premiums. The life insurance medical exam (also called a paramedical exam) is usually conducted by a qualified paramedic professional and comprises two stages:

  • Completion of a medical questionnaire. A paramedical professional administers a questionnaire which can be answered verbally.
  • Vitals check and sample collection. A paramedical professional takes measurements of your blood pressure, heart rate, height, and weight and collects samples of your blood and urine.

Are you required to complete a life insurance medical exam to get coverage?

A medical exam to obtain life insurance coverage is not mandatory in Canada. Whether it is required or not depends primarily on your age, state of your health, the type and amount of coverage you want, and which insurance provider you choose.

If you are below the age of 50 and in regular health, you can get up to $1 million in coverage without requiring a medical exam. Many of the largest life insurance companies in Canada now have access to decades of mortality risk data. They use this date to establish the risk of underwriting a healthy individual, without having to engage in the hassle and costs of an in-person medical exam.

Several no-medical life insurance options also exist for those looking to avoid a medical exam, blood test, or any assessment of their vital medical information. Without waiting for the results from such tests, life insurance coverage can be obtained much faster, and sometimes even instantaneously.

That said, going through a medical exam during your life insurance application process may sometimes be necessary. For instance if you are applying for coverage in excess of $1 million, getting closer to your senior years, or have pre-existing health issues a life insurance medical exam can save you money on your monthly premiums. If you maintain a healthy lifestyle, with no history of or current medical problems, your medical exam will result in a better rating by the insurance company, and thus usually a lower premium payment.

Do you have to pay for a life insurance medical exam?

No, the insurance company with which you are applying for coverage arranges the life insurance medical exam at no cost to you.

What happens during the life insurance medical exam?

During the medical exam, a nurse will ask questions about your medical history and current health. In most cases they will then take vital medical information like your blood pressure, heart rate, and height and weight measurements, and collect samples of your blood and urine. Sometimes they may even use an EKG monitor to check your heart health.

What types of questions are asked during a life insurance medical exam?

The insurance company is looking for information about your medical history and that of your family to determine your risk. Expect questions about any prescription medications you may be taking, chronic health conditions you may have, recent surgeries, illnesses, or injuries you may have suffered, and any diagnostic tests such as X-Rays, MRIs, CT scans you have undergone.

The timeline for some of these questions could be over the last year, the last 10 years, or over your entire lifetime.

They will expect detailed answers for these questions, so have your doctor’s contact information, appointment dates, test results, diagnoses, and any current or recent medication information readily available.

While most of the test focuses on your personal health history, expect to answer a question or two about any major illnesses in  your immediate family as well (mother, father, and siblings).

Some of the questions may also seek confirmation about your lifestyle habits such as tobacco, alcohol and drug usage, participation in adventure sports and near term travel plans.

What do they look for in life insurance medical exam blood and urine tests?

The blood and urine tests give medical underwriters information about the state of your current health. From the samples you provide they can determine your:

  • Blood-sugar levels (Glucose, Hemoglobin A1c)
  • Blood protein levels (Albumin, Globulin, Total proteins)
  • Heart health (Cholesterol, HDL/LDL, Triglycerides)
  • Liver function (Liver enzymes, ALT, AST, CGT, Bilirubin)
  • Kidney function (Creatinine, urea)
  • Tobacco or drug use
  • HIV
  • Urinalysis( Glucose, creatinine, micro albumin, protein, RBC/WBC)

These are good for determining your heart health and associated risks, whether you have diabetes, impaired functionalities of kidney or liver or HIV, and whether you’ve been honest about your smoking.

How do you prepare for your life insurance medical exam?

Your medical exam is a little different from your school days; this isn’t a test you need to cram for.

As we mentioned above, you should have your doctor’s information handy, as well as the prescriptions for any medications you are currently taking, and any relevant results you may have from previous testing.

If you are doing blood work then you will most likely be required to fast for 10-12 hours beforehand so that they can accurately check readings for your blood-sugar, cholesterol levels, triglycerides, and liver function among others.

And, don’t forget to drink plenty of water to ensure you are ready for your urine test.

Other things to help you prepare:

  • Answering questions directly and honestly. Most (but not all) are yes or no questions which don’t require you to give extra information which was not asked of you.
  • Don’t self diagnose or offer medical answers you’ve determined yourself. The exam is strictly about medical diagnoses and opinions of medical professionals you’ve consulted.
  • Request a morning appointment time. Your blood pressure and heart rate measure more favourably earlier in the day, and you won’t have to fast as long.
  • Keep calm. At the end of the day, the medical exam is to collect accurate medical information and samples from you – not to trip you up or create a worse outcome. If you are overly nervous, your good health may not be reflected accurately.

Where can you get a life insurance medical exam?

Most applicants prefer to take their medical exam in the privacy of their home, which is easy to arrange in most cases. You may also choose to have your life insurance medical exam conducted at your workplace or any other location that is more convenient for you at the time.

In some cases, you may be able to visit a designated laboratory or medical clinic to conduct your exam.

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How long does a life insurance medical exam take?

Generally, a medical questionnaire can take up to 30  minutes, and a full physical medical exam can take 45 to 60 minutes to complete.

How long will it take to get test results?

After medical samples are collected, they are sent to a designated laboratory for assessment. It takes the lab 5 to 7 business days to analyze the results and provide them to the insurance company’s underwriters for assessment. Applicants may receive a copy of the test results by requesting they be sent to their family physician and arranging an appointment to go over them.

Does life insurance coverage start once you complete the medical exam?

The answer to this question is both yes and no. Activating the life insurance coverage for which you applied is still contingent on the results of your medical exam and completion of the entire underwriting process.

Still, when you sign and submit your life insurance application, you can usually enable temporary life insurance coverage. Once this temporary coverage is in force, if a claim is made on the life of the insured person, the insurance company will pay the coverage amount (usually up to $500,000 or $1 million), even if full medical underwriting has not been completed.

Life insurance applications generally include a separate section to confirm the eligibility for temporary life insurance. The health and medical history questions used to establish eligibility seek simple “Yes”or “No” answers. If one answers “Yes” to a question about major health episodes, it may make them ineligible to apply for temporary coverage.

What happens if you fail a life insurance medical exam?

As we mentioned before, life insurance medical exams are not exactly pass/fail tests, and instead lead to an insurance company giving you a health rating which affects the price of your monthly premium. In some cases, this rating may result in you paying a higher premium than you were quoted, and you were hoping. In some extreme cases, it may mean that your chosen insurance company refuses to provide you with coverage.

If your insurance application is declined, you may still have options. Another insurance company may provide you coverage even with your new classification, you can explore non-medical coverage choices, or you can work to improve your health and go through medical examination again at a later date to lower your rating.

Whatever you choose, it’s important to have a trusted insurance advisor at your side helping throughout the process. PolicyAdvisor’s brokers have helped countless Canadians navigate their insurance options, and find coverage for those who thought they were out of luck when it came to financial protection for themselves and their loved ones. Reach out today, and we can help you find the best insurance match for your health profile and help you through the process of getting the best life insurance quotes for your needs and situation.

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The information provided herein is for informational purposes only. It is not intended and should not be considered to constitute legal or financial advice.

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