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Life insurance and medical history

Quitting smoking, losing weight and cutting back on alcohol can help you save.

You’ll need to provide your full medical history when applying for life insurance, and some insurers will require a medical exam. But if you’re prepared and know what to expect, the application process will run smoothly.

What to expect when applying for life insurance

During the application process you’ll be asked questions about your height, weight, date of birth, smoking and drinking habits, exercise habits, your income and any assets you may have.

If you need to undergo a medical exam, insurance companies will either send a medical professional to your home or office at a time that’s convenient for you, or arrange for you to meet at their office. The doctor or nurse will assess your health through various tests.

Once your application is complete, one of several things may happen. You may be offered coverage straight away, you may be required to take additional medical tests, or you may be denied coverage.

Why does an insurer need my medical information?

The cost of the insurance premiums you’ll pay is based on your risk level, or how likely it is that an insurer will need to pay out a death, disability or critical illness benefit. If you have any medical problems, you pose an increased risk to the insurer and you’ll have to pay more for your premiums as a result.

Do insurance companies have access to medical records in Canada?

Insurance companies in Canada are required to get your express consent to access your medical records. For most types of life insurance policies, your insurer will have you sign a form during the application to allow them to check your medical records during the underwriting process.

If the information doesn’t match your application, you may be charged a higher rate or denied coverage.

How does family history affect life insurance?

Your family’s health history can affect your rates, too. As part of the application process, you’ll be asked questions about your parents’ and siblings’ medical histories. Insurers typically don’t take into account age-related ailments from family members over 60, 65 or 70 years old.

What are insurers looking for in a medical exam?

The medical exam is designed to determine how healthy you are. Healthy applicants are privy to better premiums, while those with serious health conditions or poor family health histories may pay more for life insurance – or be denied coverage altogether.

Medical conditions that can raise your rates

You can expect to pay more for coverage if you have a pre-existing condition or a family history of the following conditions:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Cancers
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Sleep apnea
  • Aneurysm
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
  • Encephalitis
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Immune disorders, like HIV
  • Hepatitis

Medical red flags that can raise your rates

Insurers will also look for red flags that indicate that you could have health problems in the future like:

  • High blood pressure
  • High body mass index (BMI)
  • High cholesterol levels
  • High blood sugar levels
  • Poor liver and kidney function
  • Evidence of tobacco and marijuana use
  • The presence of illegal drugs in your system, like cocaine
  • Signs of cognitive impairments in older applicants

The guidelines vary between providers. Some insurers might only hike up your rates if a parent suffers from one of those conditions (rather than a sibling).

Others will only charge higher premiums if a family member succumbed prematurely to a serious disease – the diagnosis by itself holds less sway. And some insurers are more lenient about mental illnesses like Alzheimer’s.

To find out exactly how your family history will be evaluated, ask the insurer when you apply for coverage.

What if you’re adopted?

If you’re adopted and don’t know your biological family’s medical history, your insurer may not penalize you. They might instead calculate your rates based on your personal health history only.

Questions you might be asked about your medical history

  • Who’s your primary care doctor?
  • When was the last time you saw your doctor?
  • Are you currently taking any medication?
  • Have you recently had surgery?
  • Do any health conditions run in your family?
  • Do you currently have or have recently been treated for any number of health disorders (like heart disease, cancer, depression etc.)
  • Do you drink alcohol? If so, how frequently?
  • Do you smoke? If so, how much?

What to expect during the life insurance medical exam

Once you submit your application, your insurer will send a medical professional to your home or office to complete a medical exam. You generally can’t have your own doctor perform the exam, but you can choose the time and place.

The whole thing may take only around 30 minutes. You might be automatically given your medical test results, or you may have to request a copy.

The medical professional will typically start by asking about your personal and family’s health history. They’ll then conduct a physical exam, which may include:

  • Recording your height and weight
  • Recording your blood pressure
  • Taking a saliva, urine and blood sample
  • Testing your cognitive skills and mobility (if you’re an older applicant)
  • Running an electrocardiogram (if you have issues with your heart)

How to prepare for the medical exam

To help the test go smoothly, it’s best to understand what to expect and how to prepare for your medical exam. Here are a few tips:

  • Get the information you need.
    Put together a list of any medications you take, as well as your doctors’ names and contact details.
  • Avoid certain foods.
    Avoid alcohol, caffeine, salty and fatty foods the day before.
  • Get a good night’s sleep.
    Try to get a solid sleep the night before your exam to help your body be in good shape heading into your exam.
  • Don’t do strenuous workouts.
    Steer clear of strenuous workouts the day of the exam.
  • Avoid smoking.
    Don’t smoke on the day of the exam.

How insurers cross-check your information

Life insurance companies confirm the details you provide with a few different sources:

  • Driving records.
    They might check your driving record to check for any recent traffic violations, DUIs or reckless driving convictions.
  • Medical Information Bureau (MIB).
    Whenever you apply for an individual life insurance policy, the insurer can share your basic medical information with the MIB, who files it for seven years. The MIB is then used as a reference for future life insurance companies.
  • Prescription drug databases.
    Insurers might assess your prescription drug history to learn about the dosages and fill dates of any medications you take, as well as your pharmacy or physician’s contact details.
  • Public records.
    Your insurer might also scan public records to make sure personal details like your address and Social Insurance Number check out. They can also use public records to find out if you’ve filed for bankruptcy.

When you submit a life insurance application, you’ll need to agree to the insurer collecting this data.

What is the Medical Information Bureau?

The Medical Information Bureau (MIB) is a service that protects life insurance companies from risk and fraud. Think of it as the medical version of your credit report.

The MIB doesn’t reveal your entire medical history. Rather, it just highlights red flags that are important to underwriters. You’ll only have an MIB Consumer File if you have applied for life or health insurance within the last 7 years.

When you apply for coverage, your insurer will check your MIB record to make sure the information you provided is consistent with past applications. The report your insurer gets includes information on the following:

  • Medical conditions.
  • Participation in Hazardous sports.
  • Any adverse driving record.

The MIB allows Canadians to request a free copy of your MIB Consumer File via the site. In addition to your medical history, your report will include the names of insurance companies that made inquiries within the past 2 years. If you find any errors in your file, you can dispute them with the MIB.

Can I refuse to tell my life insurance company about my family history?

No. You have to accurately disclose all relevant information to the insurer you’re applying to. If you refuse to tell a life insurer about your family history, you could be denied coverage.

If you don’t want to disclose your family medical history because you think it might lead to higher rates or disqualify you for coverage altogether, apply for a guaranteed issue life insurance policy. This type of policy skips both the medical exam and health questionnaire — but it’s expensive.

How to save on your life insurance premiums

The healthier you are, the less you’ll pay for health insurance. And if you already have a policy, you can ask to be re-evaluated if you’re healthier now than you were when you took the policy out. To get the best rates:

  • Maintain a healthy weight.
    If you’re overweight or obese, losing weight and staying in the healthy weight range will help you get a better premium.
  • Quit smoking.
    Studies have shown that smokers sometimes pay more than twice as much for life insurance as non-smokers.
  • Drink less alcohol.
    Alcohol or drug use that has resulted in doctor-mandated rehabilitation are likely to increase your premiums. Cutting down your alcohol consumption can help cut down on your premiums.
  • Look for discounts.
    Many life insurers offer discounts if you bundle your life insurance with your home or car insurance.
  • Review your policy.
    The insurance market is competitive and prices are constantly changing. Re-evaluate your policy every few years to see if you’re still getting the best deal.
  • Avoid dangerous activities.
    Do you enjoy skydiving and bungee jumping? Giving up these adventurous habits can save you money.
  • Get a safer job.
    If you have a high-risk job where you work with explosives, underground mines or electrical wires, you’ll face more risk on a daily basis than someone who sits in front of a computer in an air-conditioned office, and you’ll need to pay more for life insurance.

Compare no-exam life insurance

Here are several of your life insurance options, check the compare box below any four providers, then click compare to see the details listed side by side.

1 - 2 of 2
Name Product Types of Insurance Coverage Range Issue Ages Medical Exam Required Province Availability
PolicyMe Life Insurance
Term Life, Critical Illness
$100,000 - $5,000,000
18 - 75
Get fast and affordable term life insurance. Personalize your policy details and get an estimate price within seconds. No phone call, meeting or paperwork required. Get an instant decision.
Whole Life, Term Life, Universal, No Medical
$25,000 - $25,000,000
18 - 75
PolicyAdvisor is a digital life insurance brokerage that has partnerships with 20 insurers in Canada.

Most common life insurance mistakes

The most common mistakes people make when applying for life insurance include:

  • Lying on your application. You have a duty to disclose any information that could help an insurer make an assessment of the risk you pose to insure. Be honest on your application and supply any information you think may be relevant, even if it isn’t asked for. Any omissions could void your coverage.
  • Waiting until you’re older. As you get older, coverage gets more expensive and harder to find. Buying a policy when you’re young can help you save money.
  • Waiting until you’re healthier. While you can reduce the cost of premiums by quitting smoking or losing weight, don’t put off buying coverage because you haven’t hit your goals. If you’re healthier down the line, you can ask your insurer to re-evaluate your risk and adjust your premiums.
  • Not getting enough coverage. How much coverage you need will be based on your debt, income and dependents.

Bottom line

The healthier you are, the less you’ll pay for life insurance. But that doesn’t mean you should wait to take out coverage until you hit your goal weight or quit smoking. Compare life insurance policies to find one that fits your needs, medical history and budget.

Frequently asked questions

Katia Iervasi's headshot
Written by


Katia Iervasi is a lead writer and spokesperson at NerdWallet and a former editor at Finder, specializing in insurance. Her writing and analysis on life, disability and health insurance has been featured in The Washington Post, Forbes, Yahoo, Entrepreneur, Best Company and FT Advisor. She holds a BA in communication from Australia's Griffith University. See full bio

Chelsey Hurst's headshot
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Associate editor

Chelsey Hurst is an associate editor at Finder. She loves empowering people to avoid financial pitfalls and make better decisions with their money. Chelsey has a Bachelor of Science from Redeemer University, a Master of Science from McMaster University, and has won multiple awards for research communication. In her spare time, Chelsey enjoys cooking and taking long walks in nature. See full bio

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