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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, most insurance companies will send a medical professional to your home, but in some cases you may need to go to a doctor’s office. The doctor or nurse will record your height, weight, heart rate and blood pressure before collecting blood and urine samples and doing an electrocardiogram to check your heart.
Once your application is complete, one of several things may happen. You may be offered coverage straight away, a particular pre-existing condition may be excluded from your policy, or you may be denied coverage.
Why does an insurer need my medical information?
The cost of insurance premiums is based on your risk, 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.
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Life insurance and family history
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 any family members aged over 60, 65 or 70 into account.
Medical conditions that can raise your rates
You can expect to pay more for coverage if you have a family history of the following conditions:
- Heart disease
- Certain cancers – e.g. lung, skin, colon, bowel, breast, ovarian and prostate cancer.
- Kidney disease
- Parkinson’s disease
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 charge a higher premium if your family member died prematurely from a serious disease – the diagnosis doesn’t matter as much. And some insurers are more lenient about mental illnesses like Alzheimer’s.
To find out exactly how your family history will be treated, ask the insurer when you apply for coverage.
Types of questions you can expect on a medical history questionnaire
- Who is your primary care doctor?
- Have you seen your primary care doctor during the past year?
- Are you currently undergoing any medical care or taking any medications?
- Have you ever been hospitalized or had a prolonged illness?
- What medical problems run in your family?
- Has your doctor ever said your blood pressure was too high?
- Do you ever have chest pain?
- Does your heart often race?
- Do you often have difficulty breathing?
- Has a doctor ever told you your cholesterol level was high?
- Have you ever coughed up blood?
- Have you recently experienced increased anxiety or depression?
- Have you ever had a heart attack?
- Are you allergic to any medications?
- Have you experienced a recent change in a wart or mole?
What to expect at the life insurance medical exam
Once you submit your application, your insurer will send a medical professional to your home or office. You can’t have your own doctor perform the exam, but you can choose the time and place. The whole thing usually takes around 30 minutes.
The medical professional will 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
- Testing your cognitive skills and mobility (if you’re an older applicant)
- Taking a saliva, urine and blood sample
- Running an electrocardiogram (if you have issues with your heart)
You’ll then need to sign off on the professional releasing your medical records to the insurer. You can also request to see the results, and the insurer will send them to your doctor.
What your insurer wants to know
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.
Insurers are looking for red flags like:
- High blood pressure
- High body mass index (BMI)
- High cholesterol levels
- High blood sugar levels
- Poor liver and kidney function
- Immune disorders, like HIV
- Evidence of tobacco and marijuana use
- The presence of illegal drugs in your system, like cocaine
- Signs of cognitive impairments in older applicants, like Alzheimer’s
How to prepare for the medical exam
To get the best possible results from your exam:
- Put together a list of any medications you take, as well as your doctors’ names and contact details
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine, salty and fatty foods the day before
- Get a good night’s sleep
- Steer clear of strenuous workouts the day of the exam
- Don’t smoke on the day of the exam
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. If you consume more than 14 standard drinks a week, your premiums will be higher than they could be. Cutting down your alcohol consumption can help cut down on your premiums.
- Look for discounts. Many insurers offer discounts if you take out joint or family coverage. You can also save by bundling 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 adventure habits can save you money.
- Get a safer job. If you work with explosives, in an underground mine, or on 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.
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, cover 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. You can use our life insurance calculator to estimate your coverage needs.
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.
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