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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's in this guide?
- What to expect when applying for life insurance
- Life insurance and family history
- Types of questions you can expect on a medical history questionnaire
- What to expect at the life insurance medical exam
- How to prepare for the medical exam
- How insurers cross-check your information
- How to save on your life insurance premiums
- Compare no-exam life insurance
- Most common life insurance mistakes
- Bottom line
- Frequently asked questions
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 pre-existing condition or 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
- Huntington’s disease
- Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
- Sickle cell anemia
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.
What if you’re adopted?
If you’re adopted and don’t know your biological family’s medical history, your insurer won’t penalize you. They’ll calculate your rates based on your personal health history only.
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 to complete a medical exam. 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 it’s best to understand what to expect and how to prepare for your medical exam. Here are a few tips:
- 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
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 a credit report: According to its website, it “alerts insurance underwriters to possible errors, omissions and misrepresentations that were made in the application process.” The MIB doesn’t reveal your entire medical history. Rather, it just highlights red flags that are important to underwriters.
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 the following:
- The date of previous life insurance applications
- Any medical conditions you have, and the date of diagnosis of treatment
- The type of treatment you received or are receiving, if any
Since the MIB falls under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), you have the right to request a free copy of your MIB Consumer File via the site. Your report will include the names of insurance companies that made inquiries, and when. If you find any errors in your file, you can dispute them with the MIB.
How insurers cross-check your information
Life insurance companies confirm the details you provide with a few different sources:
- Driving records. They might pull your driving record from your state department or DMV to check for any recent traffic violations, DUIs/DWIs 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 Security 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.
Can I refuse to tell my life insurance company about my family history?
No. 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.
For all other policies, your insurer will most likely pull your medical records as part of the underwriting process. If the information doesn’t match your application, you may be charged a higher rate or denied coverage.
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 life 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 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.
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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.
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.
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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