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Life Insurance Health Exams: What Do I Need to Know?

By Kaycie Tyll Mar 19, 2020

In this article

What Medical Tests Are Required for Life Insurance?

Can I Get Life Insurance Without Taking an Exam?

Why Are Life Insurance Medical Exams Important?

Will I Have to Go to a Doctor's Office for My Exam?

How Does a Life Insurance Health Exam Work?

How Can I 'Pass' My Exam?

Life Insurance Health Ratings

Is There Anything I Should Do to Prepare for My Health Exam?

After the Life Insurance Health Exam

When Does My Coverage Begin?

What Can I Do If I Don't Like My Results?

Sometimes, life can feel like a test: a test of wills when your kid resists bedtime, a test of wits when you’re trying to juggle a ridiculous schedule of extracurricular activities.

And sometimes, life insurance can come with tests of its own. 

What Medical Tests Are Required for Life Insurance?

Most life insurance policies are medically underwritten, which means that they take your health into account when determining how risky you are to insure. While some companies like Fabric will try to offer you coverage immediately after getting your application, that isn’t always possible.

(What is life insurance, anyway?)

So, in some cases, underwriters may ask applicants to take brief life insurance health exams. This can depend on the state you live in, the underwriting requirements of the policy you’re applying for and on the underwriting team’s ability to make a final decision without an exam. 

Can I Get Life Insurance Without Taking an Exam?

Some people who apply through Fabric will qualify to skip the health exam. Between 2016 and 2020, 10 percent more people said that they prefer to buy life insurance online rather than in person. Find out more about how accelerated underwriting and no-exam policies work to see if this option would be a good fit for you.

Some types of no-exam life insurance make the most sense for those in poorer health who might struggle to gain coverage with a policy that's fully medically underwritten. But some other types of no-exam life insurance make lots of sense even if you're in excellent health.

Why Are Life Insurance Medical Exams Important?

The purpose is to screen for a variety of health situations. This could include but isn't limited to:

  • High blood pressure

  • High cholesterol

  • Elevated glucose or other indicators of diabetes

  • Tobacco use

  • Drug use


  • Hepatitis

Will I Have to Go to a Doctor's Office for My Exam?

In many cases, such as if you apply through Fabric, the company can send a qualified medical examiner to your home or work—around your schedule—at no cost to you. That can even include odd hours like nights and weekends.

How Does a Life Insurance Health Exam Work?

Generally, your medical examiner, sometimes called a paramed, will ask questions about your medical history. He or she may also take height and weight measurements, and a blood and urine sample. Plan for the appointment to run 30 to 45 minutes.

What are the medical tests done for term insurance? Your exam could (but won’t necessarily) include the following:

Verbal Questionnaire: Paramedical Report (20 minutes)

This entails a qualified examiner asking you about your complete medical history and your family’s medical history. It includes your examiner taking your vital signs (height, weight, blood pressure, pulse—and for men only, chest measurements) and a urine specimen. 

  • You’ll need to provide any names, addresses and phone numbers for your doctors. 

  • You’ll be asked about the dates, reasons and diagnoses for past visits to your doctor(s) within the last five years. 

  • You’ll need to provide the dosage and duration of any medications you’re currently taking. To make it easier, you might want to just bring any bottles with you to your appointment. 

Blood Sample (10 minutes)

Some insurers require that you have your blood drawn. This could be from your arm or from your finger. Only sterile, disposable needles and supplies will be used. Your lab results will be sent directly to the underwriting department to be used in determining if coverage can be offered to you.

What do life insurance blood tests detect? Among a great many factors, these blood tests tend to look for general health factors such as cholesterol and hemoglobin levels, and illnesses such as HIV/AIDS or STDs.

If you’d like, you can request to see your blood results. 

Electrocardiogram (15 minutes)

  • Also known as an EKG or ECG, this is a painless procedure required for a subset of applicants. The examiner will place electrodes on the skin of your chest, arms and lower legs. 

  • Once the electrodes have been placed, you’ll just need to lie flat, in a relaxed position.

  • Your EKG will need to take place in a location without any large electrical appliances running. (Some appliances can cause distortions in the EKG tracings). It’ll also need to take place somewhere that privacy is possible, as you’ll need to partially disrobe. 

Physical Exam (45 minutes)

  • The examiner may also perform a brief physical exam, which will require you to partially disrobe. 

  • The parameters of this exam are defined by the insurance company, and the examiner should let you know what these are when they call to confirm your appointment.

Treadmill EKG (60 minutes) and X-rays (15-30 minutes)

  • These are not mobile tests and therefore are not a part of the exam for many applicants. 

  • If either of these tests is needed, the underwriting team can help you make an appointment at a doctor’s office or clinic that’s convenient for you. 

Other Services

  • In some instances, additional services may be requested or required by your life insurance company. 

  • If this is the case, the examiner will explain what’s required when calling to confirm your appointment. 

All information obtained during the exam should be strictly confidential and your test results will be sent only to the underwriting department to be used in the underwriting process.

How Can I 'Pass' My Exam?

To be clear, there is no such thing as "passing" or "failing" life insurance health exams. Life insurance underwriting considers many variables at the same time, and isn't a binary pass/fail process. While some people will be approved for coverage and some will be denied, there are many degrees of approval.

It's possible to be approved at a number of different rates, leading to many shades of gray rather than a black and white result of your exam.

One way you can "fail" your exam is if the info you filled out in your application contradicts the data that shows up in your medical exam. In a case like that, you could be denied coverage, or the underwriters may ask you for additional testing. One way to make sure that your medical exam appropriately conveys your health situation and doesn't include innacuracies is to ask the insurance company for a copy of your results.

Life Insurance Health Ratings

Quotes are grouped into five health risk assessment levels. Whether or not you'll be able to receive coverage, and what price you'll pay, will depend on which rating category you fall into: 

  1. Ultra Select: Excellent health and family history, no tobacco use within five years, low-risk lifestyle 

  2. Select Plus: Very good health and family history, no tobacco use within three years, low-risk lifestyle 

  3. Select: Good health and family history, no tobacco use within two years, low-risk lifestyle​

  4. Standard: Acceptable health and family history, no tobacco use within one year,​ moderate-risk lifestyle 

  5. Tobacco User: Acceptable health and family history, tobacco use within a year,​ moderate-risk lifestyle

Is There Anything I Should Do to Prepare for My Health Exam?

It’s generally a good idea to avoid smoking, caffeine and strenuous physical activity for two hours before the exam. You’ll probably also want to avoid alcohol for 24 hours prior to your exam, in addition to things that could potentially provide a false positive on a drug test, like cold medicine, poppy seeds, vitamin B12, sleeping pills and tonic water. 

Do aim to drink a glass of water about an hour before the health exam, though, as you may be asked for a urine sample.

You can make a potential blood draw easier if you wear a short-sleeved shirt or a shirt with sleeves that can be easily rolled up. And if you require a large blood pressure cuff or a scale that exceeds 300 pounds, it’s a good idea to tell that to the examiner when confirming your appointment over the phone, or send a support message to the insurance company in advance.

You generally shouldn’t need to fast before your appointment, though in some specific cases you may be asked to do so for the sake of certain blood panels. If this is necessary in your case, your examiner should tell you so when confirming your appointment. (If you need to fast, you are still allowed to drink water.)

Plan to have your government-issued driver’s license or picture ID on hand. The examiner may ask to see it when he or she arrives. 

Last but not least, try to relax for at least an hour before your exam. After all, you don’t want your blood pressure to skyrocket right before your appointment!

After the Life Insurance Health Exam

Once you’ve completed your health exam, it takes about five to seven business days for your results to come in. After the underwriters have received and looked over your info, they’ll either reach out with additional questions or requirements, or you’ll receive a final decision. If that includes an offer for coverage, you’ll receive your confirmed price, along with any other relevant information. In most cases, you can request a copy of your health exam results for your own records, too. 

If your term life insurance policy includes a provision that allows you to convert to a whole life insurance policy without additional underwriting, then you shouldn’t need another health exam to do that conversion. In that case, your insurance company should be able to use your original health exam. 

When Does My Coverage Begin?

Your insurance coverage would begin after you've received a final offer, accepted it and purchased your policy.

What Can I Do If I Don't Like My Results?

Inevitably, there will be some cases in which the medical check doesn't yield the rate category or health classification you were hoping for.

First, some insurers will allow you to purchase initial coverage and then reconsider your rating in a year or two. (Not all insurers allow you to do this.) If your insurer permits this, then quitting smoking or losing weight may allow you to adjust to a better rate down the line.

You can also choose to buy a shorter-term life insurance policy (for example, 10 years instead of 20) since those have comparatively lower rates. If and when your health improves in a few years, you can consider reapplying for another, longer term policy, or laddering on your existing policy. (Note: This option is not currently available through Fabric.)

And even if your rates aren't all you hoped for, it's important to remember that the cost of life insurance increases as you age, so it may still make sense to nab a policy earlier than later.

At the end of the day, this isn’t intended to be a stressful ordeal. You might not even need a health check at all. Just keep your cool and remember: This could be the first step in helping to protect the people you love.

Fabric exists to help young families master their money. Our articles abide by strict editorial standards.

Fabric by Gerber Life exists to help young families master their money. Our articles abide by strict editorial standards.

Information provided is general and educational in nature and is not intended to be, and should not be construed as, financial, legal, or tax advice. Laws of a specific state or laws relevant to a particular situation may affect the applicability, accuracy, or completeness of this information. Federal and state laws and regulations are complex and are subject to change. We make no warranties with regard to the information or results obtained by its use, and disclaim any liability arising out of your use of, or reliance on, the information.

Fabric by Gerber Life offers a mobile experience for people on-the-go who want an easy and fast way to purchase life insurance.

Written by

Kaycie Tyll

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Term Life Insurance Policy Series ICC22 2205-4004 WSA and Accelerated Death Benefit Rider policy series ICC22 2205-2623 WSA (and state variations where applicable) issued by Western-Southern Life Assurance Company, Cincinnati, OH which operates in DC and all states except NY, and distributed by Gerber Life Agency, LLC using Fabric Technologies. Gerber Life Agency, LLC is an affiliate of Gerber Life Insurance Company (est. 1967). All are members of Western & Southern Financial Group (Western & Southern). Issuance of coverage for Term Life Insurance is subject to underwriting review and approval. Please see a copy of the policy for the full terms, conditions and exclusions. Product provisions, availability, definitions and benefits may vary by state. Payment of benefits under the life insurance policy is the obligation of, and is guaranteed by, the issuing company. Guarantees are based on the claims-paying ability of the issuer. Products are backed by the full financial strength of the issuing company.

All sample pricing is based on a 30-year old F in Excellent health for the coverage amount shown and a 10-year term policy, unless otherwise stated. Gerber Life Agency, LLC (GLA) is an insurance agency licensed to sell life insurance products. GLA will receive compensation from Western-Southern Life Assurance Company for such sales. The NAIC Company Code for Western-Southern Life Assurance Company is 92622.

Western-Southern Life Assurance Company's A+ Superior A.M. Best Rating: Superior ability to meet ongoing insurance obligations (second highest of 13 ratings; rating held since June 2009). Ratings are subject to change from time to time. The ratings shown here are correct as of 09/03/2022. For more information about a particular rating or rating agency, please visit the website of the relevant agency.

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