Alcohol or drug abuse can increase your risks of death or injury, and most insurers want their customers to be as low-risk as possible. Consequently, many life insurance policies with higher payouts require medical exams to determine how much of a risk you pose. While health insurance plans haven't traditionally required medical exams, some employers now require physicals or wellness screenings before employees can be insured. You may be tested for use of illegal drugs, prescription drugs and alcohol abuse.
Blood work and urine samples are common elements of routine physicals, and your insurer might require these tests. Your urine tells your insurance company whether you've used drugs or alcohol recently and may indicate whether you are using prescription drugs. Blood testing can provide more information about your drug and alcohol use. In most states, doctors can't test you for drugs or alcohol without telling you, but you might not necessarily know you're being tested unless you carefully read the consent form. These tests are legal and are not considered an invasion of privacy because you're consenting to them in return for insurance; you're under no obligation to get insurance and therefore can avoid the test.
Life insurance programs that don't require medical testing often mandate higher premiums to cover high-risk individuals in the insurance pool. If you're not a drug or alcohol abuser, there's no reason to pay these additional premiums, and a few simple tests can verify your good health. Additionally, the medical screenings -- such as blood pressure readings and glucose tests -- that are commonly a part of these insurance physicals can give you helpful information about your health.
Insurance companies often give physicals on short notice. Particularly with life insurance, a paramedic or nurse may come to your home only a day or two after you apply, which means you won't have time to clean up your act if you have a drug or alcohol problem. If drugs or alcohol show up in your system, or if you've lied about your prescription for a particular medication, you could be denied insurance or charged a much higher premium.
Some drug users worry about legal troubles if they get a positive drug screen, but neither your insurance company nor your doctor is going to report you to the police. False positives, though rare, can occur. If you're not a drug or alcohol abuser and get a positive result, give your doctor a full accounting of your environmental risk factors -- such as exposure to other drug users and dietary choices such as poppyseed muffins -- and request a second test. You'll usually need to do this test the same day or only a few days after your first test.
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.