What Tests Are Performed for Life Insurance?

by Gregory Gambone ; Updated July 27, 2017
Life insurance companies conduct different tests based on your age and the amount of your requested death benefit.

Part of the life insurance application process involves conducting a brief medical screening called a paramedical exam. The insurance company will send a certified examiner to your home or office to complete a health history questionnaire and conduct a brief exam. In most cases, the entire examination is completed in less than half an hour. While many people are nervous or apprehensive about this aspect of applying for life insurance, the reality is that the paramedical exams are finished quickly and with as little discomfort as possible.

Physical Measurements

Your physical measurements will be recorded during the paramedical exam because every life insurance carrier considers your height and weight when determining your appropriate underwriting category. Based on medical statistics, people who are severely overweight or underweight present a higher risk of medical complications than peers of average build.

Blood Pressure

The medical professional conducting your paramedical exam will take at least two blood pressure readings during the course of the visit. Understanding that many people are nervous about the mere prospect of the exam, insurance companies will usually take the examiner’s description of your comfort level into consideration when analyzing your blood pressure readings. Blood pressure measurements can indicate the presence of cardiovascular problems that were otherwise unknown or undiscovered.

Cholesterol

One or two small tubes of blood are usually withdrawn by the examiner, and forwarded to a medical testing facility. Laboratory agents will examine your cholesterol levels, and insurance company underwriters compare the results with national averages and established medical guidelines. Higher cholesterol levels may indicate the potential for future heart-related complications.

Tobacco

Life insurance carriers will test your blood and urine for traces of nicotine. Tobacco use is known to cause several severe health issues that can shorten your lifespan, and insurance companies must adjust your premium accordingly to account for this increased risk. Carriers make no distinction between the use of cigarettes, chewing tobacco, cigars, or pipes.

Drugs

Laboratory tests detect the presence of drugs in your system, both legal and illegal. Disclosure of legitimate prescriptions and regular over-the-counter medications is required on life insurance applications. If pharmaceuticals are discovered in your blood or urine for which no physician-approved prescription exists, life insurance carriers will react to those medications the same as they would for detection of illicit street drugs like marijuana and cocaine.

Proteins

Specific enzymes and protein levels provide good indication as to the quality of your liver’s performance. Using the urine sample collected during your paramedical exam, laboratory tests are conducted that measure these levels. Being a vital organ, proper liver functioning is essential to maintaining a normal, healthy life. Irregular or excessive enzyme and protein levels allude to your alcohol intake habits and frequency, a subject that is another important characteristic evaluated by life insurance underwriters.

HIV / AIDS

Blood tests detect the presence of HIV or AIDS, a condition that presents a problem for nearly every life insurance company. If you test positive for HIV or AIDS, the majority of life insurance carriers will immediately decline your application.

EKG

Many life insurance tests include an electrocardiogram, or EKG, for large death benefits, especially if the applicant is over age 50. An EKG measures your heart rhythms and detects abnormalities that may indicate underlying problems or tissue damage. Abnormal EKG results, combined with the results of cholesterol and blood pressure readings, give life insurance underwriters a clear overall picture of your cardiovascular health.

Stress Tests

In some rare cases involving older life insurance applicants and very high death benefit amounts, carriers may request completion of a simple stress test. These tests typically involve little more than walking on a treadmill for a specific period of time while medical equipment measures and records your heart rate and pulse. Stress tests simply provide additional clarifying data regarding your heart functions.

About the Author

Gregory Gambone is senior vice president of a small New Jersey insurance brokerage. His expertise is insurance and employee benefits. He has been writing since 1997. Gambone released his first book, "Financial Planning Basics," in 2007 and continues to work on his next industry publication. He earned a Bachelor of Science in psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University.

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