Buying a term life insurance policy online is a convenient and affordable way to get insurance coverage. Before you apply, it’s helpful to understand how the underwriting process works. One step you may need to complete before getting a final decision on coverage eligibility is a health exam.
Although you may have heard that some people can get affordable term life insurance online with no medical exam, not everyone will qualify. For the Haven Term policy issued by MassMutual, some applicants may qualify to skip the medical exam based on their application information. (Note: It’s very important to be honest when completing the application. The issuance of the policy or payment of benefits may depend upon the answers given in the application and their truthfulness.) Some applicants are asked to undergo a paramedical exam to determine their most accurate rate. The exam isn’t a bad thing, however; it just helps your insurer determine your life insurance rates.
Having a guide to your term life insurance medical exam handy can help you make sense of why it’s important and what to expect.
What a life insurance health exam is used for
The paramedical examination serves a simple purpose. It allows the underwriter to assess your overall health and life expectancy. That gives them an idea of how much risk they may be taking on to cover you.
That’s important because it affects what you pay for your term life insurance policy. Life insurance premiums are tied to rate classes, which are based on risk. The healthier you are and the lower risk you present to the insurance company, the less you’ll likely pay for life insurance.
What to expect during the exam
The health exam might seem intimidating but it’s actually a pretty straightforward process. With the Haven Term policy, the exam itself takes about 20 to 30 minutes and the paramedical examiner who’s conducting the exam can meet you at your home, your work or the exam office. The insurance company pays for the exam so it doesn’t cost you anything other than a little of your time.
Pro tip: If you’re feeling nervous about the exam, schedule it to take place wherever you’re most comfortable.
To start things off, the paramedical examiner might ask you some questions about your family’s medical history. You’ll also be asked about any medications or supplements you’re currently taking, whether you smoke, drink or use drugs, what type of job you have and the kinds of hobbies you engage in.
Once that’s out of the way, the paramed will:
- Take your blood pressure
- Check your pulse
- Measure your height and weight
- Collect a blood and urine sample
Depending on the insurer’s requirements, you may also be asked to complete an electrocardiogram or EKG. And in case you’re wondering, paramedical examiners are certified medical professionals trained in drawing blood and taking specimens.
What the health exam test is for
The point of the paramedical examination is to give the life insurance company as accurate a picture of your health as possible. This helps them assign you to the appropriate rate class and corresponding life insurance premium.
So what does the insurance company want to know? Specifically, the blood test and urine tests help the underwriter determine:
- Whether you have any existing medical conditions
- Your estimated life expectancy
- Whether you smoke, drink or use drugs
There are certain things a health exam can turn up that could negatively impact your health rating (and increase your insurance policy’s premium). If you’re a smoker, for example, or you have high blood pressure, a high body mass index or high cholesterol and/or blood glucose levels, you might not qualify for the lowest premiums.
You may be wondering if there are certain ranges or cutoff points for the best rate classes and the answer is yes.
Some life insurance companies use standard thresholds for underwriting classes, but the final decision is based on a combination of factors (your medical exam is just one part) which makes it difficult to provide hard and fast rules about who qualifies for life insurance and how much they’ll pay.
For favorable results and lower premiums, you’ll generally want to have a health profile that includes:
- Blood pressure under 130/80
- Cholesterol of 220 with an HDL ratio of 4.5 or less
- A “normal” BMI of 18.5 to 24.9.
- No detection of nicotine, tobacco or drug use
- No detection of diabetes, cancer, liver disease or any other major illnesses
Does that mean you won’t qualify for insurance coverage if your health exam turns up any of those conditions? That’s possible, but generally it just means you may end up in a more expensive rate class.
Preparing for a life insurance medical exam
You can’t study for this exam; it’s not like taking college finals or your driving test. But you can take steps to ensure that your results accurate represent your health.
At least one week before the health exam:
- Eat foods that stabilize your blood pressure and cholesterol levels like leafy greens, oatmeal, avocados, and nuts.
- Avoid processed foods that are high in sodium and sugar. They can elevate your blood pressure and sugar levels.
- Drink at least 8 glasses of water per day to flush toxins out of your system. Skip the energy drinks since too much caffeine could skew your blood test results.
- If you drink socially, avoid alcohol beginning at least three days prior to the exam.
24 hours before your medical exam:
- Get plenty of sleep the night before the health exam.
- Skip your regular exercise routine, since that could affect your cholesterol levels or the levels of protein in your urine.
- Avoid stressful situations as much as possible, which could cause elevated blood pressure.
- Consider fasting at least 8 hours before the exam is scheduled. Talk to your primary care doctor about whether fasting is appropriate.
If you’re fasting the day before, that includes skipping your morning coffee. Even black coffee can raise blood pressure results. Not only that but it can dehydrate you, making it harder for the paramed to draw a good blood sample or urine specimen.
On exam day:
- Continue to avoid caffeine. Hydrate with water instead. Bring a snack to eat afterward if you’ve been fasting for the exam.
- Bring a photo ID, and be ready to provide names and dosages of any medications you take.
- Have the name, address and contact information for your primary care physician.
- Dress in lightweight clothing and stand tall. Hey – maybe it’s not a huge difference, but an extra inch can give you an additional 5 pounds to work with!
- Reschedule the exam if you’re not feeling well.
Other health exam do’s and don’ts:
- Do consider rescheduling if the exam falls at the beginning of your menstrual cycle since that could contaminate your urine sample.
- Do skip substances and foods which could result in false positives for drug use, such as poppy seeds, Vitamin B12 supplements, cold medicine and decongestants, sleeping pills or tonic water.
- Do tell the paramedical examiner if you’re afraid of needles or if you’d prefer to do the blood pressure test last so you have time to calm your nerves.
- Do schedule your exam as early in the day as possible so you’re well-rested and able to focus on the paramed’s questions.
- Don’t leave out any of your medical history, even if something seems irrelevant. The insurance company needs all your information to accurately gauge your health.
- Don’t use any recreational or illicit drugs for at least 30 days before the exam. This should be a no-brainer but it’s worth a reminder.
Lastly, don’t panic if the life insurance rate you’re assigned isn’t the one you expected. You can always apply for a new policy later or ask your insurer to reconsider your rate class if your health has improved because you’ve lowered your cholesterol, lost weight or made another positive change. Of course, this may entail going through another health exam but it could be worth it if it allows you to pay less for life insurance premiums.
Approach the health exam confidently
You’ve made a great decision. You already know that applying for life insurance is a smart move, and you know that the death benefit can provide a financial safety net for your loved ones in the event the worst were to happen to you. A medical exam is just a necessary some applicants need to take to acquire a quality term life insurance policy. The more you know about what the exam involves, the less likely you’ll be anxious about it once the day of the test arrives. Keep calm and know that you can do this.