Do you bleed? Do you pee? If you answer yes to both of those
questions, then there is a lot a life insurance company can find
out about your health and life expectancy. Using blood and urine
tests, insurers can determine if you are prone to diabetes,
alcoholism, high cholesterol, hypertension, heart disease and many
other life-threatening ailments.
buy life insurance
, you're often required to undergo a medical exam for life
insurance underwriting purposes. Underwriting a life insurance
policy is a lot like placing a bet. Instead of gambling on picking
the fastest horse or choosing the winning jackpot numbers, insurers
figure out the odds of how many days you have left on Earth.
Life insurance companies conduct medical tests on prospective
policyholders, analyze their results, compare them to their
proprietary morbidity data and decide whether it makes business
sense to insure them or not and how much to charge. Check out
the most expensive medical conditions for life
For underwritten term life or whole life insurance policies,
applicants must submit to blood and urine samples, regardless of
their age. Insurers also measure height, weight, blood pressure and
pulse rate. They also routinely screen for elevated blood sugar
levels, abnormal liver and kidney functions, HIV, cocaine and
cotinine, which indicates tobacco use.
A window into your life
In some ways, medical professionals and the
industry are trying to reach the same conclusions, but for
different purposes. Doctors use medical tests to help them make
diagnoses in order to provide treatments. And insurance companies
use many of the same tests to help them determine life
"The most common conditions we see mirror the most common
diseases and causes of death in the U.S.A.: heart disease, cancer
and diabetes," says Dave Redpath, assistant vice president and
director of underwriting at Hartford Life in Simsbury, Conn.
You will not have to undergo a medical exam if you have life
insurance through your employer or if you buy a simplified issue or
guaranteed issue life insurance policy. Life insurers usually
charge more for these policies, assuming you do not want to divulge
a potential health risk. Insurers require medical exams and tests
insurance policies. If you are younger and/or relatively healthy,
you will likely get much lower insurance life insurance rates by
buying the underwritten policy.
Insurance companies hire paramedical professionals to conduct
the exams and tests. Based on your medical records and test
results, underwriters determine the health risk and the premium.
Underwriters may review your medical records to get a more complete
assessment. They may also consult staff physicians before making a
"If an underwriter needs a medical consultation, we have the
ability to get one," says Kelli Eddy, head of ING U.S. Insurance
Life Underwriting in Denver.
If you are older and you want a high level of insurance
coverage, you may have to undergo additional tests, including an
electrocardiogram and a treadmill stress test. Eddy says insurers
will require an EKG generally for applicants who are 50 or older
and applying for a policy worth up to $10 million. For applications
exceeding $10 million, many insurers will require a treadmill EKG
test, she says.
Most life insurers also conduct a Prostate Specific Antigen
(PSA) test on male applicants over age 50. Hartford Life's Redpath
points out that the 95 percent of prostate cancer occurs in males
50 years and older.
Life insurance companies
do not routinely test for other forms of cancer. Most cancers are
aggressive and are hard to detect in the early stages. In most
cases, Eddy says, insurers review the results of recommended
screening tests done by the applicant's physician, such as
mammograms and colonoscopies.
Insurance lab work is usually not helpful in evaluating cancer.
In some cases, however, ING will request a CEA (carcinoembryonic
antigen) test, which can be a marker for recurrence of certain
cancers. "Cancer detection and diagnosis require extensive workups,
which the insurance company would review in the attending
physician's statement," Eddy says.
New tests make for more accurate life insurance rates
In the last few years, life insurers have adopted new tests,
Eddy says. Underwriters now use glycohemoglobin tests to evaluate
high blood sugar and diabetes. Glucose levels can change on a daily
basis due to diet and exercise. Glycohemoglobin levels, on the
other hand, measure average glucose over several months, which
gives the underwriters a more accurate picture of the individual's
health. In some cases, the insurer will order proBNP tests to help
assess heart function. Some insurers will also order a high
sensitivity C-reactive protein (HSCRP) test to determine if the
applicant has inflammation in his arteries, which may make
him more susceptible to heart attacks and strokes.
"New tests provide doctors and insurers with information not
available before," says Phil Margolis, a spokesperson for ING in
Although an applicant's DNA could provide information about some
medical conditions, Eddy says insurers do not order genetic testing
as part of the underwriting process. "Many of the states have come
out loud and clear that insurance carriers should not do genetic
testing," she says.
Eddy says that U.S. life insurers have a limited period of time
- usually two years - in which it's possible to contest a claim or
rescind a policy due to a material misrepresentation (significant
false information) on the application. "This doesn't apply to most
people; our applicants generally provide accurate and complete
information in order to obtain life insurance," she says.