Have you started shopping around for a life insurance policy? If so, you already know that a medical exam is part of the decision-making process for certain coverage amounts. Whether the company will insure you and how much your premiums will be depends on the outcome of the exam.
There are some big changes you could make that could have a huge impact on how much you pay (and whether you are insurable!) as well as some day-of exam hacks you can use to try to earn the coveted “premium plus” level.
So treat it like you would treat an important exam in school—prepare. And if the results are not what you hoped for, you can do another exam in a year to try to improve your numbers.
What do they do in the medical exam?
Your medical exam is performed by a paramedical (a licensed healthcare professional hired by the insurance company), either at your home or your workplace. There is no charge for the exam, and you are under no obligation to buy a policy with the company after the exam.
The paramedical will take your medical history, do a blood sample, take saliva and urine samples, check weight, height, blood pressure and pulse, and possibly order an EKG (if you are over a certain age or your requested policy is over a certain amount). The exam usually takes about 30 minutes.
What are they looking for?
The insurance company is looking for indications of any serious health problems, so they can manage their risk. Conditions and potential issues they are looking for include:
- Blood pressure problems
- Cholesterol problems
- Diabetes or pre-diabetes
- BMI out of range
- Prostate specific antigen (PSA), an indicator of prostate cancer
- Liver and kidney problems
- HIV and other immune diseases
- Nicotine use
- Marijuana use (how this affects premium depends on insurer)
- Cocaine and other illegal drugs
What can I do to improve my exam results?
There are a few things you can do to game your medical exam. But some changes require much more time and preparation than others.
A big change that requires at least a few months is giving up smoking or any kind of nicotine use. If you are a smoker, you can expect to pay up to 3 times as much in premiums as a non-smoker. So if you want to pay less (and improve your health!) then quitting smoking at least a few months before you do your medical exam is ideal. Smoking often increases blood pressure as well, so if you give it up, you will improve at least 2 of the health metrics that the insurance company cares about.
Another big, long-term change is trying to get your BMI within a normal or overweight range if it is not already there. If you decide to tackle that change, but do not want to wait to get life insurance, you can take the exam now and then ask to retake a year from now, and try to make some changes between now and then.
Short-term changes that can help
Short-term changes you can make include laying off the sugar for a couple of weeks, increasing your water intake, getting plenty of sleep, and trying yoga, meditation, or whatever works for you to decrease your stress levels. Some of these small changes could push you into the next bracket for premiums.
Here are some winning suggestions for the days and hours leading up to your exam:
- Skip the workout the day of the exam. While regular exercise will help you stay healthy, a strenuous workout in the hours before your exam could temporarily affect cholesterol levels and increase the level of protein in your urine. Regularly having protein in your urine is a sign of kidney problems.
- Get plenty of sleep and find your zen. Anything you can do to decrease your stress and increase your feeling of well-being will have a positive impact on your blood pressure.
- Follow fasting instructions. If they tell you to fast for 12 hours, then do it. The levels of blood sugar they will be looking for will differ if they assume you are fasting.
- Drink enough water. Try to drink the recommended 8 glasses of water in the 24 hours before your exam. If you are dehydrated, it is harder to give a blood sample, and it may affect the concentration of sugar and protein in your urine.
- Cut down on sugar and avoid salt. Reducing your sugar and salt intake the week before your exam will help your blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure levels. Try to focus on eating lean protein, fruit, leafy vegetables, and healthy fats.
- Avoid caffeine and nicotine for an hour prior to the exam. If you use nicotine or tobacco regularly, the evidence will show up in your blood. But it’s still smart to avoid for at least an hour before the exam because nicotine is a stimulant and can increase your blood pressure. Caffeine can also boost your blood pressure and heart rate, so try to minimize your intake the morning of the exam, and do not have any during the hour before the exam.
- Avoid alcohol. Try to lay off the alcohol for 12 hours prior to your exam—it could affect tests for liver function.
After your medical exam, it may take about a week for the insurance company to get the results. It is not uncommon to wait a month or two before your application for a policy is approved. If you are not provided with the exam results, you can request them.
Based on the information the insurance company has gathered, they will decide whether they will insure you and how much the policy premiums will be. If you like, you can still go to another insurance company and ask them for a quote—you are not stuck with the company that did your medical exam.
Word to the wise
Small changes in your health numbers, like blood pressure or sugar level, can have a large impact on how much you pay in premiums. So take care of yourself and try to be your healthiest self by eating well, reducing stress, exercising regularly, and trying to get the best possible rate on that life insurance policy.