Nobody enjoys getting a physical examination. It can be uncomfortable, invasive, and at times, completely unnecessary.
Unfortunately, most people applying for disability or life insurance will be required to take a medical exam. That’s because insurers need to know as much about an applicant’s health as possible to assess their risk.
The healthier you are and the younger you are, the less risk you pose to an insurance company, either because you’re less likely to suffer a disability or to pass away before your normal life expectancy. Therefore, a major portion of the underwriting is assessing your health.
While an insurance paramedical exam is not as detailed as a standard medical exam, there is a great deal at stake. The results of this exam will help determine how much you will pay — and in rare cases, whether you even qualify — for your coverage.
Information the insurance company wants to know about applicants includes the presence of existing medical conditions and unhealthy habits such as a poor diet, or tobacco, alcohol or drug use.
For certain types of coverage, very healthy applicants who pose minimal risk may be able to skip the exam. Most applicants will not get to enjoy this privilege though, which is why it's important to understand the ins-and-outs of insurance medical exams.
Here is how life and disability insurance companies will assess your health when you apply and what you can do to prepare for your insurance medical exam.
Preparing for your insurance medical exam
Once your application for insurance has been submitted, the insurer will schedule a paramedical exam. The exam is conducted by an independent third party and is paid for by the insurance company.
A key part of the exam is having your blood pressure checked. The examiner will also take blood and urine samples. To obtain the best possible results from these tests, you should avoid things that could negatively affect cholesterol, glucose and other levels. Although some of these substances should be avoided or used in moderation, you should completely abstain the days just prior to the scheduled exam:
- Salty and high-cholesterol foods
- Over-the-counter medication
- Substances that may produce a false positive for drug use, such as poppy seeds, B12 supplements, and cold medicine
You should also avoid vigorous cardiovascular exercise because it can raise your pulse and blood pressure. It can also negatively affect cholesterol levels and increase protein levels in your urine, which may then require retesting.
If you’ve been injured or getting over an illness, even if it’s a slight ailment, you should consider rescheduling the paramedical exam as your condition may negatively impact your test results.
There are also activities you can do in the days preceding your insurance medical exam that can help your results.
In the week leading up to the exam, eat foods that stabilize your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. These include leafy greens, oatmeal, avocados, and nuts. You should also drink plenty of water, which will help flush any toxins from your system. Getting plenty of sleep the night before the exam and fasting for at least eight hours can also help your overall results.
What to expect during the insurance medical exam
Although your medical exam will have multiple parts, the entire process should only take about 30 minutes of your time.
One part consists of an interview to gather a medical history. The technician performing the insurance medical exam will ask several questions about your health, many of which you may have provided during the initial application process. This is done largely to confirm the health information you provided in your application as well as reveal any medical concerns that could affect your risk.
The exam includes a questionnaire that will ask:
- Health conditions you have
- Medications you take
- Past hospitalizations
- Medical procedures you have had
- Your family medical history
- Lifestyle habits such as smoking, drinking, and drug use
Honesty is the most important thing during the question-and-answer portion of the exam. Even the slightest fib or misrepresentation can affect your ability to receive benefits later.
Another part of the exam involves the technician recording your height, weight, and body mass index (BMI). The examiner will check your pulse and blood pressure. Any measurements outside normal levels can negatively impact your underwriting and lead to higher premium rates.
Lastly, the examiner will draw blood and collect a urine sample, both of which will be sent to a lab. The samples will be used to detect diseases that could potentially impact your life expectancy or susceptibility to a disability. The lab will also check cholesterol, glucose, and other levels, as well as the presence of drugs.
What happens after your insurance medical exam
The results of the exam and your medical records will be sent to the insurance company’s underwriter. Your personal physician will also be asked to fill out a form called an attending physician’s statement (APS).
The underwriter will use all this information to assess your risk of filing a claim for disability coverage or for a death benefit. The greater your risk, the higher your insurance premium. In some cases, too much risk can lead to denial of coverage.
Joel Palmer is a freelance writer and personal finance expert who focuses on the mortgage, insurance, financial services, and technology industries. He spent the first 10 years of his career as a business and financial reporter.
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