What Is a Life Insurance Blood Test?

Definition and Examples of How Blood Tests Impact Insurance

Woman and nurse on the couch, going over paperwork

Eva-Katalin/Getty Images

If you’re shopping for life insurance, don’t be surprised if the insurer requires you to take a medical examination to qualify. Insurers require a medical examination to help determine how healthy you are and to set your premium accordingly.

Life insurance medical examinations typically include a blood test, which can reveal certain information, like lifelong diseases and disorders, but you may be able to get coverage without one. Learn about the importance of a life insurance blood test, how the process works, and other alternatives that don’t require a medical examination.

What Is a Life Insurance Blood Test?

If you’re applying for life insurance and are asked to take a medical examination, you may need to have blood drawn. The results of a blood test help the insurer determine the level of risk involved in approving your application and how to set your premium. In the life insurance industry, risk relates to the length of your life span: The shorter it is, the sooner the carrier needs to pay a claim. If a blood test reveals a health condition, such as the presence of HIV, for example, it doesn’t automatically mean that the insurer won’t offer you coverage, but you may have to pay a higher rate.

A life insurance blood test is intended to help insurers assess your overall health. It tests for conditions such as high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol or glucose levels, as well as an indication of unhealthy lifestyle choices such as drug use or obesity.

How Does a Life Insurance Blood Test Work? 

A life insurance medical examination, referred to as a paramedical exam, typically takes around 30 minutes. Insurers often require an examination from an approved vendor at their expense. Some paramedical services offer weekend appointments or come to your home or office to conduct the examination.

A paramedical exam includes answering questions about your medical history, an evaluation of your height-to-weight ratio, a blood pressure and pulse check, a urine sample, and a blood test.

The examiner may also ask you to sign a form authorizing the insurance company to request your medical records from your physician, in an effort to get a better overall picture of your health history.

To achieve the best results, do the following before the examination:

  • Avoid foods that can elevate your cholesterol levels, such as cheese or beef, as well as over-the-counter drugs that could affect your blood work.
  • Avoid things that can raise your blood pressure, such as alcohol and nicotine.
  • Ask the paramedical examiner if they recommend fasting for eight hours prior to the examination.
  • Get a full night’s sleep.

On the day of the examination:

  • Be prepared to show a government-issued photo ID.
  • Avoid activities that can increase your blood pressure, such as working out.
  • Don’t drink caffeinated drinks, but do drink water to stay hydrated.
  • Wear lightweight, comfortable clothing, and choose a short-sleeved T-shirt, as that can make it easier to perform a blood pressure test and draw blood.

After completing the paramedical examination, the examiner will send your blood test to a laboratory for evaluation. The laboratory will then send the results to the insurance company for review. Typically, the carrier will approve or deny your life insurance application within 30 to 60 days.

The time it takes to find out if you’re approved or denied can vary, as it’s dependent on several factors, including how long it takes to receive lab results, if the company needs to verify information with your physician, and whether you submitted a complete application.

Some paramedical examination vendors grant you access to the results of your blood test. For example, ExamOne lets you create an online account on its website, where you can view your examination results once they’re available, typically within seven to 14 days.

What Does a Life Insurance Blood Test Look For?

The paramedical blood test screens for diseases or disorders, such as cancer and diabetes, and substance use such as drugs, nicotine, and tobacco. Typically, blood tests evaluate samples based on a “normal range” determined by blood levels found in 95% of healthy people in a particular age, sex, or racial group. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, desirable blood levels include:

Blood glucose 70 to 99 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL)
Total cholesterol level Less than 200 mg/dL
LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) Less than 100 mg/dL
HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) 60 mg/dL and above

But life insurance underwriting guidelines offer some leeway. For instance, Haven Life approves applicants with total cholesterol levels of 220, and Legal and General America writes policies for people with cholesterol levels ranging from 120 to 300, with or without treatment.

What Else Is Tested During a Paramedical Exam?

Blood pressure also plays a role in life insurance acceptance and rates. According to the American Heart Association, normal blood pressure is less than 120 systolic and less than 80 diastolic, expressed as 120/80. When evaluating blood pressure as a risk factor, insurance providers give applicants some latitude and may apply different guidelines to different age groups. For instance, Brighthouse Financial underwrites life insurance policies according to the following blood pressure ranges, specific to age group.

  • Ages 15-39: 160/90 or less
  • Ages 40-49: 165/90 or less
  • Ages 50 and older: 170/90 or less

The paramedical urine test also provides valuable data insurers use to consider eligibility and rates. A urine test, typically called a urinalysis, can detect a wide range of diseases and disorders, such as diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease, and urinary tract infections. A urinalysis is also the most common type of screening to detect prescription medications and drugs, such as cocaine, methamphetamine, and steroids, which can indicate possible addiction. 

Typically, insurance carriers won’t write life insurance policies for people who have had a history of substance abuse in the past 10 to 15 years.

Paramedical examiners also measure your height and weight to determine your body mass index (BMI), as insurers’ underwriting guidelines set limits on BMI allowances. For example, Haven Life prefers policyholders to have a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9.

Examiners use the information gathered to determine if you have a healthy weight-to-height ratio using the following formula: weight (in pounds) / [height (inches)]² x 703 (the conversion factor). So, a 5’6” woman, who weighs 125 lbs. would have a BMI of 20.17. For adults over the age of 20, a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered healthy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Do I Have to Take a Blood Test?

Not all life insurance policies require you to take a medical examination. In fact, it’s becoming more common to see insurers advertise no-exam life insurance, as issuers realize the need to adapt practices due to the coronavirus pandemic. Companies that employ accelerated underwriting techniques often don’t require medical examinations for qualified applicants.

The accelerated underwriting process requires you to submit medical information, which the provider uses to analyze your eligibility and set your rate, if you qualify. But accelerated underwriting may limit applicants by age and cap a policy’s face value. For instance, Principal’s accelerated policies are available to applicants between the ages of 18 and 60, and offer coverage up to $1 million.

Simplified issue life insurance, which differs from accelerated underwriting, doesn’t require a medical examination, but does require you to complete a simplified medical history questionnaire. This type of policy features less underwriting, enabling you to get covered faster, but also has higher rates than those that employ accelerated or full underwriting.

Guaranteed issue whole life insurance doesn’t require filling out a medical questionnaire or taking a medical examination, and is often designed to cover final expenses such as burial and funeral costs. However, these types of policies come with age and coverage restrictions. For example, AIG Direct only offers guaranteed issue life insurance to people aged 50 to 80 and only offers coverage up to $25,000.

Key Takeaways

  • Insurers may require a medical examination to help determine their risk and to set your premium. 
  • The examination—completed by a medical professional—will include a blood test, which can reveal certain data like lifelong diseases and disorders, better determining your eligibility for coverage and premium.
  • It’s important to properly prepare for a life insurance medical exam in advance.
  • While no-exam policies exist and are becoming more prevalent, they often have a lower face value and, in the case of simplified or guaranteed issue, may cost more.