At their best, medical exams for life insurance require a lot of hassle. At their worst, exams can be awkward and even painful.
It’s no wonder so many life insurance companies let shoppers replace medical exams with health questions or extensive online database checks.
Of course, there is a catch when you choose a no-exam coverage option: these policies almost always cost more than fully underwritten coverage.
Below is Money’s guide to everything you need to know about no-exam life insurance.
What Is No Medical Exam Life Insurance?
As the name suggests, a life insurance policy with no exam required, is just that. You can purchase a policy quickly with no hassle of having to undergo a medical exam.
You may however have to answer some health questions or allow the insurer to access your medical records while you are in the application process.
This can sound very appealing, though, life insurance without the health exam almost always costs more than fully underwritten coverage — but not always.
Let’s discuss more about how no exam life insurance works.
How Does No Exam Life Insurance Work?
When you skip the medical exam, underwriters rely more on your medical records which document your past medical history.
With your permission they will also seek data from:
A Questionnaire: Expect to answer a string of health questions — about yourself and about members of your family. You’ll also need to share data points you know — your last blood-pressure reading and your height and weight, for example. And you’ll share whether you smoke — a habit that always drives up premiums.
Databases: Usually underwriters can find details about your prescriptions in databases. They can also see results from previous life insurance health exams you’ve taken through the insurance industry’s Medical Information Bureau.
Driving Records: Your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles can tell insurers about your speeding tickets and at-fault wrecks. A history of dangerous driving can increase your premiums.
Your Doctor: Underwriters may request an attending physician’s statement from your primary care doctor. They’ll ask about your health conditions and any ongoing treatment.
The application process for medical exam life insurance policies also pulls this data because insurers can learn a lot about you from these sources.
But without the medical text they still won’t have raw numbers — an accurate blood pressure or lab results, for example. This lack of knowledge itself becomes an ingredient in the recipe of your risk.
Could you be on the verge of developing heart disease? Your insurance company wouldn’t know.
Healthiest applicants have the most to lose by skipping the health exam because the exam could prove their good health which leads to lower prices.
If you’re not so healthy — or if you’re getting a smaller policy — you may even be able to save money by skipping the exam.
Why Would Life Insurance Require a Medical Exam?
At the center of any life insurance policy you’ll find an assessment of risk.
It sounds morbid, but when you apply for coverage, insurance underwriters will calculate your likelihood of dying while covered by their insurance policy. Then, they’ll price your premiums to reflect this risk.
With most types of life insurance, riskier applicants can be denied coverage. Or, even if they get approved, riskier applicants will pay higher premiums.
Why? Because if you died within a few years of buying coverage, the insurance company would lose money by paying your full death benefit.
Health isn’t the only pricing factor. Your age range, job, hobbies, and habits also help set the monthly premiums of your life insurance plan.
But health matters a lot, and the health exam — which measures blood pressure, vital signs, body-mass index, and collects blood and urine samples for lab work — provides raw data which can translate into financial protection for your insurer.
A health exam, for example, can uncover pre-existing conditions you didn’t even know about and couldn’t possibly have reported to the insurer.
So the medical exam protects insurers from taking unknown risks.
The medical exam can also protect you from paying too much for your coverage.
By taking a medical exam, you’re documenting your good health. If you’re in great health you can earn some of the lowest premiums on the market.
Types of Life Insurance with No Medical Exam
Technically, no-exam isn’t a type of life insurance.
It’s an underwriting process insurance companies can use to measure your insurability for any kind of policy, including:
Term Life: This temporary coverage will expire when your term ends. Term life policies can offer a much larger death benefit for less money.
Permanent Life: Permanent coverage — also known as whole life insurance — will never expire unless you cancel the policy or stop paying its premiums.
Burial or Final Expense: These small permanent policies provide small coverage amounts for older policyholders who are planning funerals or other final expenses.
Let’s look at these types more closely:
Simplified Issue Life Insurance
Traditional, fully underwritten life insurance with a medical exam could unlock $10 million or more in term life insurance coverage. Shoppers often buy $1 million and $2 million term policies.
Term life without the medical exam cannot deliver this much coverage; most companies limit your coverage to $500,000 per policy. They call this kind of coverage simplified issue life insurance.
For a non-traditional insurance product, simplified issue policies paint a detailed picture of your insurability. You’ll have a phone interview and should expect:
Questions about your health
Questions about your biological family’s health
Questions about your job and hobbies
Questions about your habits.
Your answers — confirmed at times by data from other sources — will help the insurance company set your premiums.
Your premiums will also vary depending on:
Your Policy’s Size: Larger policies cost more.
Your Term Length: Longer term lengths — 30 years instead of 20, for example — cost more.
Your Age & Sex: All things being equal, women will pay less than men, and premiums for new coverage increase as you age.
Permanent Life Insurance with No Medical Exam
Like no-exam term, you can also get permanent life insurance by skipping the medical exam. Permanent (also known as whole life insurance) policies can cover you indefinitely.
But without a medical exam, it’s hard to find more than $50,000 in permanent life coverage, and this just isn’t enough life insurance for many shoppers.
Non-traditional permanent life has another drawback compared to traditional permanent life: Your policy may not gain cash value.
Standard whole life policies with a health exam accrue cash value over time. Later in life you could borrow against your policy’s value.
Skipping the exam could cost you this feature, but mainly only if you buy a guaranteed issue policy which also has a low payout.
Burial or Final Expense Coverage
Non-traditional underwriting aligns well with burial insurance because you shouldn’t need more than $50,000 in coverage.
Insurance companies have age requirements for this kind of coverage, too.
You’d need to be at least 50 to buy most burial (also known as final expense) policies.
Age 85 is normally the maximum age for taking out a policy, although you could still find a burial policy from Aetna if you’re younger than 90.
What if I Get Turned Down for a No Exam Life Insurance Policy?
An insurance company could deny your simplified issue no-exam life insurance application.
Applicants who have COPD, diabetes, or other medical conditions often struggle to find coverage because insurance carriers worry about their life expectancy.
If you get denied coverage, you can:
Keep Trying with Different Insurers
Every insurance company takes a different approach to underwriting no-exam policies.
By finding a company more likely to see your health issues more favorably, you can find coverage.
Ask an independent life insurance agent for help finding the right company for your condition. These agents have access to 10 or 12 companies.
Guaranteed Issue Coverage
Guaranteed issue life insurance is aptly named.
Almost every person who applies is guaranteed approval because the insurer does not ask many, if any, health questions.
But insurance agents call this “last resort” life insurance for a reason:
Low Coverage Amounts: You can usually find $25,000 in coverage but not more.
Premiums Are High: You’ll pay high premiums for the small amount of coverage you can get.
Coverage Is Delayed: Benefits are “graded” which means you’ll need to pay premiums 2 to 3 years before the policy would pay your beneficiary. If you died during this waiting period, your family could claim only a refund of your paid premiums.
Group Life Insurance
Many employers offer life insurance as an employee benefit. Sometimes you don’t even have to pay the premiums.
You can opt in without the insurer checking your medical history.
It’s a nice perk, but this group life insurance coverage has limits:
Low Coverage: These group policies can’t offer the same level of coverage compared to simplified issue or a fully underwritten personal life insurance product. If you’re in excellent health, especially, you could get a lot more coverage by taking the physical exam a personal policy requires.
Temporary Coverage: You’d lose the coverage if you changed jobs. By then, a personal policy of your own would cost more because new life insurance costs more with each passing birthday.
Measuring the Cost for Skipping the Medical Exam
Because every life insurance applicant is unique, the cost difference of a no exam life insurance policy varies widely among different insurance providers.
With so many variables we can’t share a simple percentage increase when you opt for no-exam coverage.
We can, however, lay out these guidelines which tend to be true when companies issue policies.
No-Exam Life Costs More When:
You’re Young & Healthy: Younger people in perfect or near-perfect health — applicants under 45, especially — can access great life insurance rates, but only if they prove their health by taking a medical exam. No-exam will cost a lot more unless you’re shopping with an InsureTech company such as Haven Life or Bestow Life.
You Need a Larger Policy: The more coverage you need, the bigger your cost increase for no-exam coverage. Since you normally can’t find more than $500,000 in coverage without the exam, you should get fully underwritten coverage for large policies.
No-Exam Is a Better Value When:
You Need a Smaller Policy: Premium schedules for smaller policies show less increase for no-exam coverage.
You Smoke: Smokers already pay higher premiums even with an exam, so skipping the exam won’t inflate them much more. In fact, younger smokers who are getting a small policy could pay less by skipping the exam.
You’re Older: The price hike for non-traditional coverage grows smaller for older applicants, especially when you’re buying final expense coverage.
Is No Exam Life Insurance Enough?
No-exam life insurance won’t offer more than $500,000 in coverage, and this level of coverage will come only from a simplified issue term life insurance policy.
Is $500,000 enough insurance for your loved ones if you died unexpectedly?
Most people think so — at least until they give the question some more thought.
How much life insurance do you need? Experts suggest getting enough life insurance to replace your annual income for 10 to 12 years.
If you make more than $50,000 a year, $500,000 in coverage wouldn’t meet this level of coverage.
But this guideline applies most to shoppers with families.
Your financial dependents — your spouse, children, or maybe even your aging parents — would use your life insurance benefits if you died to continue paying the mortgage, the college tuition bills, and other living expenses.
What coverage amount would they need if they no longer had your regular income? That question is important to figure out.
When No Exam Provides Enough Coverage
Not all policyholders need coverage for income replacement.
No health exam coverage could provide enough insurance if:
You’re Getting a Loan: Some loans require life insurance as collateral. Usually, you can skip the exam and still buy enough coverage.
You’re Estate Planning: Life insurance could provide much-needed liquidity while your heirs dissolve your estate. Normally, non-traditional underwriting provides enough coverage.
You’re an Empty Nester: When the mortgage is paid off and the kids are off on their own, you may want a smaller life insurance policy — you may have no need for a larger, medical exam policy.
What is Accelerated Underwriting?
If you’re an ideal life insurance customer — someone in great health with no complicating factors — you could get accelerated underwriting.
As its name implies, you could have coverage within days.
The main benefit: Your coverage could exceed the traditional $500,000 cap on no-exam insurance.
If you smoke, have a dangerous job or have a diagnosis such as Parkinson’s or Crohn’s, accelerated underwriting is not for you.
Some analysts expect accelerated underwriting processes to grow in the coming years, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
They look for other leading providers such as Banner Life, New York Life, and Transamerica to improve their accelerated products over the next few years.
When Less Is More for a Life Insurance Company
You have to tell the truth when you apply for life insurance.
You’d commit insurance fraud by submitting false information, or by intentionally omitting known details, about your health. You’d also put your coverage at risk.
But some applicants learn about their health problems during the life insurance medical exam.
Which brings up the question: Should I skip the exam just in case I have a pre-existing condition I don’t know about?
You could do this, legally, as long as you answered your insurer’s questions with complete honesty.
You’d get a smaller policy compared to medically underwritten coverage as we’ve already discussed.
Then, you must get a physical of your own to assess your health. Your well-being is much more important than saving money on life insurance.
If your health is good you could then apply for a larger fully underwritten policy.
If not, at least you’d still have the no-exam life insurance policy in force while you improve your health.
Who Should Get No Exam Underwriting?
No-exam life insurance offers convenience, simplicity, and quick access to coverage.
It also costs more most of the time — unless you’re in near-perfect health and go with an InsureTech company that uses technology to assess your health history.
If you’re young and healthy and you need a large term life insurance policy to protect your growing family, go with a fully underwritten policy which usually requires a health exam.
If you need a smaller policy or you smoke or have other complicating factors, you’re a better candidate for no-exam coverage.
In either case, make sure your life insurance company has a solid A or better A.M. Best rating.
See our top life insurance companies guide if you’re not sure where to start shopping.
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