Insurance companies love taking your premiums but they hate paying out money. With life insurance, it's inevitable they'll have to pay up someday, so they'd prefer that day be as far off as possible. When an insurer insists on testing your bodily fluids, it's to check for health problems that raise your risk of death. It also helps the company spot any lies you tell about your health.
What They Look For
Blood and urine tests can turn up the presence of HIV, cocaine and cotinine, a byproduct of smoking. Compounds in your samples also let the lab spot liver and kidney problems, high blood sugar, diabetes and possibly heart troubles. They aren't much help at spotting cancer, so insurers don't usually test for that. If you're young and not looking for a lot of coverage, the company may settle for a quicker but less reliable saliva test. If you apply when you're older, or you want a big policy, the insurer may require a full medical exam.
If you get your life insurance through your employer, you won't get a test, but if you want an insurer to underwrite an individual policy, get ready for the needle. Once the insurer has your medical data, it applies underwriting guidelines to decide if you deserve a good premium or an expensive premium--or if it should refuse to cover you altogether. Smokers, for example, typically pay four times what nonsmokers pay for life insurance. It takes about a month for a decision, but that can stretch out to three months.
If the insurer turns you down flat, that doesn't mean you're uninsurable. If you think the company's wrong, tell it so -- but you'd better have some medical reports or other facts handy to prove your case. Another option is to talk to an insurance agent about finding a different company. High premiums can be overcome with time: If you quit smoking or make other healthy choices, wait a year and ask to retest. If the problems are gone, your rate goes down.
If you lie -- about smoking, for instance -- and the company doesn't catch you at once, it still has two years to rescind the policy or contest a claim if it realizes you pulled a fast one. Your meds can throw the tests off, so bring a list of whatever you take for the lab to cross-check. Insure.com offers some tips for accurate results: Don't eat for 12 hours before your test, don't exercise for 24 hours and limit caffeine and alcohol consumption for two days in advance. Don't smoke for three hours before your test, because of smoking's side effects on your body.
- Insure.com: Why Life Insurance Companies Love Blood and Urine
- Insure.com: Open Wide: Oral Swab Testing Tells Life Insurance Companies How Healthy You Are
- New York Life: Demystifying the Life Insurance Medical Exam
- Insure.com: Eight Life Insurance Myths
- SBLI: Underwriting FAQs
- MSN Money: A Short Guide to Life Insurance for Smokers
- Insure.com: How to Get Better Life Insurance Rates After You Buy a Policy
A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.