Life insurance rates are based on your health, habits, age, and actuarial tables. A medical exam is required for many types of policies, which helps the insurer to understand your general health condition and behaviors or habits that may affect your health, such as weight or nicotine use. When applying for a life insurance policy, you’ll have to answer some questions regarding your health and habits, and for many policies, a medical exam is required, which measures numerous factors including blood testing.
Health conditions can change and we often break habits or change those behaviors which can adversely affect our health. People lose weight, quit smoking, lower their cholesterol levels through medication or diet changes, and make other changes which can affect their life insurance rating. Many life insurance buyers wonder if they can retake their life insurance medical exam to earn a better rate. A life insurance exam can be taken again, under certain circumstances and subject to approval by the insurer, but there are several considerations. Without taking another medical exam, the rate at which the policy is issued won’t change for policies with fixed premiums. If the life insurance medical exam is approved to be taken again, rates may go down or may remain unchanged.
Life insurance rates are determined, in large part, by your assigned rating class. You can think of this rating class as a snapshot of your overall health as determined by the answers regarding your health you provide on your application and by the results of your life insurance medical exam. Third-party medical information from shared medical databases may also be considered. However, different insurers have unique underwriting guidelines and you may be rated more favorably with one versus another. Generally, all insurers are looking at the same or similar rating criteria, but some will weigh a particular aspect of your health differently than others.
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Understanding Life Insurance Rating Classes
Insurers sometimes use different terms to describe their rating classes, but most follow these general groupings.
Preferred Select: You can think of preferred select or any of its other names as the best rating class for life insurance, with lower premium costs than other rating classes. This top tier of health may also be called preferred elite, super preferred, or other similar terms which all mean you’ve done a great job of staying healthy. This category indicates excellent health, normal weight, and that other medical data points to a generally low risk of early death.
Preferred: As its name suggests, preferred is again an indication of excellent health. However, there may be some minor issues like cholesterol levels or other factors which prevented a preferred select rating. Expect competitive life insurance premiums with this rating, but not as low as the select group.
Standard Plus: Generally good health is associated with the standard plus rating class, but there may be some other factors which prevent the applicant from rating in the preferred classes. These might include weight, blood pressure, or other considerations which may indicate an increased risk.
Standard: You can think of standard as average, indicating average health and a life expectancy on par with most people. Weight or other factors might place an applicant in this rating class, as might the early death of a parent due to health factors.
Preferred Smoker: Preferred is the elite rating class for life insurance and preferred smoker recognizes an applicant who is in generally exceptional health, but who smokes. Occasional smokers, such as cigar smokers might be placed in this rating class if all other factors indicate above-average health.
Standard Smoker: This category is for smokers of standard health. As it recognizes the health risks of regular smoking, this rating class will have higher premiums than standard and preferred rating classes for non-smokers.
Rated Applicants: In some cases, health conditions prevent an applicant from qualifying for either standard or preferred rating classes. This does not necessarily mean the applicant is uninsurable, but premiums higher than those for standard or preferred rating classes may apply. Some companies may refer to this rating class as substandard. However, a broad range of factors can prevent an applicant from qualifying for one of the higher tiers, and a substandard or rated applicant might be in near-perfect health with the exception of one or two health conditions which prevents a standard or preferred rating. A rated applicant is insurable but can expect to pay higher premiums than applicants in standard or preferred rating classes if all other factors are equal.
What if I disagree with my life insurance rating class?
Your life insurance medical exam is a detailed overview of your current health. Insurance companies prefer the information provided by their chosen medical examination company and sometimes also use data from shared medical databases in determining and life insurance rating class. It isn’t common for a life insurance company to agree to a new medical test prior to renewal after the policy has been issued. However, if you’ve made meaningful changes to improve your health, you may be eligible to retake your exam prior to a renewal. This means a wait time of at least a year. Factors such as weight loss, reduced blood pressure, improved cholesterol levels, or quitting smoking are all factors which can make you eligible for another rating class, possibly reducing premiums. Your first step is to contact your agent to discuss the improvements in your health or physical condition. Your agent can provide guidance on whether the improvements in your health might change your rating class.
Can I change my rating class if I start working out or quit smoking?
If you started working out and lost a significant amount of weight, it’s possible that this improvement in your physical condition could change your life insurance rating class. Other health concerns or conditions can also affect rates, such as significantly lowering your blood pressure or cholesterol levels due to changes in diet or medication. If your health has improved measurably since you took your initial life insurance medical exam, contact your agent to find out if you might qualify for a lower rate.
Similarly, if you quit smoking or using nicotine, this healthy lifestyle change may change your life insurance rating class. Insurance companies will often want to see three years without nicotine or tobacco use before changing a rating class to a non-smoker rating class.
When retaking a life insurance medical exam, the new medical exam doesn’t erase the results of the first medical exam for any information available through shared medical databases. Instead, the new data regarding your health is considered alongside the existing data the insurance company has already collected. If the new exam finds new potential health issues which could increase your life insurance premiums, you often have the option to renew at your original rate. However, if the new exam uncovers pre-existing health conditions which were not disclosed in your application and which would have affected your rate or your eligibility, there’s a possibility the insurance company may rescind the policy.
Tips For Your Life Insurance Medical Exam
Your life insurance medical exam will measure several aspects of your health and will likely include the following:
- Pulse/Blood pressure tests
- Blood test
- Urine test
- Height and weight measurements
Your insurer is building a picture of your overall health and tests will indicate blood pressure levels, glucose levels, nicotine or other substances, and body mass index (BMI), a measurement of overall fitness in regard to weight.
When taking or retaking your life insurance medical exam, it’s best to be well-prepared and to take steps to prevent readings which can affect the test results.
- Bring a list of medications you take or have taken recently. These medications will likely show up in your blood tests. Having a list of the medications you take will help your insurer understand the blood test results.
- Avoid over the counter medications for 24 hours prior to your life insurance medical exam because these might interfere with test results or create inaccurate readings.
- Limit or avoid caffeine consumption for 48 hours prior to your exam. Blood pressure can be affected by caffeine.
- If you are a smoker or occasional smoker, don’t smoke for three hours before your exam. Smoking can elevate your blood pressure. Some data indicates that blood pressure can be temporarily affected for up to eight hours after smoking a cigarette.
- Avoid alcohol for 48 hours before your exam. Alcohol can also raise your blood pressure.
- Refrain from strenuous exercise for up to 24 hours before your exam. Some types of exercise can cause temporary spikes in cholesterol readings, providing a less accurate picture of your health.
- Don’t eat for 12 hours before your life insurance medical exam. Many foods can cause temporary spikes in cholesterol levels or create other false readings. It’s best to give your body time to clear the temporary effects of foods and snacks.
- Have a glass of water an hour before your life insurance medical exam. This will help ensure that you’ll be able to provide a urine sample and will help you to feel full when fasting before your test.
- Timing is important. Try to schedule your exam for a time when you’ll be most relaxed. Stress from work or other sources can affect blood pressure readings. Give your body a chance to return to normal levels.
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