What You Should Know About Medical Underwriting When Purchasing Life Insurance

By Dory Rodriguez on April 19th, 2010

Your age and sex are factors that determine the annual life insurance premium. Going through a process called medical underwriting, as opposed to guaranteed-issue life insurance, further analyzes your expected premium by figuring out which risk category you fall into.

Medical underwriting looks at the details of your health history, as well as that of your parents and siblings. It also considers lab results from a blood and urine sample, reviews your driving record history, travel plans and other information that contribute to how much of a risk you are to insure.

Every insurance company uses different terms for their various rate classes, and ultimately you want to compare insurance quotes with different insurance companies. By comparing rates, you can find the cheapest life insurance for your needs and situation.

An example of an insurer's risk categories from best health on down might look like this:

  1. Preferred Select
  2. Preferred
  3. Preferred Plus
  4. Standard

Followed by risk classes: Table B, Table C, Table D, Table E, etc.

Tobacco rate classes are also available for an additional premium.

You may get a better risk class offered to you on a whole life insurance policy compared to a term policy. This is sometimes referred to as table shaving, so it's important for you which companies do this.

Here are some of the criteria an insurance company uses to offer preferred risk classes:

  • Build: Your height and weight must fall within underwriting guidelines. For example, someone that is 6'0" would get the best rate at 209-235 pounds
  • Tobacco: To qualify for a non-tobacco rate, the insurance company typically wants to see that you have no tobacco use in the past 12-36 months. This includes cigarettes, cigars, pipe and chewing tobacco, and nicotine surrogates such as gum, patch or medication
  • Cholesterol: Cholesterol level of 220-260 or less, and cholesterol/HDL ratio must be less than or equal to 5.0-7.0
  • Blood pressure: Must be better than, or between, 135/85-145/95 with or without treatment
  • Personal History: If you have a history of diabetes, heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, or cancer (except certain types of basal cell skin cancer) it is unlikely that you would receive a preferred rate class
  • Family History: No more than the death of one parent or sibling before age 60, due to diabetes, heart disease, or cerebrovascular disease
  • Alcohol/Substance Abuse: The best rate requires no history of, or treatment for, alcohol or substance abuse, lower risk classes may allow for no abuse or treatment within the past 5-10 years
  • Aviation: No student or private pilots unless aviation coverage is excluded; however, there are private pilot and commercial pilot guidelines
  • Avocations: No ratable avocations are typically allowed for the best underwriting classes. Scuba diving below 150 ft or BASE jumping could result in a decline of coverage
  • Driving Record: No DWI, DUI, or reckless driving in the past three to ten years. No more than two moving violations in the past two to five years

Now that you have information on what underwriters look for in your medical exam, compare whole life insurance rates. Just enter your zip code to get started.

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