Life Insurance Medical History

How important is your medical history to a life insurer? Find out what role your health plays in determining your premiums.

Life insurance provides essential financial protection and peace of mind for you and your loved ones. However, determining the right policy and the right amount of cover for your needs can often be a difficult task.

When you apply for life insurance cover you have a duty of disclosure, which means you have to provide details about your health and any pre-existing conditions. You’ll need to provide any relevant medical details from the day you were born right up to the day you apply for cover. In some cases you’ll need to provide further information from your doctor, while you may also have to undergo medical tests.

Once you’ve detailed your medical history, one of several things may happen. You may be offered cover straight away, a particular pre-existing condition may be excluded from your policy, or you may be declined altogether. One other common option is that you will receive a premium loading to reflect the increased risk of you making a claim.

The cost of insurance premiums is based on risk, such as the risk that an insurer will have to pay a claim to your or your beneficiaries. If you have had medical problems in the past, chances are you may pose an increased risk to the insurer and you will have to pay more for your premiums as a result.

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Life insurance family history

It’s not only your personal medical history that can have an impact on the cost of your life insurance; your family’s medical history can cause your premiums to rise as well. As part of the life insurance application process, you’ll be asked questions about the medical history of your parents and siblings, although family members aged over 60 will typically not be taken into account. Once again, you have a duty of disclosure to provide any relevant information to your insurer.

If you have a family history of relatives who have died from or suffered from cardiovascular illnesses, cancer or smoking related illnesses before the age of 60, this will have a negative effect on your premiums. Other conditions like diabetes, stroke, kidney disease, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and mental illness will also be taken into account.

Even if you’re perfectly healthy and have never suffered from any of these medical issues, your family’s history will still be taken into account. When it comes to hereditary conditions you obviously are at an increased risk, so this will once again be reflected by an increase in the cost of your life insurance premiums.

Tips for the application process

During the application process you’ll be asked questions about your height, weight, date of birth, smoking and drinking habits, exercise habits, your income and any assets you may have.

  • Apply as soon as possible. The younger and healthier you are when you apply for cover, the cheaper your premiums will be.
  • Tell the truth. You have a duty of disclosure to inform your insurer about any health issues you may have had in the past. Be upfront and honest and make sure to answer all questions truthfully. Failing to do so could lead to claims being rejected and your policy being void in the future.
  • Stay calm. When preparing for the medical exam, try to remain as relaxed as possible. Avoid tobacco, caffeine and alcohol leading up to the exam, and make sure to follow any instructions (for example, fasting) given by your medical practitioner.

If you need to undergo a medical exam, the insurance company will provide a medical professional to conduct this in your home. This may include height and weight measurements, blood pressure check, giving blood and urine samples, an electrocardiogram, heartbeat check, and questions about your medical history and your family’s medical history.

How to reduce your life insurance premium

If you’re applying for life insurance cover but are concerned about the potential cost involved, there are a number of steps you can take to reduce the cost of your premiums. These include:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight. If you’re overweight or obese, losing weight and staying in the healthy weight range will ensure that your premiums drop.
  • Quitting smoking. We’re all aware of the myriad health issues associated with cigarettes, so giving up smoking can help you save a huge amount on your premiums. Studies have shown that smokers sometimes pay more than twice as much for life cover as non-smokers.
  • Drink less alcohol. If you consume more than 20 standard drinks a week, your premiums will be higher than they could be. Cutting down your alcohol consumption can help cut down on your premiums.
  • Look for discounts. Many insurers offer discounts if you take out joint or family cover, while you also may be able to save money by bundling your life cover with TPD cover or other forms of insurance.
  • Review your policy. While you may be tempted to ‘set and forget’ with your life insurance policy, it pays to review your policy now and again to see if there are better deals out there. The insurance market is quite competitive and there may be a new product that offers better features at a more affordable price.
  • Avoid dangerous activities and pursuits. Do you enjoy skydiving and bungee jumping? Giving up these adventure habits can save you money.
  • Get a safer job. If you work in an underground mine or perhaps with explosives, you’ll obviously face more risk on a daily basis than someone who sits in front of a computer in an air-conditioned office.

5 life insurance mistakes

  • Lying on your application. This is the cardinal sin when applying for life insurance. As we’ve mentioned multiple times in this article, you have a duty to disclose any information which may help an insurer make an assessment of the risk you pose to insure. As a result you need to be completely honest during your application and supply any information you think may be relevant. Some people think they can get away with concealing certain information, but this backfires when their claims are rejected and their policies cancelled.
  • Failing to realise you may already have cover. Many Australians fail to realise that they may already have a form of life insurance cover in place through their superannuation fund. While such cover is far from comprehensive, it does fully satisfy the insurance requirements of some people—meaning they don’t need to go out and buy another policy.
  • Waiting to buy until you’re older. It’s cheaper to take out cover when you’re young, fit and healthy, plus you shouldn’t have any trouble finding an insurer willing to cover you. As you get older, cover gets more expensive and harder to find.
  • Under-insuring. Many people make the mistake of failing to determine how much cover they actually need. While some people go for a rule of thumb like taking out cover worth 10 times your salary, it’s better to assess your individual circumstances. What is your regular income? How many dependents do you have? Do you have debts? What ongoing expenses will you have to manage? Answering these questions will help you understand what constitutes the right level of cover.
  • Waiting to apply for cover. While you can reduce the cost of premiums by quitting smoking or losing weight, waiting until you have achieved your goals before you apply for cover is a mistake. The sooner you apply for protection, the better.

Types of questions you can expect on a medical history questionnaire

  • General information including your name, date of birth and contact details.
  • The name and contact details of your doctor.
  • Have you seen your GP during the past year?
  • Are you currently undergoing any medical care or taking any medication?
  • Have you ever been hospitalised or had a prolonged illness?
  • Has your doctor ever said your blood pressure was too high?
  • Do you ever have pain in your chest or heart?
  • Does your heart often race?
  • Do you often have difficulty breathing?
  • Has a doctor ever told you your cholesterol level was high?
  • Have you ever coughed up blood?
  • Have you recently experienced increased anxiety or depression?
  • Have you ever had a heart attack?
  • Are you allergic to any medications?
  • Have you experienced a recent change in a wart or mole?

Though your medical history can have an influence on your life insurance policy and the premiums you have to pay, don’t let that put you off taking out cover. Life insurance offers crucial financial protection and is a sensible investment for many Australians.

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Maurice Thach

An insurance researcher and writer for who loves finding an answer to the question "Am I covered for ________?" Maurice has also completed a Tier 1 Life Insurance and a Tier 2 General Insurance Certification under ASIC's Regulatory Guide 146. This means he can confidently provide general advice for life insurance and non-life insurance products.

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