How Long Does Tobacco Show Up on a Life Insurance Exam?

Written by James Hirby | Fact checked by The Law Dictionary staff |  

Term life insurance companies have a vested interest in extending policies to individuals who can reasonably be expected to outlive their 10-year, 20-year or 30-year terms. Unlike whole life insurance providers, these companies are able to charge relatively low premiums on the policies that they issue. This is because most term life insurance policies expire at the end of their terms without ever paying out death benefits. Healthy individuals who take out these policies before they turn 45 stand an excellent chance of living past their maturity dates.

Although these policyholders are free to renew their expired coverages, the new policies for which they apply are liable to be considerably more expensive. In some cases, "mature" policyholders who wait too long to apply for a new policy might find it difficult or impossible to secure affordable coverage. After all, only a few insurance companies issue reasonably-priced life insurance policies to senior citizens. Most of these policies come with short terms, low face values and other unattractive restrictions.

In order to ensure that their policyholders stand a good chance of outliving their policies' terms, most life insurance companies require all of their applicants to submit to comprehensive medical exams before receiving coverage. These exams typically subject prospective policyholders to cardiovascular stress tests, BMI readings, "family-history" screenings and other medical investigations.

In addition, they also involve targeted substance-abuse screening processes that test applicants for a variety of chemical metabolites. In most cases, such screenings take the form of urine-based "panel" tests or a blood analyses. Some insurance companies subject potential policyholders to both types of screenings. In rare cases, some policyholders may also be required to submit to hair follicle tests that can reveal long-term patterns of drug use.

Depending upon the policies of the insurer that administers them, these screenings may look for the presence of marijuana, cocaine, opiate, amphetamine and barbiturate metabolites. Since these drugs can remain detectable in the urine for up to a month, prospective policyholders must cease using these substances well in advance of their screening. A positive reading for any of these substances could result in a denied application.

The most important chemical metabolite for which these life insurance screenings look is known as cotinine. As a byproduct of nicotine, cotinine remains in the bloodstream for up to a week and indicates that a prospective policyholder is a current or recent cigarette smoker. Although policyholders who test positive for cotinine may still receive coverage, it will be far more expensive than the typical nonsmoker's policy.

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