Life insurance exams have stayed pretty much the same for as long as I’ve been in the business, about 150 years now. On the lab side, the blood and urine testing, an occasional new test has come along and a few have gone down in extraordinary flames.

The industry has been deservedly dealt a few black eyes with great new ideas. Quite some time ago the industry decided it would be a great thing to be able to tell if someone had cancer even though there were no symptoms or diagnosis from a doctor. A lab came up with a tumor marker, dubbed TAA. It’s touted value was that it would have a high reading if someone had even an undetected tumor. The insurance companies jumped on it without real proof of its’ accuracy and it turned out to be a fiasco. In the end the test proved to be, to put it kindly, inaccurate and it resulted in completely healthy life insurance applicants being told they might have cancer and having to undergo expensive tests to find out that they didn’t, much to their dismay and the dismay of their doctors.

It is these kinds of underwriting screening tools that need to be proven before their actual use for the sake of the clients and underwriting credibility. Recently a new tumor marker has been proposed but so far the insurance companies have steered clear of the CEA test (carcinoembryonic antigen).

Other tests have come along that appear to have passed the validity test. Probably the biggest breakthrough has been the NT-proBNP. This test has afforded underwriters the ability to pinpoint impaired circulatory function. While most commonly tied to some level of heart failure, the test has proven very accurate in bringing to light the presence of cardiac damage from all pathological causes.

This test, in combination with other cardiac impairment markers can be more accurate than the old standards of checking cholesterol and doing an ekg. While some of the associated marker tests are still being reviewed, proBNP is in use by most companies. The issue of heart disease has been and continues to be taken very seriously in life insurance underwriting.

Bottom line. These tests are a two edged sword for life insurance applicants. While they might very well lead to an increased rate or even decline, they can also alert the applicant to a health issue that might be looming.