Life insurance and access to medical records

Insurers can’t see your medical records unless you give them written permission. Find out why insurers might need to access your medical history and what information they’d get.

Amy Smith
Amy Smith
Updated 19 May 2020  | 3 min read

Key points

  • Insurers can only access relevant information from your medical records if you’ve given your permission
  • Insurers can share your medical records with each other so long as it’s relevant and you were previously made aware they could do this
  • You can see what's being passed on before it's sent and can then refuse to disclose it - although insurers may then refuse to offer you a policy

Do life insurance companies have access to medical records?

Your medical records can only be seen by life insurance companies if you’ve given your consent. You’re protected by two acts: the Access to Medical Reports Act (1988) and the Data Protection Act (2018), which is why insurers need your permission to view them. Only a select few third parties, such as the police, courts, social services and the DVLA can access your medical history without needing your consent. But this is very strictly governed.

What’s documented in my medical records?

If you approve your insurer’s request they’ll only be given medical records that are relevant, not your entire history. Your insurer will be able to see:

  • Visits to your GP – including what the problem was and any advice given
  • Treatments
  • Prescribed medications
  • Details of referrals to specialists
  • Accurate dates of medical activity

How do life insurance companies check my medical background?

The insurer will ask for your written consent. If you agree, your doctor will then provide only the records that relate to your life insurance application.

It’s possible your insurer will ask for access to your entire medical record. If they do, you’ll need to make a subject access request to get all the information. You’ll need to agree to the subject access request before your doctor can pass the information on to your insurer.

You can request to see the report before your insurer does. If you disagree with anything, you can ask for it to be changed. Your GP can refuse to make this change, but you can then request that a statement of your objections is included for your insurer to see.

Do life insurance companies share information?

They can do, yes, but only if it’s necessary for the underwriting process. They might share information in order to determine whether you’ll be accepted for the policy you’ve applied for.

Your insurer should make it clear to you on the application form, or in other correspondence, if this is a necessary step.

Insurers will only take into account information on something they judge to be relevant to their ability to risk and underwrite a specific customer

Association of British Insurers (ABI)

How far back can an insurance company request medical records?

Generally, medical records are kept for between five and 10 years after a patient’s latest treatment, discharge or death. How far back your medical records go depends on whether you use a private medical practice or a general hospital. It also varies if the records belong to an adult or a minor.

Some insurers will request your entire medical history, but not all. Insurers are particularly interested in any medical issues that’ve occurred in the last five years – they’ll usually exclude these from your cover. They’ll also want to know if you’ve been clear of a condition for two or more years.

Do life insurance companies check medical records after death?

They can do, but only with permission from someone authorised to act on the deceased’s behalf in the event of a claim.

Most insurers will look at a variety of evidence, such as the cause and timing of death, documentation left by the deceased and any relevant medical history.

Where can I get a copy of my medical records?

You can get them for free from your local GP practice, opticians or dentist.

What happens if I deny my insurer access to my medical information?

The insurer could refuse to cover you as they don’t have the information they need to assess your application or claim.

Life insurance without medical records

You can get life insurance cover without a provider seeing your medical records.

However, the insurer can refuse to pay out for a claim if you weren’t completely honest about any details of your medical history, such as any pre-existing conditions, when you applied for the policy.