Life insurance companies are routinely requesting to see applicants’ full medical history in a move that experts believe could be designed to prevent expensive payouts.

New revelations about the practices of major insurers has led many industry voices to demand changes to the way that life insurance providers underwrite policies.

Do you want your entire medical history accessed by an insurer? And what will your life insurance provider do with this information? Keep reading to find out more.

Major insurers admit accessing full medical records of applicants

The Daily Mail has reported that ‘some of Britain’s biggest insurers are demanding unnecessary medical information from the GP records of those applying for life cover.’

This extra information can include details of your contraception arrangements, your mental health and even relationship problems. Experts fear that the information is being used to prevent life insurance customers from making legitimate claims.

When you apply for life insurance, the provider is allowed, with your permission, to access your GP records. Until recently, if an insurer had a question about your health, they would order a bespoke report from the GP, focusing on a specific health issue. No other information would be sent.

For example, if you had previously suffered from heart problems then the insurer would send a specific ‘heart questionnaire’ to your GP for completion, requesting specific details of treatment for this condition.

Now, an increasing number of insurers are asking customers to tick boxes on their application forms, allowing them to access their entire medical records. Major insurers Aviva and Legal & General have admitted they routinely order the entire medical records of customers who apply for life cover.

Legal & General has been requesting full medical records from life customers for three years. Its underwriting director, Russ Whitworth, said: “I believe this is a good thing. It stops people paying for cover that they could never claim on.”

Aviva said it had been requesting customers’ medical records for one year. It said: “Subject access requests, which obtain a person’s full medical history, are recognised across the insurance industry as a way to gather medical evidence. They can help to provide a quicker, smoother application journey for customers.”

Campaigners call move ‘completely inappropriate’

The revelation has sparked outrage among privacy campaigners and GPs. They believe that patients will become so worried that confidential information will be passed to an insurer and so won’t share crucial details with their doctor.

Phil Booth, coordinator of privacy pressure group medConfidential, said: “This is a significant breach of medical confidentiality. There is absolutely no reason for someone to share their whole medical records with an insurer or financial services firm. The level of information these firms are receiving is entirely excessive.”

Dr John Canning, a senior figure at the British Medical Association, said: “It is completely inappropriate that information that was given solely for medical use is now being used by a third party.

“For some people there is a lot of sensitive detail in their medical records, for example relationship problems or the termination of a pregnancy. People tell things to a GP not realising every little bit of information they give will end up being read by an insurer.

“The risk is that people won’t tell you these things because they fear it will end up on their medical records and that can make it harder to treat them.”

Process could help insurers refuse life insurance claims

Critics of the scheme are also concerned that the information could be used in the future to refuse a claim under a life insurance policy. They are also concerned that they could decline customers for cover if their records reveal risky lifestyle or health conditions.

The Information Commissioner’s Office said it planned to launch an inquiry into the kind of personal details firms were requesting.

By Nick Parkhouse