How Often Should You Get A Physical And How Much Does It Cost?

Physical Exam BedBefore my COBRA (healthcare for departed employees) ran out, I decided to get a physical exam. It’s been three years and it was about time. Many insurance companies offer one free physical every year. Give your insurance company a call to find out if yours is one of them. That’s a $200-$500 “savings” every year if you take advantage of the perk. Depending on your insurance coverage, you will either typically pay a co-pay ($25 in my case), or a co-insurance (generally 20% of the overall bill).

Beyond the co-pay or co-insurance, sometimes there’s something called a “draw fee” as well. The word “draw” in this term refers to the drawing of blood, which is then sent off to a lab to get a multitude of tests done. My draw fee, to my surprise was $24 dollars. Hence, what I thought was initially “free” turned into a $49 dollar physical ($25 co-pay + $24 draw fee). Depending on my blood work, I may have to come back for more, which means another $25 in co-pay.

A $25 co-pay isn’t particularly cheap. I’ve had as low as a $5 co-pay before until I decided to change my plan to be more for “disaster prevention.” You want a low co-pay if you are chronically sick. In 10 years, I’ve seen the doctor perhaps seven times, including physicals. Hence, it makes sense for me to pay a higher co-pay in return for a lower monthly premium. I could take it a step further and do co-insurance, but I elected not to.


I asked my doctor how often one should get a physical and here’s his professional opinion after 30 years of practice.

If you are under 35: Once every two to three years.

If you are 35-49: Once every two years.

If you are 50 and older: Once a year.

All Ages: Whenever you notice a prolonged period of physical displeasure.

As you can tell, the frequency of getting your physical goes up the older you are. It makes sense given most of us get unhealthier with age due to more weight, less exercise, compounded unhealthy habits, build up in cholesterol, etc. I’m getting a physical once every two years to be on the safer side.


Of course it’s not healthy to be overly paranoid about our health to the point where we call the doctor every time we get a hangnail. What is important is understanding our family’s health history and be mindful of the symptoms which could lead up to an attack or a disease. Everyone should figure out all their parents’ and grandparents’ ailments. Write them down, and ask the doctor what one should look out for.

One of my fears is that some disease could occur between physical examinations and debilitate or kill me before I see the doctor.  The doctor said not to worry, as there are long intervals for diseases to occur, and as soon as I feel abnormal discomfort, to come by earlier to get checked out anyway.

Take colon cancer as an example. My doctor recommends everybody 50 and over get a colonoscopy (ouch) every 5 years.

Five years is a huge gap Doc!” I responded.

My doctor explained that cysts take 5+ years to grow to become dangerous (cases may vary of course). With each colonoscopy, the doctor removes all perceived cysts/polyps, and one has a decent amount of time before anything grows to be out of control. Good to know.

One of the best indicator for health is our own self-assessment of how we feel.


The older we get, the more aware we become of our mortality. Getting a physical is not enjoyable since they’ve got to check everything and draw blood. Disliking a physical is a big reason why I didn’t go more than once every three years when I was in my 20s. Now it’s all about regular maintenance. If you haven’t had a physical in more than three years, it’s probably best to make an appointment today.

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Updated for 2015 and beyond



Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship. Sam focuses on helping readers build more income in real estate, investing, entrepreneurship, and alternative investments in order to achieve financial independence sooner, rather than later.

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  1. says

    I had to google the word Cobra. I was pretty sure that your snake was not loose and terrorizing your neighbourhood but I wanted to be sure.

    Lucky Canadian that I am I get all these check ups, innoculations, blood tests for free. Colonoscopies for all!

    Do your friends and family delay doctor visits because of the cost?

    • says

      Haha, nice. Yeah, I’ll go back and put (healthcare) next to COBRA for clarity purposes. Funny word huh?

      Colonoscopies for free? SWEEET! No wonder why Canada rocks!

      I delayed my visit b/c I have felt fine and I hate physicals. It doesn’t cost much at all ($49 this example) for most people w/ insurance. I think many of us get busy, forget, or just don’t like it.

      • JayCeezy says

        Nice post, Sam. Funny how some people won’t pay the $50 co-pay for a physical every three years, but pay $50 for an oil change every 5,000 miles. Priorities!

        Speaking of colonoscopies, I had my first one recently. Where no man has gone, before. And only two women. But seriously, I gotta say, I loved it! Perhaps that was TMI. It’s Friday, I just wanted to share!:-)

  2. says

    We have it every year and its free of copay. But on the other hand our premium is high compared to other providers. I am talking about Aetna premium.

  3. says

    My insurance currently offers a free physical once a year… so I get one once a year. No reason not to really and it might catch something that otherwise wouldn’t be found and could turn ugly. Every three years seems like a really long time to me.

    • says

      Three weeks later ain’t that bad. I think I booked mine about 1 month before my health insurance was to run out and got an appointment. It’s not like physicals need urgent care anyway. Medical care for all in Europe is pretty much free, even if you live abroad yeah?

  4. Money Beagle says

    It’s been about a year and a half since I got one done. I’ll get one sometime this year. I’m 38 so that fits into the cycle you laid out.

    Luckily, ours are 100% covered for our insurance plan, even the blood draw (though they did try to pay out the claim on my wife’s so that we got a bill, but after I called and asked for a re-submission, they paid out the rest).

  5. says

    I had one last year before I quit my job. I’ll probably have another one this year as well because I changed doctor. They like to get a baseline. Colonoscopies aren’t so bad, you’ll get knocked out anyway….

    • says

      Ehhh, I don’t know how they do physicals up in Canada, but down here in America I don’t know anybody who gets a physical twice a year! Even if my doctor paid me $100, I think I’d just do it once or twice a year max!

  6. says

    man, with my insurance always changing…I dont’ even remember the last time. Although I do see the doc with some frequency for my back, so I’m in there I guess, just not for a physical. Once every 3 years isn’t so bad though. My wife and I should be able to do that; 3 years is enough time to save up the money

      • says

        Giving us free physicals to catch problems early makes a lot more sense (both financially and health wise) than waiting until the problem becomes serious. Everything from hypertension to cancer is best dealt with in the early stages rather than the late stages.

        • says

          A Wall Street firm started this benefit along with others and their medical insurance costs went down! Catching diseases early is a good thing! Making it free is an incentive to encourage employees to use it. When I worked for a Fortune 100 company (years ago), I saw my coverage for reimbursement increase as I participated in annual cleanings and checkups with the dentist. I had 100% coverage after just 3 years. It fosters better health and ultimately lower costs.

  7. says

    I think we take our health for granted particularly when you are young. Last year, I had a pinched nerve which put me out of commission for 3.5 months. As we age, the effects of minor injuries or past mistakes are much more difficult to bounce back. Once you lose your health, it is a very slippery slope.

  8. Andrew @ Listen Money Matters says

    I’m glad you say 2-3 years under 35 cause yea, I’m kinda a slacker and its been at least that long. I go when I’m sick but I probably bring my old beat up carn in for a tune up more frequently than I do it for myself.

    Coincidentally I’m actually at the dentist now and he’s over an hour drive from my place. I was wondering, how easy is it to switch doctors (or dentists for that matter)? I would like to find someone closer and maybe with equipment purchased after 1980!

    • says

      It’s actually pretty easy to switch doctors and dentists. Just go online and search who is in your PPO or HMO network and give em a call!

      Funny how some check their cars more than they check their bodies!

  9. says

    Unless you plan was “grandfathered” in you should get an annual physical and age appropriate preventative tests without copays or coinsurance. If you go in for a routine physical but the visit gets coded with a medical diagnosis (if you have high blood pressure for example), it is subject to the deductible, copays, and coinsurance. Make sure it is coded correctly as a routine visit, even if they find something wrong.

  10. says

    I actually made it a goal this year to get to doctor for a physical. I haven’t been to the doctor in probably 10 years. I am 29 years old. Our insurance covers all but the 15$ co-pay. I don’t remember the draw fee. My husband gets regular checkups along with my kids. I’ve just not taken the time to get a doctor, but I know it is important. I am making my appointment soon:)

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