OPINION: I’m HIV+, but can I still take out life insurance?

by Karen Holden | A City Law Firm
Wednesday, 29 July 2020 08:17 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Red balloons are released ahead of World AIDS Day at the Emilio Ribas Hospital in Sao Paulo, Brazil November 29, 2019. REUTERS/Amanda Perobelli

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

HIV status is protected in Britain by the Equality Act, so insurers should be non-discriminatory

Karen Holden is an LGBT+ lawyer and founder of A City Law Firm

It is a commonly held misconception that those who live with HIV will be unable to obtain life insurance, but your HIV status is protected under the Equality Act and insurance offers should be non-discriminatory.

The majority of life insurance contracts in the UK do not have exclusions for any medical conditions, including HIV, if diagnosed after the cover has started. Most policies do not require you to update them of any new conditions either, so your policy will remain unaffected.

If you have already been diagnosed, before you take out the policy, there are still providers that will cover you. However, HIV will be treated as any other pre-existing condition, which may lead to inflated premiums due to the increased risk this condition may pose.

Has HIV affected life insurance in the past?

Prior to the introduction of anti-retroviral drugs, obtaining life insurance was virtually impossible. However, following the medical breakthrough, which prevents the transmission of HIV and stops the virus progressing into AIDS, life expectancy of sufferers has increased dramatically.

As HIV is now seen as a chronic condition akin to diabetes, insurers are now able to offer protection to people living with the virus.

What criteria do insurers consider when processing an application?

An insurer’s job is to assess risk and to offer customers the right level of cover at the right price. Insurers will often consider the following criteria during the application process:

  • Date of diagnosis
  • Any history of drug usage
  • History of hepatitis
  • Treatment administered
  • Viral load
  • CD4 count (which reveals the health of the person’s immune system)

Medical evidence will be required, and insurers will generally undergo manual underwriting before an application can be approved.

What happens if you do not disclose that you have HIV?

If you know that you are HIV positive and do not disclose this on an application form, this is likely to mean your policy will be invalid and your insurer is then highly unlikely to pay out if you die or need critical illness payments. It is very important that you answer all questions honestly and in a transparent manner with the insurer.

But it is important to note that if you have health insurance through your employer, the insurance company cannot legally tell your employer that you have HIV.

What legal provisions can those with HIV seeking insurance cover rely upon?

The Equality Act 2010 applies in England, Wales and Scotland and gives protection to those with a “protected characteristic” in relation to employment, education, access to goods, facilities and services as well as in buying or renting land or property.

HIV is deemed a protected characteristic under the Equality Act and you must not be treated discriminatorily or less favourably as a result of your status. As such insurers need to have a process and policy that considers all applications in the same way.

Advice

Always check the insurers terms carefully and ask questions if you are uncertain.

If it’s non-discriminatory across all pre-existing conditions then you cannot challenge them under the Equality Act. However, if you are singled out due to your HIV status and treated less favourably and thus unfairly compared with others this could be potentially a discrimination claim.

Ask questions, review the offer and be honest on the application form to ensure you get what you understood was the offer and ensure it will be paid out at the essential time.

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