Qualifications are strict and costs high, but policies are still an important tool for financial stability
For the first time since the early 1980s, people with HIV can buy life insurance. Prudential Insurance Company of America and John Hancock Insurance are both offering policies.
Prudential Life insurance offers a term life policy for 10 or 15 years for people 30 to 60 years old. Coverage is available up to $2.5 million. John Hancock’s whole life policy is available for people 30 to 65 years old for amounts up to $2 million.
During the early 1980s, some life insurance policies were available without blood tests. If a person with HIV survived more than two years after purchasing a policy, the insurer couldn’t challenge the policy.
But as HIV testing became more accurate and more common, insurers began requiring the test and disqualified anyone testing positive for the virus. But with the advent of anti-retroviral medications, HIV has become a manageable condition.
“With advances in the successful treatment of people with HIV, we are now able to offer this opportunity to apply for life insurance — a milestone we see as a significant step in the right direction,” Prudential officials wrote in marketing materials announcing the change.
Still, not everyone who applies will be accepted.
Financial advisor Randy Greenberg said Prudential asks applicants how they acquired the virus. Those infected by IV drug use are disqualified.
Contracting the virus through sexual contact does not disqualify an applicant, he said. But to qualify for Prudential’s policy, a person must have been diagnosed more than a year ago and maintained “satisfactory CD4 levels.”
Other factors that would disqualify a candidate applying for life insurance include having been convicted of driving under the influence or having dangerous hobbies, like driving race cars. Smoking does not disqualify an applicant but will affect the price.
The policyholder, once the term is approved, can convert to a permanent policy into a whole life policy, Greenberg said.
Insurance agent Steven Graves said he’s been pushing insurance companies to offer life insurance to people with HIV for years.
“This is a huge step in the right direction,” he said. But he noted, the qualifiers John Hancock lists for its policies are more numerous and specific than Prudential’s.
An applicant must be “compliant with antiretroviral therapy for at least five consecutive years” and “well followed by an HIV specialist.”
A large city may have an HIV specialist, but smaller cities and rural areas don’t. Someone without other complicating factors who responds well to some of the basic combination therapies, however, may find local doctors that will treat the illness as any manageable disease.
Hancock requires an applicant to have an undetectable viral load count for the last two years and currently have a CD4 cell count above 350.
To be insured, the applicant must currently test negative for Hepatitis B and C and have no history of hepatitis. According to infectious disease specialist Dr. Gary Sinclair, a case of acute Hep B provides immunity to future infection, but the company is probably looking for people with chronic cases of Hep B that lead to cirrhosis of the liver and cancer. Cures for Hep C are recently available, but people who’ve had that disease are also prone to cirrhosis and cancer.
Hancock also requires no history of IV drug use, coronary artery disease, diabetes, cancer or protein in the urine that indicates kidney disease. Significant psychiatric history is a disqualifier.
The person must not be underweight and not be losing weight, have normal protein levels and have no AIDS-defining illness. Severe weight loss is often associated with AIDS. Diseases like cytomegalovirus or CMV, pneumocystis, Kaposi’s sarcoma are common opportunistic infections associated with AIDS that would be rare in anyone with a CD4 cell count above 350.
Just how expensive is this insurance? Graves sent a quote from Hancock for a 40-year-old male living in Texas with HIV and without HIV. The new policy for someone with HIV would cost $42.48 per month for $100,000 coverage. The person living without HIV would pay $8.37 per month for the same coverage.
While the new coverage is expensive, some people will find having that coverage worthwhile.
“Now that we can get married, there’s the responsibility for certain debts the surviving spouse will incur,” Greenberg said. “Having life insurance available as a financial tool is incredibly valuable.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 13, 2016.