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ABI takes steps to help end HIV stigma

kathryn-knowlesA few months ago the Association of British Insurers downgraded HIV. It is no longer on its list of minimum standards for critical illness cover; it is no longer a life-threatening condition.

This is really exciting, as we have been fighting for fairer access to insurance for clients with HIV for years.

At the moment, most insurers will consider clients with HIV for life insurance but there are very limited options for critical illness and income protection.

For those that can do life insurance, the majority offer per-mille ratings (increase the premium for every £1,000 of insurance), which can make it very expensive. It is also standard that life insurance is capped at 15, 20 or 25 years.

This means some clients cannot cover the whole of their mortgage liability, value or term, because the price increase is so steep or the length of the policy limited. They may not be able to provide financial protection until their children reach an age of independence. Is this really fair? According to Public Health England, 96 per cent of people living with HIV in the UK are on treatment, and 94 per cent of these are classed as having undetectable viral load levels. It is often a stipulation for arranging insurance that it is undetectable. So why aren’t more favourable terms being offered?

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Critical illness cover is a further confusion. HIV can cause an increased risk of heart disease, stroke and some cancers but, as far as I am aware, does not increase your risk of limb loss, deafness, traumatic brain injury or third-degree burns. Research suggests HIV treatments can even reduce the risk of some cancers and multiple sclerosis.

Type 2 diabetics have a heightened risk of losing a limb, going blind and having a stroke, yet they can obtain critical illness cover. Some insurers see this risk as a potential, not a certainty. Why are we not treating people with HIV the same?

What is more, you can arrange critical illness cover for someone who has had cancer.

Cancer is unpredictable, brutal and can be virtually undetectable until it is too late. With someone who has HIV and is fully medicated, the condition is not unpredictable, it is not brutal and it is managed. Why do they still have less access to insurance?

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And then there is income protection. Again, if the HIV is dormant – non-active, not causing any impact to health, basically non-existent – then why not?

National Aids Trust chief executive Deborah Gold says: “The removal of HIV as a critical illness reflects the considerable progress that has been made in prognosis for those living with HIV over the past 30 years.

“But despite these welcome steps forward, critical illness cover and income protection remain unavailable because insurers deem them too risky for cover. We urge insurers to reconsider their underwriting positions… As people with HIV live longer lives than ever, it is vital they are given fair opportunity to ensure their long-term financial security.”

It is my sincere hope the rest of the insurance industry will take the ABI’s lead and start to see HIV as it is: a manageable lifelong condition.

Kathryn Knowles is managing director of specialist risk experts Cura Financial Services

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