When the HIV/AIDS epidemic began gaining momentum in the 1980s, a diagnosis was seen as a certain death sentence, with life insurance companies across the board refusing to cover individuals who tested positive for HIV.
Over time, however, a better understanding of the disease and rapid medical advances have meant that people with HIV/AIDS are now reaching life expectancies that are “almost normal”, provided the disease is identified early enough and treatment protocols adhered to, along with maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle.
This is according to Jonathan Elcock, founder and CEO of CompariSure, who says that South African life insurance companies have drastically adapted their approach to HIV-positive applicants as a result. “In fact, some companies were even built on the fact that they specialise on insuring HIV-positive individuals. AllLife (founded 2004) and AltRisk (founded in 1999, now Hollard Life) were among the first to offer cover for HIV-positive individuals.”
The last five years, however, have seen almost all of the established traditional insurers following suit, says Elcock, who adds that many people now put HIV/AIDS in the same category as Diabetes in terms of the disease’s severity grouping. “This indicates just how far the medical profession has evolved in terms of treating people with HIV, and how effective anti-retroviral (ERV) drugs are in managing the disease.”
This is not to say that insurers no longer want to know the status of potential clients, he notes. “Typically, insurers will ask applicants a series of medical, financial, and lifestyle questions as part of the application process. This is known as underwriting. One of the standard medical underwriting questions is, ‘Have you ever been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS or are you awaiting a test result?’ Similarly, they’ll ask questions about your smoking status as well as other questions around your family’s medical history.
“It is vital that applicants be truthful when answering these questions, as any failure to supply honest answers or the omission of information that may mislead insurers can be considered fraudulent, and could result in claims being rejected down the line.”
While this strict honesty policy is applied by all life insurers, Elcock says that they do tend to vary when it comes to adherence tests and treatment protocols. “Sophisticated insurers will have adherence programmes aimed at helping HIV-positive policyholders stick to their treatment plan. Some will also require the policyholder to go for regular check-ups to ensure that the prescribed ARVs are being administered and are still effective.”
However, Elcock notes that not all HIV-positive individuals will be able to get cover in place. “If your CD4 count and viral load levels are too poor, insurers may still deny your cover or only offer very limited cover amounts. This is why it’s so important to get cover in place while you are still relatively healthy, regardless of your HIV status,” he explains.
“As South Africa’s first independent online life insurance comparison platform, several of the providers we work with offer cover for HIV-positive individuals, and we are therefore in the position to ensure that these individuals find the best cover possible.”
This, he says, is just part of CompariSure’s broader mission to democratise access to quality life insurance products for all South Africans. “Currently, some insurers are able to charge absurdly high premiums for the cover they offer, because customers don’t know any better, and struggle to compare premiums and policies with other providers on a like-for-like basis. CompariSure is looking to bring order and transparency to the market, helping to improve access to quality, affordable products.”
Looking forward, Elcock predicts that things should only get better for HIV-positive individuals in this regard. “Already HIV/AIDS is being treated much more like other standard pre-existing chronic conditions. As treatment continues to improve, with HIV-positive individuals living longer and longer, the extra premiums charged will continue to decrease,” he concludes.
For more information on CompariSure, visit their website www.comparisure.co.za.