Despite treatment advances that have made HIV infection a manageable chronic disease for many, HIV-positive people still face many hurdles in obtaining life insurance policies, The [San Jose, Calif.] Mercury News reports. Although HIV-positive people cannot be denied group life insurance policies through their employers or other formal organizations, it remains nearly impossible for them to obtain individual policies that require a medical review. Generally only "guaranteed issue" policies that don't require a medical exam are available to HIV-positive people, and those are expensive and have significantly less coverage than general policies. Only one U.S. insurance company, Guarantee Trust Life Insurance, provides significant coverage to people with HIV, but it requires them to be between the ages of 20 and 49, on antiretroviral therapy, and have certain levels of T cells and HIV viral loads in order to qualify. Anyone who has progressed to an AIDS diagnosis is denied coverage, as are those who were infected with HIV through intravenous drug use or contaminated blood supplies. About half the HIV-positive applicants at Guarantee Trust Life have been denied because of the policy restrictions, company officials say.
AIDS experts say one reason for the difficulties HIV-positive people face in getting life insurance policies is because actuarial data doesn't reflect the true life expectancy of people who have controlled HIV in their bodies through antiretroviral treatment. At Guarantee Trust, life expectancies for HIV-positive people are estimated at 12 to 15 years from the time of HIV diagnosis. But a September 2003 study in The Lancet shows that HIV-positive people on antiretroviral therapy have death rates similar to those with other chronic diseases, including cancer. Patients with cancer who have been successfully treated are able to obtain life insurance policies through most U.S. insurers. American Council of Life Insurers spokesman Jack Dolan called the study "very exciting" and said it may be used to expand coverage for HIV-positive insurance applicants. "Life insurance companies want to provide coverage, and they want to provide it to as many people as possible," he said. "We really want to see more data."