SOUTH AFRICA: AIDS 'paradigm shift' in life insurance
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
JOHANNESBURG, 5 December (PLUSNEWS) - A South African firm is bringing more affordable life insurance within reach of HIV-positive people otherwise struggling with limited and costly schemes.
AllLife has listed regular blood tests and compliance with antiretroviral (ARV) treatment among some of the primary conditions for accessing their policies, which could pay up to US$410,000 in the event of accidental or AIDS-related death.
Ross Beerman, managing director and co-founder of AllLife, was confident that the introduction of broad-based insurance for HIV-positive consumers was the way forward for life companies in a country as hard-hit by the pandemic as South Africa.
"Providing affordable cover to infected clients is a paradigm shift for a sector which had routinely prejudiced those living with the virus," he told IRIN/PlusNews.
According to Beerman, traditional life assurers were still declining between 600 and 800 applications a month, based on positive HIV test results.
Traditional assurers offered limited and often prohibitive life cover to people living with HIV on condition that the cover was linked to a savings product.
"Since our launch [in 2006] we have taken clients on board who range from company directors to domestics. This is because our monthly premiums, while not cheap, are able to also accommodate HIV-positive people in the lower-income brackets," he said.
Beerman noted that 1.8 million HIV-positive people who earned less than $420 a month qualified for cover but were still uninsured.
Although the firm does not cover clients in the advanced stages of infection, it did provide cover to clients with a CD4 count (which measures the strength of the immune system) of over 200 at premiums as low as $21 a month.
Some prospective clients welcomed the insurance scheme but charged that the qualifying criteria were still restrictive and almost "discriminatory".
Nokhwezi Hobowi said her application was turned down in August 2006, despite having been cured of TB in June and showing a CD4 count of just over 300.
"Even though I had been successfully cleared of TB, AllLife said I had to wait another six months before I could apply for their cover. I don't see what it [TB] has to do with anything."
Hobowi said this rule would only encourage new clients to lie about existing or previously treated AIDS-related opportunistic infections.
But Beerman stressed that the clause relating to opportunistic illnesses was a minor precaution and clients did not have to wait longer than a year before reapplying. "This is just to make sure that the client is indeed successfully treated of their illness. We want our clients to live longer, and therefore request regular HIV tests to monitor adherence to ARVs, as well as the onset of opportunistic infections."
The company has enrolled just under 1,000 clients in little more than a year and its customer care call centre receives 150 new enquiries a week.
"By treating HIV in the same way as other chronic or high-risk illnesses, we are also sending the message to the general population that people can live productive lives, provided that they make use of available treatments," Beerman commented.