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IRIN PlusNews HIV/AIDS News and information service | Southern Africa | SOUTH AFRICA: Life insurers still snubbing HIV-positive clients | Economy Business, PWAs ASOs | News Items
Saturday 10 February 2007
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SOUTH AFRICA: Life insurers still snubbing HIV-positive clients


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]



©  IRIN

Many HIV positive people still cannot access adequate life insurance

JOHANNESBURG, 24 January (PLUSNEWS) - Most South African life insurance companies have little or no cover available to potential clients who are HIV-positive, despite the disease now being much more manageable than in previous years.

Cape Town-based AIDS activist Brett Anderson recently became the latest of a long list of people left out in the cold as a result of these limited services.

"It started when I decided to take out life cover on a second property bond, valued at about US$93,000. I contacted three major insurers by telephone to hear what products were available to me as an employed HIV-positive man, and discovered there were actually none," he told IRIN/PlusNews.

Anderson charged that the lack of services was a "slap in the face" in a country with one of the most progressive constitutions in the world and an estimated HIV prevalence of about 18 percent.

Noting recent treatment gains, Fatima Hassan, of the AIDS Law Project (ALP), a nongovernmental organisation offering legal assistance to people living with HIV, said it was time for insurers to revise their existing policies.

"There are currently only a handful of insurers who actually offer full life cover to infected people, but their rates are exorbitant compared to [those of] standard policies," she commented.

AllLife, a newcomer to the insurance field, was one of only two 'AIDS-friendly' companies offering comprehensive life cover to HIV-positive people, at premiums as low as US$21 a month.

Ross Beerman, managing director and co-founder of AllLife, stressed the importance of bringing existing life cover products within reach of infected people who could afford them.

Although admitting that his firm's premiums on policies were between two and five times higher than those of standard policies, Beerman noted that they did not differ much from the premiums paid by diabetics, which were between two and four times more on policies offered by some of the country's leading insurers.

UNINSURED AND LIVING LONGER

According to Beerman, insurance companies could help overcome two of the most powerful stigmas against HIV-positive people - death and shame - by offering revised policies.

"At least 1.8 million infected people who earn less than $420 a month qualify for cover but remain uninsured because life assurers still decline between 600 and 800 applications a month, based on positive HIV test results. Our product has been tailored to accommodate almost every income bracket, from company directors to domestics," he said.

With an AllLife policy covering a property bond identical to that of Anderson's, the client would pay a premium of $150 per month and have their home loan paid in full in the event of death, even if it were AIDS-related.

"These products enable HIV-positive people, who are on treatment and undergo regular adherence tests to ensure that the drugs are keeping them healthy, to buy homes and leave behind some kind of financial security for their next of kin," Beerman said. "And yet conventional assurers continue to offer limited and often prohibitive life cover to them."

Echoing Beerman's sentiments, Hassan charged that refusing cover on the basis of an individual's HIV status was "unfairly discriminatory", and offenders could find themselves being brought before the Constitutional Court.

According to Gerhard Joubert, executive director of the Life Offices Association of South Africa (LOA), which has 35 registered long-term insurance companies as members, affordable new-generation products were available from some LOA members.

"Not all of our members specialise in life cover, but some of the leading ones, such as Sanlam, do offer products which are tailored to the needs of people living with HIV/AIDS," he said.

Among others, Anderson had approached Sanlam, one of the three largest insurers in the country, and found it was not yet offering comprehensive life cover to HIV-positive people.

The firm had only one product available to clients who might be living with the HI virus: an endowment policy with limited life cover, which runs for a maximum of 10 years and pays out about US$14,000.

"This was despite great fanfare last year [2006] that insurers would be revising their current policy to accommodate the substantial HIV-positive population who were using ARVs and in need of life cover," Anderson commented.

"Most insurance companies still cite higher financial risk as a determining factor to exclude people with HIV," Hassan said. "But with greater numbers of people now accessing antiretroviral treatment, and living longer and more productive lives, the issue remains whether this exclusion couldn't be deemed constitutionally unfair."

ALP was presently discussing ways of making appropriate relief available to HIV-positive people with the LOA, and has also urged the government to make a firm, clear statement prohibiting insurers from treating HIV-positive clients as "temporary members of society".

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[ENDS]




 
Recent SOUTH AFRICA Reports
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IRIN PlusNews Weekly Issue 320, 26 January 2007,  26/Jan/07
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· International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS
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· International HIV/AIDS Alliance


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