Life Insurance Choices Slowly Expand for Those With HIV

Insurance, Life Insurance

People living with HIV might now qualify for life insurance from two major companies, and their coverage options are likely to grow in the coming years.

John Hancock announced in April that it had begun offering coverage to people with HIV who met certain criteria. That news followed a similar announcement by Prudential in December.

“What modern medicine has done is convert what was once a death sentence to a chronic illness that can be managed,” says Steven Weisbart, senior vice president and chief economist at the Insurance Information Institute. “Now we have enough data to be reasonably certain that the pricing we use will be valid.”

For years, options were few

Until recently, people with HIV were denied or quoted exorbitant life insurance rates when they applied for coverage. Their only option was usually getting group life through their employers. But that coverage typically has low payouts and ends when the insured leaves the job.

More than 1.2 million people in the U.S. are living with HIV, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC estimates that more than 40,000 Americans become newly infected each year.

John Hancock’s announcement is a “great thing,” says Scott Schoettes, HIV project director for Lambda Legal, a national LGBT civil rights nonprofit. “It shows there’s a market for insurance companies to step into.”

The lack of life insurance offerings had been on Lambda Legal’s radar for a long time. Until the recent announcements, the group had considered legal action to get the industry to offer coverage, Schoettes says.

But now that two major insurers are in the market, others are likely to follow. Weisbart estimates up to a dozen companies will offer coverage to people with HIV within the next five years.

What’s offered and who can qualify

John Hancock is offering term and permanent life insurance to people with HIV. Applicants might qualify if they are:

  • Age 30 to 65.
  • Responding to and strictly adhering to antiretroviral therapy.
  • Showing no signs of “significant immunosuppression” — a weakening of the immune system.
  • Showing no signs of “comorbid conditions.” These are conditions that occur along with another disease but are usually independent of it.

Prudential teamed up with Aequalis to offer 10- and 15-year term life insurance, which can be converted to a permanent policy. Aequalis is an independent company that offers financial products to people living with HIV. According to Aequalis’ website, applicants might qualify if they are:

  • Age 30 to 60.
  • Following their medication schedule.
  • Free of complications from HIV.
  • Maintaining their CD4 levels and suppressing their viral loads. A CD4 count is a blood test measuring how well the immune system is operating. The viral load is the amount of HIV in the blood. Treatment aims to decrease the viral load.
  • Free of Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C.

Other details are available on Aequalis’ website.

Both John Hancock and Prudential require applicants with HIV to meet other standard life insurance application criteria. You can’t qualify for life insurance, for instance, if you’re undergoing cancer treatment or have had a string of recent DUIs.

Many are still excluded

The recent announcements by life insurers are good news, but Schoettes notes that most people living with HIV don’t meet the criteria. Only 30% of Americans with HIV had the virus under control in 2011, according to a November 2014 CDC report, the latest available. Of those whose virus was out of control, about two-thirds had been diagnosed but were not getting regular HIV care.

“We need to do a better job of getting people treatment,” Schoettes says.

Barbara Marquand is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: bmarquand@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @barbaramarquand.