Big insurers cover people with HIV

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Associated Press

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Johannesburg - The availability of life expectancy data for people living with HIV in South Africa was likely to prompt more life assurers to offer policies for HIV positive people, insurers said yesterday.

On Sunday, Liberty’s flagship life product, Lifestyle Protector, became available to people living with HIV, with educational benefits for children of HIV-positive parents.

The company said it had taken it more than a decade to follow smaller insurers in offering insurance products for HIV-positive people because the industry did not have sufficient data to correctly price and underwrite risks associated with HIV.

“The latest research suggesting that HIV-positive individuals have life expectancies similar to HIV-negative individuals (in some instances) was a defining moment for the industry as a whole,” Liberty Retail spokesman Nicholas van der Nest said.

Sanlam, which was the first major local life insurer to offer standard life cover to people living with HIV in July, said yesterday that it had long wanted to provide cover to HIV-positive individuals but had no means of assessing its underwriting risk before the life expectancy data became available.

The two insurers said the underwriting process for HIV-positive people was similar to any other policy, where policies were priced according to risk.

But, in the case of Sanlam, a unique questionnaire is filled in by both the applicant and their doctor indicating the date of diagnosis, CD4 count and past complications, and people with a CD4 count of less than 500 must have been on antiretroviral treatment for at least six months.

Liberty also requires additional information on current and historical CD4 counts, viral load test results, as well as other information from the treating doctor.

Liberty said it believed cover for HIV-positive individuals was becoming a focus area for South African insurers.

As more life insurers started underwriting normal rather than specialised insurance policies for HIV-positive people, Marx said they had seen the cost of cover decline.

Altrisk, the first South African insurer to cover HIV infected individuals in 1999, said yesterday that it had reviewed its pricing because HIV-positive people were living longer.

“The reality is that in 14 years, we have only ever had two HIV claims – a trend that echoes the research coming from the reinsurers,” Dalene Allen, a specialist risk consultant and co-founder of Altrisk, said during its underwriting workshop yesterday.

Allen said the company’s underwriting statistics showed that people who had heart disease or diabetes as pre-existing conditions when they took out life cover sometimes paid higher premiums than many HIV-positive people who managed their condition well.

Apart from life expectancy data, increased competition in this area did not come as a surprise since national antiretroviral programmes had reduced the number of Aids deaths a year by about 25 percent to date.

In the past, only the small insurers, the likes of Altrisk and All Life, offered risk cover to HIV-positive individuals.

According to Des Martin, the president of the HIV Clinicians Society of SA, recent research shows that an HIV-positive person aged 30 years, in a developed country with access to proper health care and antiretrovirals and a CD4 count of 432, will have a life expectancy of 75 years. The same individual with a lower CD4 count of 140 on ARVs has a life expectancy of 71.5 years. - Business Report


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