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Insurance Rights for Newly Employed HIV+ Person
Dec 11, 2003

I began working for a new employer and resigned from my previous employer for a better career move. I have been working at my new employer over a month and they love my work. I have been handed a form to sign up for insurance coverage and the form is asking if I am HIV+. I did not have this problem with my previous employer because I was recently diagnosed as HIV+ and I am in great health condition. My new employer has 53 employees, however the plan we are going with has (United Healthcare)states 2-50 employees because this insurance is covering everyone at the corporate office only, other employees get another insurance. I cannot lie when filling the form out and will have to mark down that I am positive. If I lie I can get fired, and they insurance could deny claims stating a pre-existing condition. I have not had a gap in coverage because I am under COBRA until my new insurance kicks in Jan 1st, 2004. However, HR will find out and I work with HR closely at corporate and the head of HR is married to the CEO of the company. Can the insurance company deny benefits to me? Can the company fire me if they find out I am positive, since I have not yet met my probationary period? I do not know what to do.

Response from Ms. Breuer

You are absolutely right that you cannot lie on the form. But you certainly describe a delicate situation. Here are a couple of ideas:

1. Contact the insurance company from a non-traceable phone and do not identify yourself except to say that you are an employee at a company they insure. Ask how your privacy is protected in light of the fact that there are people at your company who see your completed form. Ask their advice about how to complete the form without compromising your privacy. You don't have to state that you are HIV+ during this conversation, since I assume that there are other questions about other health conditions on the form.

2. Check the Web site of the insurance carrier and look for their privacy notice. Or check your enrollment materials from your employer. There should be a privacy notice there.

3. Visit the website of your state's insurance commissioner and look for a link to the consumer advocate. That person cannot tell you about what your employer can or cannot do, but can tell you about the responsibilities of the insurance carrier in protecting your privacy.

4. Contact Jacques Chambers at Jacques has been doing benefits work for people with HIV for a long time, and probably has suggestions I don't know anything about.

In a group of 50 or fewer, the answers on these forms do affect the company's insurance rates, according to my sister the insurance company employee. You can, of course, be let go for any reason during your probationary period. The insurer cannot single you out on a group policy and deny benefits.

My sister's court of last appeal answer was, "Work for a company where the group plan covers more than 50 people." But that isn't where you want to start.

My final suggestion is to contact the head of HR, not give your diagnosis, but indicate that you have a concern about privacy and the extent to which you are protected from arbitrary actions on your employer's part based on how you fill out the form. Sometimes if you make it clear that you know which questions to ask, you know your rights and you know that they approve of your work to date, you can help them decide to treat you well.

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