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Life Insurance Ban on HIV/AIDS Patients Unjustified Due to Advent of Antiretroviral Therapy, Study Says

September 12, 2003

Life insurance companies' ban on providing coverage for people with HIV/AIDS is in many cases unjustified, according to a study published in the Sept. 13 issue of the Lancet, BBC News reports (BBC News, 9/12). Because of high death rates among AIDS patients in the past and a perception that mortality among HIV-positive patients is much higher than in the general population, HIV/AIDS patients are unable to obtain life insurance in major European countries and the United States (Jaggy et al., Lancet, 9/13). However, the Swiss researchers who conducted the study said that the automatic ban on HIV-positive people does not take into account the success of antiretroviral treatment, Agence France-Presse reports (Agence France-Presse, 9/11). The researchers from 1997 to 2001 measured mortality rates in 3,963 people enrolled in the Swiss HIV Cohort Study, an ongoing study of HIV-positive people in seven large hospitals throughout Switzerland. The researchers compared death rates of the HIV-positive people in the study to the death rates of the overall Swiss population (Lancet, 9/13). Dr. Bernard Hirschel of the Geneva University Hospital, a co-author of the study, said, "Successfully treated HIV-positive and hepatitis C negative patients have a short-term mortality as low as, or lower than that of, patients with cancer who have been successfully treated -- a group that is able to obtain life insurance" (BBC News, 9/12). The researchers defined successful treatment as having a CD4+ T cell count greater than 250 cells/mm3 at least six months after starting treatment. They predicted that the mortality rate among these patients is likely to remain low over the next several years (Lancet, 9/11). However, short-term mortality was significantly higher among HIV-positive patients who had failed to respond to HAART or who had hepatitis C. The researchers concluded that the study "provides preliminary evidence that life coverage could be considered under specific conditions" (Agence France-Presse, 9/11).

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