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News & Notes

August 2000

California Insurance Companies Must Honor Policies
Rudy Galindo Named NMAC Honorary Co-Chair
Young Gay Men at High Risk
Controversial Figures to Speak at GLMA Conference
Philadelphia in Las Vegas?


California Insurance Companies Must Honor Policies

In a unanimous ruling in late June, the California Supreme Court held that insurers cannot deny benefits to policyholders who develop AIDS several years after becoming insured. The practice is widespread in the insurance industry, according to the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.

The 7-0 decision in Galanty v. The Paul Revere Life Insurance Company ordered the insurer to honor a disability insurance policy issued to Mark Galanty, a 52-year-old Studio City man represented by Lambda. The case had been watched closely by the state Insurance Commissioner and disability rights, women's, consumer, legal, AIDS, and other civil rights groups, all of whom had warned against allowing insurers to flout state insurance law.

"The highest court in California has sent a powerful message to insurers that they cannot take payments from policyholders for years, and then try to avoid obligations to pay benefits when claims are made," said Mary Newcombe, a Lambda cooperating attorney with the law firm of Caldwell, Leslie, Newcombe & Petti, who argued the case before the Supreme Court.

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According to Lambda Supervising Attorney Jon W. Davidson, "The Court's opinion is a victory for all California consumers. People who become disabled -- regardless of the cause -- need no longer worry that an insurance company will dig through their medical files in an attempt to find a previous lab result, genetic test, or medical condition to use as an excuse for refusing payment."

He added, "People with HIV who have disability policies now will have peace of mind, knowing that they will receive benefits when they need them instead of being forced into poverty. The Court wisely put an end to the same sort of post-claim underwriting practices novelist John Grisham exposed in The Rainmaker."

Galanty was HIV-positive when Paul Revere sold him a disability insurance policy in 1989, and he diligently paid premiums for the next several years, continuing to work without illness. The policy's "incontestability" clause stated that claims made for disabilities occurring more than two years after the start of a policy could not be denied.

Five years after his policy was issued, Galanty was diagnosed with AIDS; at that time, pain in his hands and other medical complications forced him to stop working as a court reporter. But Paul Revere refused to pay Galanty's disability claim, arguing that his AIDS diagnosis was "manifest" before the policy took effect.

In its ruling, California's highest court reversed two lower courts that had sided with the insurer. Ruling that under the law incontestability clauses prevent insurers from denying disability claims after the policy has been in effect two years, the Court said in its thirty-page decision, "In short, the incontestability clause controls."

Galanty said, "I was trying to be responsible when I accepted a sales agent's pitch about this policy, and I was shocked when years later my claims were rejected. This ruling comes as a great relief to me today."

Writing for the majority, Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar said that historically, "such clauses were intended to promote the sale of policies to a public generally distrustful of insurers, and to address the perception that insurers tended to avoid paying benefits because of minor misstatements in applications for insurance." The Court sent Galanty's claims for bad faith and emotional distress back to the Court of Appeals, since they were not considered in previous rulings.

Once voluntary, incontestability clauses now are required in insurance policies by most states, including California. Similar efforts by other insurers to evade those laws also have failed. Last year, for example, New York's highest court rejected attempts by New England Mutual Life to confuse an HIV test result with an AIDS diagnosis and ordered the company to pay the benefits it owed to a policyholder.


Rudy Galindo Named NMAC Honorary Co-Chair

The National Minority AIDS Council has announced that figure skater Rudy Galindo, former United States Men's Champion, will serve as Honorary Co-Chair and spokesperson for its latest HIV-Related Anemia Awareness Campaign. Galindo will appear in radio and newspaper advertisements and public service announcements around the country in English and Spanish.

The HIV-Related Anemia Awareness Campaign is intended to raise awareness about the need to improve the quality of life of people living with HIV and AIDS by raising awareness about HIV-related conditions such as anemia that may erode the quality of life of thousands of HIV-positive individuals. The campaign will encourage people living with HIV to see their doctors if they are feeling excessively tired or fatigued.

Galindo will participate in media interviews designed to bring greater awareness to the general public about the disproportionate impact the AIDS epidemic is having on gay men of color, Latinos, and all people of color. As an outspoken, high-profile Latino gay man living with HIV, Galindo is considered well positioned to reach millions of Americans with these messages.

Galindo will join NMAC at this year's United States Conference on AIDS, to be held October 1 through 4 in Atlanta, where he will sign posters at the NMAC booth in the exhibit hall. Posters are being mailed free of charge, automatically, to all NMAC members. Additional copies are available to members for $1.00 each. Nonmembers may purchase the posters for $2.00 each for single orders and $0.50 per poster for bulk orders of fifty or more. Order forms are available via e-mail only at info@nmac.org. The poster can be seen in English at www.nmac.org/rudy/rudy_english.htm and in Spanish at www.nmac.org/rudy/rudy_espanol.htm.


Young Gay Men at High Risk

A study published in the July 12 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association found an alarmingly high prevalence of HIV infection among gay and bisexual men between the ages of 15 and 22. Nearly 10 percent of the 22-year-olds who took part in the survey tested positive for HIV; among young gay men of color who were tested, more than 16 percent were positive.

In response to these new statistics, the national advocacy group AIDS Action called on Congress and the Clinton Administration to strengthen their commitment to slowing the spread of HIV in the United States among those most at risk for the disease. "The CDC data estimate that 100,000 people under the age of 25 will become infected with HIV in the next five years if current trends continue," said Claudia French, Acting Executive Director of AIDS Action. "I don't know what more evidence Congress needs to be convinced that this country should dramatically ramp up its prevention efforts. There's still time in this appropriation process to make a real commitment to prevention. Congress should disregard the President's budget request and get serious about preventing the spread of HIV."

Hundreds of organizations comprising the National Organizations Responding to AIDS coalition asked the administration and Congress to increase HIV prevention funding by more than $100 million in FY2001. The Clinton administration declined, supporting only a modest $40 million increase.

"Current prevention efforts are not enough to protect a new generation of sexually active young people," said French. "We support a stronger prevention effort at the Centers for Disease Control targeted to reach young gay men and other at-risk groups. It only makes sense that we take every opportunity and make every effort to tell young people what puts them at risk for HIV and what it means to become HIV-positive."

In addition to the report in JAMA, other recent studies and data indicate that new HIV infections among certain populations are on the rise. An AIDS Action study of AIDS service providers found most reporting a spike in new infections among women of color and other groups. CDC officials reported to the 13th International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa, that today's teens may not be practicing safer sex as regularly as men who came of age in the earlier days of the epidemic.

"The success of the latest AIDS drugs may be having the unintended effect of making safer sex passé among younger gay men, said French. "We've been so busy celebrating the successes in extending the lives of those with AIDS that we forgot to tell those just coming of age how to avoid getting it in the first place. It's time we redoubled our efforts to educate young people about protecting themselves, and about how difficult life can be when they don't."


Controversial Figures to Speak at GLMA Conference

The Episcopalian bishop who authored Why Christianity Must Change or Die and an out Canadian Minister of Parliament will be among the featured speakers at the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association's 18th Annual Conference in Vancouver in August.

"Sex, politics, and religion are supposed to be topics to avoid," said GLMA's Executive Director Maureen S. O'Leary. "But we have them at the top of our list."

Bishop John Shelby Spong is no stranger to controversy, in and outside the church. His ordination of an openly gay priest in the 1980s spawned a formal rebuke by the House of Bishops -- a move, some say, that was backed by the Pope. He also wrote Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism and other books that troubled mainstream theologians. His most recent book is Here I Stand.

Svend J. Robinson, the first openly gay member of the Canadian Parliament, has fought to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to include sexual orientation and to end policies against gays and lesbians in the Canadian Armed Forces. He remains active in LGBT causes, including the introduction of bills to end discrimination in his country's immigration laws.

"Health doesn't exist in a vacuum," O'Leary said. "To have equal access to the law and be able to participate in a spiritual community is also part of creating and maintaining a healthful environment for LGBT youth and families. We expect to see many different roads converge during our Vancouver conference."

The 18th Annual Conference of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, entitled "LGBT Youth and Families: The Foundation of a Healthy Future," will be held August 10 through 12 at the Hyatt Regency Vancouver in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. To register, go to www.glma.org or call (510) 843-8048 and ask for Kirsten Berzon. GLMA is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education.


Philadelphia in Las Vegas?

The State Bar of Nevada -- which is responsible for ethical standards for the legal profession and whose motto is "Making the Law Work for Everyone" -- is embroiled in a discrimination case stemming from its firing of Paul Ortiz.

Ortiz, whose work was praised until he learned, and disclosed to his employers, that he was HIV-positive, was let go ostensibly because of poor job performance. The administrators of the district Equal Employment Opportunity Commission responded to Ortiz's complaint by sending a determination letter -- admissible in court -- stating that the evidence supported Ortiz's claim that he was fired because of his disability.

Ortiz is represented by the Nevada ACLU and local attorney Richard "Tick" Segerblom. Stay tuned.


Back to the August 2000 Issue of Body Positive Magazine.



  
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