Spokane Spokesman-Review Examines HIV-Related Life Insurance Discrimination Case in Washington State

The Spokane Spokesman-Review on Wednesday examined a case in Washington state in which an HIV-positive man was denied life insurance by Farmers New World Life Insurance. Some advocates had hoped that the discrimination case would "open doors" for people living with the virus who are denied life insurance, the Spokesman-Review reports, adding that those hopes were "dashed" by a ruling that said Gerald Hebert -- an employee with the state's Human Rights Commission who issued a complaint with the insurance commissioner's office in 2006 -- was not illegally discriminated against because of his HIV-positive status.

Although the issue of HIV/AIDS-related discrimination is not new, advocates said this case illustrates that the insurance industry fails to recognize the increased life expectancies of HIV-positive people because of advances in antiretroviral therapy. Sid Wolinsky of the San Francisco not-for-profit legal center Disability Rights Advocates said that the "problem" with insurance companies is that they "routinely use grossly outdated statistical material," rarely keep their own data and rely on manuals reinsurance companies provide. Wolinsky said, "That is not to say there is not an increased mortality or morbidity risk for somebody with HIV than for somebody without it. But the risk is such that it can be covered."

According to the Spokesman-Review, insurance companies can deny coverage to a person only if there is sound statistical data that show the person is too risky to insure. Documents show that the Washington state Insurance Commissioner's Office, which led the investigation, had difficulty obtaining such information from Farmers. The Spokesman-Review reports that a Swiss study of people living with HIV found that "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."

Marc Brenman -- former executive director of the state's Human Rights Commission -- said that there is reason to believe Farmers routinely violated a state law by denying insurance to people living with HIV. Brenman said that there is "an entire class of people who are not able to purchase life insurance at any price, and it is entirely and absolutely wrong." Farmers denies the claim and said that it applies underwriting grants fairly and consistently (Graman, Spokane Spokesman-Review, 1/28).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery at www.kaisernetwork.org/dailyreports/hiv. The Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of the Kaiser Family Foundation, by The Advisory Board Company. © 2009 by The Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.