Prudential Financial Inc., one of the nation's largest life insurers, plans to announce this week that it will offer traditional individual policies to eligible people with HIV, a condition that for decades has excluded most having it from any but the skimpiest of coverage, company officials said.
It is the first such offering to be publicly announced by a major American insurer, and signals a growing recognition that HIV has evolved from a death sentence into a chronic but manageable disease, HIV advocates and insurance agents said.
The coverage, in the form of convertible 10- or 15-year term-life policies, will be available to people who are HIV-positive but otherwise healthy, according to the Newark, N.J.-based insurer. Convertible-term policies can be converted to permanent policies covering an entire life.
Mike McFarland, vice president of underwriting for Prudential Individual Life Insurance, could not provide exact costs for the new policies Tuesday but said they would likely compare to those offered to HIV-negative people with heart disease, diabetes, or some forms of cancer.
As World AIDS Day was observed Tuesday, more than 1.2 million Americans were living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 50,000 are diagnosed each year.
Life expectancies for HIV-positive people are rising to the point that some American and Canadian patients diagnosed at a young age can live into their 70s. But no cure exists for the disease, so treatment requires access and adherence to drugs. And the longer that HIV and AIDS patients live, the more they are at risk for developing such conditions as cancer; osteoporosis; and heart, liver, and kidney disease.
The life-insurance industry routinely covers people with other chronic diseases, including cancer and hepatitis C, although at a higher price than for healthy applicants. But HIV-positive people typically cannot buy individual life-insurance policies beyond minimal coverage at any price, agents said.
People with HIV and AIDS cannot legally be excluded from the "guaranteed issue" group life-insurance policies offered by some employers, but those policies typically do not pay out more than $50,000. A positive HIV test remains cause for automatic denial of higher-value individual term-life insurance policies that require a medical review, agents said. That's true even if the applicant's viral load is undetectable.
"We have not yet seen the terms of the life-insurance product . . . but it seems like a fantastic development," said Scott Schoettes, HIV Project national director of Lambda Legal, which works to protect the rights of the LGBT community and people with HIV and AIDS.
In offering the new coverage, Prudential has partnered with AEqualis, a financial services start-up serving HIV-positive people, which has been key to developing the product. The start-up will provide information to consumers and agents as well as manage applications for Prudential.