This World AIDS Day, we can be optimistic that we may eventually eradicate HIV. But if you are HIV positive, there’s another kind of protection you need to consider.
As always on World AIDS Day (1 December) we should commemorate. We must also recommit to educate and care.
But we can justify some cautious optimism. When I first became involved in HIV charities, we talked about hospice care. Today, we talk about prevention – condoms, PrEP and ‘U=U, undetectable equals untransmittable’.
Around the world, the medical establishment is starting to embrace new medications. The health data shows PrEP is a cost-effective and proven preventative treatment.
Here in the UK, NHS England continues to drag its feet on making PrEP widely available. But already HIV transmission rates are dropping despite this.
Major insurers moving slow
However, the financial services sector has largely ignored this ground-breaking change.
Here’s one example of the frustratingly slow pace of change:
Our insurance company, Emerald Life, and others worked with the Association of British Insurers (ABI) to update it’s policy. We brought together experts including National AIDS Trust and insurers to examine the ABI’s drafting guidelines.
And we succeeded. The old guidelines for critical illness insurance removed the old – and frankly prejudiced – wording which talked about people contracting HIV as an ‘innocent acquirer’.
After a lot of work, the new, improved guidelines came out in March this year.
But so far, no major insurer has changed its wording to reflect the new guidelines. In fact, insiders are now questioning whether any insurer will do so before the ABI’s deadline of 1 February 2019.
This is simply not good enough.
How your travel insurance may make you a police target
The same applies for travel insurance. When buying travel insurance, customers are required to disclose their current medical conditions.
As we know, people still stigmatise those living with HIV, despite all the medical evidence on how the virus is actually transmitted. In many communities, HIV still signifies shame and a ‘degenerate’ lifestyle.
As we also know, if you are living with HIV and on effective treatment, it’s impossible to pass the virus on. As such, an HIV positive traveller is no extra risk for an insurer.
Thanks in part to Emerald’s campaign two years ago, HIV positive people no longer need to pay a higher premium for their travel insurance.
But despite all this, insurers still require customers to tell them if they are positive. This in turn means their HIV status will likely appear on their insurance certificate.
This can cause problems. Imagine you are HIV positive and trying to go windsurfing in, say, Dubai. The windsurf hire shop requires you to show your travel insurance.
Your HIV status has nothing to do with whether you have cover for water sports. It puts you at no more risk while windsurfing. And yet you are, in effect, disclosing it in a country where homosexual relations are illegal.
As a second point, HIV medication itself is forbidden in Dubai. The very act of possession of HIV medication is a strong indication for the authorities to infer sexuality and may result in criminal charges. Not something that you want to happen in Dubai.
A new travel insurance option if you live with HIV
That’s why we spent months negotiating with Emerald’s provider to produce a UK first in July.
I am proud Emerald is the only UK insurer that does not require you to disclose your HIV status if you are undetectable and on stable medication. What is more, we do it at no extra cost.
No other insurer does that. No other insurer recognises that HIV is not just another medical condition.
LGBTI people are 50% more likely to have no insurance
Emerald was set up in 2016 precisely to offer equality to communities poorly served by the insurance sector – and the LGBTI community is at the heart of that.
There’s still much more to do for our customers living with HIV. For example, life expectancy for HIV customers on medication is now about the same as someone living without HIV.
However, life insurance remains unobtainable or very expensive. Moreover, income protection cover is not available for anyone living with HIV.
This needs to change, and Emerald is working hard for that change. But it takes time and, in the insurance sector, we are still a minnow, even if a loud one.
The reason this needs to change is simple. It’s not just because it’s the right thing to do. But equally, the insurance sector clearly fails the LGBTI community.
At our launch, we commissioned YouGov for a major survey on the LGBTI community and financial services.
The results were depressing. If you are LGBTI, you are 50% more likely to have no insurance at all, when compared with non-LGBTI customers. Why? Because the insurance sector has failed our community for so long.
We need new protections
In the past, we rightly focused our fight against HIV on health protection. Obviously, that’s essential. But it means we’ve sometimes overlooked other protections.
People living with HIV are under-protected financially. Very often, products are not available to them. Equally, people living with HIV may not be educated about the options, which can be hard to find.
We need to change both of those. This World AIDS Day, Emerald wants to lead a new conversation focusing on the future and focusing on equality for all.
Steve Wardlaw is a long-term LGBTI campaigner. He is chairman of Emerald Life, an insurer founded to offer equality in financial services to the LGBTI community. This is the first of an occasional series on finance for the LGBTI community.