Insurers to change Aids question on proposal forms: A decision that could mean a significant increase in testing for HIV has been welcomed by campaigning groups. Diane Coyle reports

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The Independent Online
INSURERS are to withdraw questions on HIV counselling and testing from life insurance proposal forms.

In a change of policy that is expected to increase significantly the number of people taking the test for the virus, insurance companies will in future only ask whether an applicant has tested positive or received treatment for Aids.

Groups such as the Terrence Higgins Trust, the Aids and HIV charity, welcomed the new statement of practice issued yesterday by the Association of British Insurers. The trust said thousands of people had been put off seeking an HIV test by the old question, which asked whether the applicant had been personally counselled or medically advised in connection with Aids, or had a blood test for it. It had lobbied for the outlawing of these questions for years.

Peter Roth, chairman of the trust's insurance working party, said: 'Now this divisive issue has been resolved, we look forward to a more constructive relationship with the insurance industry.'

The move is the product of pressure from public health experts and the realisation that payouts made by insurance companies for Aids-related deaths had been much lower than expected.

A spokesman for Sun Alliance said: 'The whole industry has benefited from a few years of assessing the risks. It seems the problem is not as great as we originally thought.' HIV statistics show the virus is still mainly confined to certain areas and groups of people, such as intravenous drugs users and gay men. It would have been harder for insurers to assess the risks of infection if it had spread to the general population.

The insurance companies would prefer to carry on asking applicants about negative HIV tests, but said the change would not cost the industry much. Spencer Leigh, chief underwriter at Royal Life, said: 'It does affect our freedom, but I appreciate that the previous question prevented people coming forward for tests.'

Industry sources claimed that reporting a negative HIV test had not affected people's ability to get insurance or mortgages, although the public perception had been that it would.

The Association of British Insurers said it was only by asking detailed questions about health that life insurers could issue policies at standard premium rates to 95 per cent of the people seeking cover. It was because knowledge and experience of HIV and Aids had improved, and because testing had become much more commonplace during the past year or two, that it was recommending the change in questions posed.

The suggested replacement is: 'Have you ever tested positive for HIV/Aids or Hepatitis B or C, or have you been tested/treated for other sexually transmitted diseases, or are you awaiting the result of such a test?'

The association expects insurance companies to alter the questions next time they reprint the forms. The Terrence Higgins Trust said it would publish a list of insurers who had not complied by 1 December, World Aids Day.