HIV carriers offered first chance of life insurance

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The Independent Online
Signalling a growing optimism about recent breakthroughs in the treatment of Aids, an American life insurance company yesterday began offering the first-ever policies for people infected with the HIV virus.

The Guarantee Trust Life Insurance Company, based in Chicago, said it was receiving a surge of calls from HIV-positive individuals interested in buying life policies which have never before been offered in the United States. Several applications were already pending.

While the policies will be expensive and available initially in the state of Illinois only, the very fact of their being marketed was welcomed by Aids advocacy groups as a turning point in the history of the disease. Above all, it amounts to a recognition by a vital industry that diagnosis of being infected with the HIV virus, which causes Aids, need no longer automatically translate to an early death sentence.

Explaining the decision, the company's president, Richard Holson, said the coverage was being offered because "we believe many otherwise healthy HIV-positive individuals are more appropriately viewed as having a treatable chronic illness than a terminal disease".

Until fairly recently, anyone diagnosed with HIV was rarely given more than a few years before death was considered inevitable. Recently-introduced "cocktails" of Aids drugs, however, have raised hopes that many patients may soon be able to survive for a decade or even longer.

Not everyone who seeks the policies will qualify. While they will be offered to individuals infected with HIV through sexual contact and by accidental skin punctures by needles, those infected through intravenous drug-taking will be rejected.

The high premiums are also likely to be a factor in determining their popularity. While a healthy 30-year-old, non-smoking man in the US might be offered $50,000 (pounds 31,000) worth of life coverage for $55 a month, an HIV-positive person in the same state of health would have to pay $300 for one of these policies.

A spokesman for the Aids Action Council in Washington said: "We're excited that the insurance industry has started to recognise the fact that we're making some real improvements in treatment and that people are living longer".

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