Independent examines U.K. insurers' practices regarding MSM, risk of HIV

London's Independent on Saturday examined the practices of some insurance companies in the United Kingdom regarding men who have sex with men who are applying for policies for life insurance or major illnesses.

According to the Independent, the Association of British Insurers in 2005 adopted guidelines on what questions insurers can ask applicants to assess their risk of HIV/AIDS and other health issues. However, a report by Compass, an independent financial adviser to MSM, found that insurers are still discriminating against MSM who apply for insurance.

Prior to the ABI guidelines, it was common for insurers to ask MSM about the number of sexual partners they had and whether they practiced safer sex; however, the guidelines state that applicants cannot be asked directly about their sexuality or sexual behavior. Instead, under the guidelines, insurers can ask whether applicants have ever tested positive for HIV, hepatitis B or C, or whether they are awaiting results of such tests. Insurers can ask whether applicants have tested negative for HIV or whether they have other sexually transmitted infections with long-term health implications. Insurers cannot ask about an applicant's HIV risk, single instances of STIs or civil partnerships, according to the guidelines.

The Compass report found that MSM are more likely to be subjected to unnecessary HIV tests than heterosexual applicants despite the guidelines. In addition, the report found that more than 80% of customer service staff at major insurance companies in the United Kingdom give incorrect information that often results in requests for unnecessary HIV tests. According to the Independent, the point at which insurers demand HIV tests "seems to vary dramatically" depending on the amount of coverage requested, the age of the applicant and whether the applicant is in a civil partnership.

Russ Whitworth, director of claims and underwriting at Legal & General, said the company does not discriminate against MSM, adding that it does not take sexuality into account. Whitworth says the company asks all applicants who apply for high coverage amounts -- defined as more than 300,000 British pounds, or about $600,000, for single men and more than one million pounds, or about $2 million, for married men, men in civil partnerships and women -- to receive an HIV test.

Robert Edwards of Bright Grey said it is "against industry standards to even ask someone if they are gay as part of a protection application." Grey said that single men, regardless of sexuality, are asked to receive an HIV test because statistically, single men "are more likely to be at risk of HIV/AIDS." Aegon Scottish Equitable said that although it adheres to the ABI guidelines, the company is "disappointed" by the findings of the Compass report. Aegon added it "will be providing additional training" to staff to ensure they "are familiar with [the company's] HIV testing limits and underwriting philosophy" and to ensure MSM are not discriminated against (Hughes, Independent, 4/19).

Kaiser Health NewsThis article was reprinted from with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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