By Andrew M. Seaman
(Reuters Health) - Two companies are for the first time jointly offering life insurance to people living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in recognition that their life expectancies are close to those of uninfected individuals.
Previously, HIV-positive individuals would automatically be denied life insurance, said Bill Grant, who co-founded the financial services company AEQUALIS with Andrew Terrell.
The plans will be offered through a partnership between Prudential Financial Inc. and AEQUALIS, which focuses on serving people with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. People who qualify will be offered standard plans that are the same as those offered to any other customer.
The announcement on Tuesday of the insurance plans coincides with World AIDS Day.
The policies are “not cheap, but they’re not prohibitively expensive either,” said Terrell, who found HIV-positive people have been unfairly excluded from the life insurance market.
“People with HIV (have) much longer life expectancies than insurance companies gave them credit for,” he said.
In 2013, researchers reported that a 20-year-old who is newly diagnosed with HIV and who starts treatment immediately can expect to live another 50 years.
Thanks to new therapies that allow for longer survival, more attention is being paid to finding a cure and to treating conditions tied to HIV and aging, said Dr. Michelle Cespedes of Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.
“There are more and more clinical trials looking at how we can intervene on these comorbidities,” she said, citing cardiovascular disease and forgetfulness as conditions that affect HIV-positive people at younger ages.
Oriol Gutierrez, editor-in-chief of POZ magazine, which reports on people with HIV, said it’s not completely clear how the virus affects the aging process.
“It does seem generally speaking that our bodies are aging faster and HIV is somewhat involved in that process,” he said.
He told Reuters Health that in addition to physical aging issues, the mental health of long-term survivors needs to be addressed, especially for those who lived through the worst of the epidemic decades ago.
“There has been a lot of focus on resurrecting support groups for survivors,” Gutierrez said.
Terrell hopes the fact that the plans offered through Prudential and AEQUALIS are the same as plans for anyone else will help fight stigma attached to living with HIV.
“I think that is very important,” he said.