Belfast Telegraph

High-street insurers urged to update ‘discriminatory’ HIV policies

A researcher of microbial diseases said that Ireland is lagging behind every European country because of lack of education within financial firms.

An HIV test kit (Chris Jackson/PA)
An HIV test kit (Chris Jackson/PA)

By Cate McCurry, PA

High street insurers are being urged to change their policies to prevent the discrimination of people in Ireland living with HIV.

A researcher of microbial diseases said that Ireland is lagging behind every European country because of a lack of education within financial firms.

Insurance companies can charge people with HIV much more or refuse to cover them completely as there is no onus on firms to provide protection to the applicant.

Dr Paddy Mallon, a professor of microbial diseases in University College Dublin (UCD) and consultant in St Vincent’s Hospital, said that discrimination could be addressed through legislation.

If you are living with HIV in Ireland you are at a disadvantage in terms of accessing a mortgage, housing insurance and life insurance. Dr Paddy Mallon

While acknowledging the work that has been carried out at government level to improve the healthcare of people with HIV, including the introduction of the prevention pill PrEP, Dr Mallon said that more can be done to reduce the stigma around the disease.

The PrEP programme will be rolled out across a number of STI clinics from today and will expand next year.

“If you are living with HIV in Ireland you are at a disadvantage in terms of accessing a mortgage, housing insurance and life insurance,” Dr Mallon said.

“There’s still a lot of discrimination going on and that’s something that should be addressed.

“It’s lack of knowledge in insurance companies in Ireland – this isn’t a European problem, Ireland is lagging behind.

“It’s really a lack of awareness within insurance companies in Ireland of the real life data that shows that when someone is HIV positive and on treatment their life span is fine.

“When you look at the UK and European countries they’ve all updated their life insurance polices in a way that doesn’t discriminate.

“If you are 30 years of age and you know you are HIV positive and you are getting treatment, your general health is good as data shows that that person probably has a longer life expectancy than someone who doesn’t live with HIV because the person with HIV is getting good medical care throughout their lives.

“But if that person tries to apply for a mortgage or applies for mortgage protection insurance, they would be discriminated against.”

It is estimated that around 50% of people in Ireland with HIV still do not know that they have HIV.

Dr Mallon believes that HIV testing should be made part of sexual health screening.

He added: “In terms of reducing new infections, things like pre-exposure prophylaxis, education on HIV and sexual health in schools is really important.

“The opportunities for HIV testing could be easier – the test is fairly straightforward and it’s all paid for by the Government.

“If people are sexually active they should be looking after their sexual health and HIV should be part of their sexual health screening and not reserved for some aspects of society.”

Ann Piercy, a personal support worker for people living with HIV, at GOSHH (Gender Orientation Sexual Health HIV), said that insurance firms will only change their polices when they receive the right education.

She added: “Everything evolves around the education of HIV, and that has to include the insurance companies.

“Discrimination will be eliminated but it will take a long time. At least people will have the knowledge that HIV is a chronic disease, it is no longer a death sentence.

“I work with three insurance companies in particular so that when someone with HIV comes to me and tells me they cannot be insured I contact one particular person in the insurance company and let them know the client will call them directly.

“That’s the only way they can get insurance and that has to change.”

A spokesman for the the Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said that neither he nor the Central Bank of Ireland can interfere in the provision or pricing of insurance products.

“These matters are of a commercial nature, and are determined by insurance companies based on an assessment of the risks they are willing to accept,” the spokesman added.

“This position is reinforced by the EU framework for insurance which expressly prohibits member states from adopting rules which require insurance companies to obtain prior approval of the pricing or terms and conditions of insurance products.

“Consequently, he is not in a position to direct insurance companies through insurance legislation as to the pricing level that they should apply to particular categories of individuals, nor is he in a position to direct them to provide cover to such individuals.”

PA

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