Thankfully, a new Australian service has recently been launched that readily provides life insurance to people living with well managed HIV and diabetes.
HIV is no longer the automatic death sentence it once was. The introduction of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HARRTs) over the past few years enables people living with HIV to live significantly longer, and in better health, than ever before. However, getting life insurance post-diagnosis has been difficult, if not almost impossible to do.
Life insurance is an insurance policy that basically sets out the amount of money to be paid out to your nominated beneficiaries when you die. The better quality policies also pay out the full benefit if you become terminally ill. Because people with HIV and diabetes are/were seen as being at a higher risk of dying earlier in life than the typical population, insurance companies were reluctant to grant them life insurance policies. From a business standpoint, you might be able to see that this makes some commercial sense. But from a basic human decency perspective, something needed to be done.
Luckily, a few good things have happened recently that mark a great step forward for people with HIV or diabetes being able to access life insurance services.
Firstly, a lot of discriminatory language and processes within the insurance industry have been (or at least are in the process of) being removed. For instance, the Australian Financial Services Insurance Council has issued guidelines removing the so-called ‘gay questions’ from application forms. All insurance underwriter decisions are now required to be based on a person’s sexual ‘behaviour’ instead of a person’s ‘sexuality’. In fact, it’s no longer acceptable for an insurance company to even ask about a person’s sexuality. That’s a win.
Additionally, monogamous relationships, regardless of gender, are now recognised and excluded from the usual ‘do you practice safe sex’ questions. Another win.
The other recent development is the launch of an Australian online service called Unusual Risks. It’s an anonymous, online pre-assessment service that, rather than avoiding people with unusual pre-existing medical conditions (and make life insurance difficult to get), actively seeks clients who have well managed HIV and Diabetes. Pretty amazing, right?
One of those people behind this new service and equality initiative is Drew Browne, the Director of Unusual Risks. He describes this venture as his “passion project”. I was fortunate enough to speak with him recently.
Here’s what we spoke about:
Little Gay Blog – You’ve worked in the financial services industry for over 15 years, and you’ve been personally involved with volunteering in the HIV health sector since the 1990s, what are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen occur during this time?
Drew – I remember when I first started, when I first walked down that road, that AIDS and HIV were seen as the same thing. It was the public leprosy of the day. I remember the local papers would scandalise things. In Quakers Hill where I lived, there was a newspaper article about an organisation that wanted to build a HIV hospice in the area. And so terrified were the locals, that they would through glass bottles over the fence, to smash glass into the area so that you couldn’t actually go outside and use the area. That’s where it all started from for me.
I suppose the biggest changes have been in myself. In that my comfortability talking about HIV and those serious issues, has actually become second nature to me to the point where I can’t understand why people get so hung up over it.
I suppose it’s about education. I’ve seen that education really makes a difference. And the introduction of medication that means you don’t die in 24 months like you everyone did, like the majority did, when it first happened.T
With the introduction of recent changes to remove discrimination against people with HIV from insurance providers, is this resulting in real, tangible changes in attitude in the industry?
The industry itself is lagging behind. One of my favourite quotes is ‘you can’t understand a system, until you attempt to change it’. So the industry is still stuck in a mindset of it’s too embarrassing, it’s too hard, it’s too small a segment for the commercial sector to be interested in.
So interestingly the biggest changes have come from the back end of the insurance industry. They are called re-insurers. At the end of the day, their attitude it it’s not about people, or equality, or stigmas, its about a commercial reality. So now the commercial reality is, because of the introduction of HAARTS therapy, people diagnosed with HIV, have the same survival rates as a typical smoker. So the big changes are happening from the re-insurers.
Unusual Risks is a pre-assessment tool. Can you please explain what this means?
Number one, it’s online so its accessible to anyone with a smart phone. Number two, its anonymous.
One of the keys that the industry has failed to understand is the devastating effect of having a rejection certificate. So generally, when you first reach out to an insurance company to get insurance, and you get rejected.
It’s like having a credit default on your credit history. It stays with you and you are legally bound to confess that fact that you have a rejection notice on every single insurance application for the rest of your life.
And it may well be that the reason why you were rejected was because that particular insurance company just didn’t have the insurance that you mechanics to do what you need it to do. But they don’t tell you that.
So that’s where Unusual Risks has come into it. We’re connected with every single life insurance company in Australia. That means we have the biggest reach. And because we can do a pre-assessment anonymously, we don’t identify anyone. So there’s no rejection certificate. There’s nothing that identifies the person.
Can you explain what exactly a pre-assessment is, it sounds like it’s a linking tool, connecting people who are looking for life insurance with the insurance provider that’s right for them?
Rather than a linking tool, we see it as a traffic light. You’re either green, yellow or red. Green means we can work with you, and we can probably get the policy established. Yellow means we’re close, but we’ll keep at it. And red means that currently, based on current insurance criteria that’s established, we can’t work with you.
We talked about how much the industry has changed in the past 20 or so years, what challenges still remain and what are some options available to overcome these challenges?
There are two big challenges. One of them has been overcome. The other one I’m not sure.
The second biggest challenge was the recognition that a monogamous relationship, regardless of sexuality or gender, should be treated like every monogamous relationship. So it was only in November last year, where one of the speciality insurance providers changed the wording on their application form so that if you have a monogamous male to male relationship, they no longer ask about whether you practice safe sex. This is the same as if you were heterosexual and in a monogamous relationship, they don’t ask about safe sex either. That’s a change. Previously you could have been in a monogamous gay relationship for 20 years, they would still make assumptions about multiple partners, and all sort of other things. They now recognise that monogamous means monogamous.
The remaining biggest hurdle that we have to overcome is perhaps not with the industry, it’s with the community. A lot of people don’t have HIV tests because they’re concerned that it might become a barrier to getting a life insurance policy later. So people should know that they should go out and get a HIV test, because it’s no longer a barrier for life insurance.
Thanks for your time Drew.