Prudential Insurance Company will make history this week by allowing HIV-positive people to register for the insurance company’s traditional life insurance policies — a first in an industry that traditionally leaves people struggling with chronic diseases with few options for affordable plans to protect their family members once they die.
Announced on Monday, the eve of World AIDS Day, this news comes after decades of people living with the virus being denied anything but minimal coverage from insurance providers.
Although not all details have been formally unveiled, the company has said the new plan will be available to anyone who is HIV-positive but otherwise healthy.
According to Kaiser Health News, the company made the decision after analyzing data that showed HIV-positive people ended up living much longer than expected.
“With advances in the successful treatment of people with HIV, we are now able to offer this population the opportunity to apply for life insurance — a milestone we see as a significant step in the right direction,” said Mike McFarland, underwriting vice president for Prudential, in statement.
More options for affordable life insurance — which rests on the assumption that HIV-positive people have many years of life ahead of them — could be another step toward dismantling the long-perpetrated belief that being diagnosed with HIV is a death sentence.
More than 1.2 million Americans are living with HIV, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While a cure for the virus does not exist, life expectancy for people in the U.S. living with HIV has never been better. A recent study found that people diagnosed with HIV early in their lives usually live until their early 70s, on average. This year, the U.S. population of HIV-positive people hit a milestone: more than half of all people living with HIV are estimated to be over the age of 50.
Granted, HIV still comes with a slew of uncomfortable and exhausting symptoms, but an increasing amount of new medication and treatment plans have made them easier to manage.
Once-a-day medications recently approved by the FDA, for example, allow people to effectively manage HIV symptoms without the need to juggle dozens of drugs that need to be taken throughout the day. Other treatments can prevent HIV-positive people from transmitting the virus to their sexual partners.
Plus, Obamacare has helped increase access to health care for HIV-positive individuals, making it more likely that they’ll be able to afford the expensive treatment that keeps them healthy.
There are some signs that Americans’ attitudes about HIV are starting to evolve to reflect what researchers call the “graying” of HIV, or the idea that HIV-positive people will survive until they’re old enough to have gray hair. This changing attitude was reflected in the media’s coverage of Charlie Sheen’s recent announcement of his HIV-positive status. Many compared Sheen’s fate to that of past HIV-positive celebrities whose lives were cut short by the virus in the 80s — emphasizing the huge improvements in both treatment and public understanding of HIV since then.
“We used to manage the demise of people with a life-threatening condition,” Douglas Richman, director of the Center for AIDS Research at the University of California, San Diego, told STAT News. “Today, we counsel patients about exercise, not smoking, weight loss, and all the other things you need to do for a normal, healthy life.”
Still, HIV awareness groups and LGBT advocates have applauded the company’s move as an important step toward continuing to dismantle this stigma, and inspiring other insurers and industries to follow suit.
“Finally, an insurance company has realized that this is the right thing to do and that it is profitable from a business perspective to offer this product to people living with HIV,” Scott Schoettes, HIV Project National Director of Lambda Legal, an organization that works to protect the LGBT rights, told Kaiser Health News. “Now that there is one company out there doing this, it will encourage others to do the same when they see that there is money to be made in this market.”