Personal Finance

Taking a drug to prevent AIDS could nix chances of getting disability insurance

Key Points
  • Taking an HIV prevention drug that could prolong your life and protect your health might mean you won’t qualify for life or disability insurance if you’re a gay man.
  • The ACA bars discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but it’s up to states to determine eligibility for other types of insurance, such as long-term care, life or disability.
A pharmacist pours Truvada pills
Getty Images

Americans might think they’re doing everything possible to protect their health. But those taking the prescription drug Truvada, designed to prevent HIV, could jeopardize their ability to buy some types of insurance.

A Boston urologist, who is gay, was turned down for lifetime disability insurance based on his drug regimen, according to The New York Times. He was able to get insurance through a different company — but only because he stopped taking Truvada.

Also referred to as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), the medication is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control as an effective way to prevent acquiring HIV.

Red flag

It may be great for your health, but it could hurt your financial situation when trying to access some types of insurance, says Scott Schoettes, HIV Project Director at Lambda Legal in Chicago.

In some instances, Schoettes says insurers have charged higher premiums, but “mostly it’s straight-up denial for life, disability or long-term care insurance.”

About five years ago, when this medication came into wider use for HIV prevention, insurance companies started to take notice. “It popped for them because if someone is taking Truvada, they were taking it because it is used for HIV-positive status,” Schoettes said.

Gay men aren’t the only people on the PrEP regimen.

“But [the denials] seem to affect gay men disproportionately, Schoettes said. “That’s because the HIV epidemic affects gay men disproportionately.” PrEP also is more popular in the gay community.

They are punishing people who are actually reducing their risk.
Scott Schoettes
HIV Project Director at Lambda Legal

New York state and California have opened investigations to see if gay men are being illegally singled out for denials based on the use of PrEP. Dave Jones, California’s insurance commissioner, said in a statement that such rejections could amount to illegal discrimination under California law.

Life insurance is a competitive industry, with nearly 800 companies vying for the same business, according Jack Dolan, vice president of media relations for the American Council of Life Insurers. Underwriting guidelines can vary, and even with the same inputs on height, weight and medical history, “insurers might evaluate the same applicant differently,” Dolan said.

In the chart below, five states have laws prohibiting health insurance discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Massachusetts is the exception.

The danger would be discouraging people who are HIV negative from taking this drug when they might be engaging in some kind of activity that puts them at higher risk. “It’s a serious anti-public-health problem,” Schoettes said.

If you’re turned down when applying for insurance, Schoettes recommends contacting an organization such as GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) or Lambda Legal, which is looking to talk to people in this situation to help develop a strategy to revisit these policies. Or look for a knowledgeable financial advisor, according to a guide from Policygenius. The life insurance council advises comparison shopping among insurers to find a suitable policy.

“People should step forward and raise their voices,” Schoettes said. “The insurers think they are getting at some kind of risk factor that they should be able to take into account, but they are not. They are punishing people who are actually reducing their risk.”

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