Insurance Firms Haunted by HIV Stigma, Prefer to Stay Away
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02 December 2010
By Menaka Rao
Two years after Star Medical and Allied Insurance became the first insurance companies to provide cover for HIV positive patients, almost all insurance companies continue to exclude HIV+ patients saying that it is too risky.
This despite the fact that the number of patients who have taken Star Medical’s and Allied Insurance’s policies has increased from a meagre 258 to over 33,000.
In Maharashtra, about 900 HIV positive patients have enrolled under the group policy initiated by Maharashtra Network of Positive People (NPM+) involving Star Medical’s insurance.
The project ’Connect’, designed under public–private partnership to combat HIV, will be partly funded by NGO Population Services International (PSI). When an insured gets admitted in a Network of Positive People hospital, he/she can go in for cashless hospitalisation.
"Our clientèle is mostly the lower–middle class. We have connected with the NGOs at state level, who solicit business," said B Rama, assistant vice–president, Star insurance.
Rama further added that there have been complaints where hospitals do not admit HIV positive people. The NGOs and the NPM members have to often intervene and ensure that such patients are not denied entry in a hospital.
One of the beneficiaries of the insurance cover is Vikas. The 34–year–old was recently hospitalised for treatment. after being discharged from the hospital Vikas was reimbursed Rs10,000 by the insurance company, with whom he has enrolled.
"Two years back, I would struggle to arrange for money. Things are much better now," said Vikas. Vikas has been been HIV positive for about 10 years now.
Of the 22 people from Maharashtra who filed for claims, 14 received reimbursements. "A HIV positive patient can extend his life by nearly 40 to 45 years and live a quality life if the disease is detected early," said Dr DG Saple, HIV consultant at Breach Candy hospital.
However, other insurance companies are still reluctant to include HIV patients under their cover.
"We are in talks with some insurance companies, who have given a positive feedback. However, many companies have a preconceived notion that a HIV+ patient is not likely to live long," said Ravi Subbaih, Director, Systems Strengthening, Connect, Population Services International.
GV Nageshwara Rao, MD and CEO of IDBI Federal Life Insurance Co Ltd said, "There is a risk of death in such cases. Insurance cover is about covering uncertainty. If the patient is already sick, the risk is more. Having said that, HIV is not exclusion in our policy for someone who did not contract the disease before the policy was taken."
"Given the mortality rate and risk involved, our company is still considering HIV cases," said a spokesperson of a leading insurance company, on the condition of anonymity.