Gay Men Might Be Getting Unlawfully Denied for Insurance
Gay men who are taking medication to protect themselves against H.I.V. may be getting unlawfully denied for health insurance policies, according to financial regulators in New York who are looking into the matter. The investigation began after numerous homosexual men began receiving denials time and again for life, disability or long-term care policies. If these denials are in fact a result of their sexual orientation and decision to take Truvada, the companies will be penalized, according to Maria T. Vullo, New York’s superintendent of financial services.
Truvada is a mix of two anti-AIDS drugs and is taken proactively to avoid contracting H.I.V. through sex. The practice, known as “pre-exposure prophylaxis,” or PrEP, has been recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to stop the condition from spreading.
Studies have shown that people who take the drug every day have next to zero chance of becoming infected, even if they are in a long relationship with an H.I.V.-infected person or have sex with many partners without condoms. Conversely, stopping the drug greatly increases an individual’s chances of contracting the virus. Yet, many men have chosen to do so in order to get access to coverage.
While insurers typically do not explain why they turn down an individual’s application, regulators do have the power to question what criteria is used in making a determination, in order to rule out the potential for unlawfully denying certain individuals policies due discrimination. Bennett Klein, attorney for GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders, who is suing Mutual of Omaha for denying long-term-care insurance to a gay man taking Truvada, said the decision by the state is “terrific.”
Dr. Philip J. Cheng agrees. Three years ago, the urology resident at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, accidentally cut himself while preparing an H.I.V.-positive patient for surgery.
Following hospital protocol, he took a one-month course of Truvada. Because Cheng was an unattached gay man, he later decided to keep taking the drug in order to protect himself during intercourse. But when he applied for disability insurance he was told by the provider that, because he was taking Truvada, he could have only a limited, five-year policy.
“And I never engaged in sexually irresponsible behavior,” the young, healthy, active physician said. “I’ve always been in longer-term monogamous relationships. I was really shocked. PrEP is the responsible thing to do. It’s the closest thing we have to an H.I.V. vaccine.”
Because Cheng could not get the company to change its decision, even after he offered to sign a waiver voiding his policy should he become H.I.V.-infected, he stopped taking Truvada. Unfortunately, many homosexuals are making the same decision, which means they’re having unprotected sex and, thus, are higher risk candidates for insurance. So, the denials, besides being potentially unlawfully handed out, really don’t make much sense.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “It ought to be the other way around.” Insurance companies typically cover lower-risk applicants less likely to diminish funds.