The way HIV-positive life assurance customers are treated has improved greatly over the past few years, with much more effective guidelines and regulations enforced among protection providers.
But a report in The Independent indicates that sufferers from the disease hepatitis C – about 500,000 in the UK, far more than the 70,000 or so living with HIV/Aids – face ill-informed companies who add huge amounts to premiums.
Hepatitis C is an infection that causes inflammation of the liver. Most people don't realise they have it, complaining only of fatigue and vague pain around their liver. Many GPs fail to diagnose it. It is passed on through infected blood, so carriers have often had blood transfusions or intravenous medical treatment, or are drug users who shared needles or had sex with an infected person. Infection rates are about 1 per cent in Europe, 2 per cent in the USA, and as much as 10 per cent in some communities in Egypt, South Asia and Eastern Europe.
The Department of Health is set to launch a hepatitis C awareness campaign. Research by the independent financial advice firm Compass has found that there is no consistent approach on hepatitis C sufferers' premiums. Some providers add 50 per cent, some 200 per cent. And 90 per cent of life assurance providers were unable to give any clear information on the disease, the report found.
Hep C can permanently damage your liver and seriously affect life expectancy. But sufferers can and do recover, life expectancy can return to near-normal levels, and life can carry on as usual, although ex-sufferers will always carry signs of the disease in their bloodstream. Unfortunately, life assurance companies don't see it like that, and will treat all hep C-positive cases the same.
Chris Morgan of Compass says: "The fact there are no guidelines for the way hep C is treated, and that each company has different ideas about how to treat clients, is remarkable."
Charles Gore of the Hepatitis C Trust agrees. "Hepatitis C is a disease that disproportionately affects the underprivileged and vulnerable. Having the insurance industry compound that is unacceptable. Insurers have failed to keep up with advances in hepatitis C treatment. We must have some clear, standardised guidelines."
The Association of British Insurers (which is purely a trade body for insurers and not as some think a professional insurance body) response to the highlighted problems misses the point that the complaints are about the price of insurance. The ABI Statement of Best Practice for HIV and Insurance only refers to how the customer is treated, and totally ignores the most important factor of all - the premium they are charged.