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AIDS Has Insurance Companies Worried, But They’re Not Using Blood Tests

September 18, 1985

Undated (AP) _ Insurance companies are keeping a wary eye on costs from AIDS, worrying that health and life insurance payouts could skyrocket as the disease spreads. Some say they may have to begin screening applicants by using a blood test that reveals exposure to the AIDS virus.

Wisconsin and California, however, have barred the use of test findings for insurance purposes and New York state’s Insurance Department won’t let insurers ask about blood test results on application forms.

The possibility of insurers using the test has raised fears of discrimination among high-risk groups, principally homosexual men. They note that the test, used by blood donor centers, detects exposure to the AIDS virus and that only 5 percent to 20 percent of those who test positive will actually develop acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

The insurance industry contends the blood tests can be a valid tool in underwriting individual health and life insurance policies. Group policies, such as those offered by employers, would not be affected since they are not based on individual medical reports, industry spokesmen say.

The Wisconsin law has been attacked by Milwaukee-based Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co., which threatened this week to begin excluding coverage of AIDS from policies in its home state.

″In the case of all other diseases, we’re permitted to get all the facts, but this legislation prohibits us from requiring a test to determine if they have the AIDS virus,″ said George Hardy, legislative counsel for Northwestern Life. ″We think we can show that it’s a reliable test for insurance underwriting purposes.″

He has drafted legislation, now pending, which would allow insurance companies to see the AIDS test results.

Dr. Don Chambers, vice president and medical director for Lincoln National Life of Fort Wayne, Ind., said his company would like to use the AIDS blood tests - the antibody test used by blood banks and a more sophisticated test used to confirm a finding after two positive antibody tests - but hasn’t because of the uncertain position of state laws.

Instead, he said, ″we are certainly trying to do a careful job of underwriting risks, focd out; higher premiums or an outright refusal of insurance can go along with a history of any serious illness such as cancer, heart disease or diabetes.

″In general terms, company practices are not different than before,″ said Rob Bier, a spokesman for the American Council of Life Insurance and the Health Insurance Association.

The 630-member council, which represents 95 percent of the nation’s life insurers, recently adopted a policy that insurers would not seek to obtain or use the results of blood tests from blood donation centers because to do so might discourage donors.

However, Bier said, insurers ″do seek to reserve the privilege of administering medical tests, including the tests for antibodies for the AIDS virus ...″

Otherwise, he said, costs could get out of line and premiums would soar.

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