Metro Weekly

California bill bans insurers from discriminating against people living with HIV

Supporters of the law argue that HIV is now a manageable condition and that people with the virus now live longer lives

california, hiv, insurance

California State Sen. Lena Gonzalez – Photo: Facebook.

Lawmakers in California have approved a bill that would prohibit life and disability income insurance providers from denying coverage to HIV-positive individuals. 

The Equal Insurance HIV Act, sponsored by Sen. Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach), passed the Senate 39-0 after being unanimously by the State Assembly as part of a larger omnibus bill.

Under the bill, insurers must require informed consent before testing for HIV, and must treat HIV-positive individuals according to the same standards they would use in underwriting insurance for individuals without HIV. The bill also requires insurers to maintain “strict confidentiality” for personal information obtained through testing.

The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), who is expected to sign it into law.

Proponents of the bill argue that HIV is no longer the life-threatening condition it was in the 1980s or 1990s, due to the success of antiretroviral therapy, which has fewer adverse health effects and has successfully prolonged the lives of people living with HIV by suppressing their viral levels.

As stated in the bill, people living with HIV who are on antiretroviral treatment now have a life expectancy of 70 to 78 years or more, compared to a life expectancy of 39 years in 1996.

Proponents argue that, as a result, HIV should be treated by insurers the same way that any other chronic, manageable condition is.

“I am very grateful for the support of my Senate and Assembly colleagues on this critical legislation,” Gonzalez said in a statement. “This is a huge step to ensure that Californians living with HIV and their families have equal access to life and disability income insurance coverage.”

California State Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, who co-sponsored the act and had previously advocated for changes to help people living with HIV obtain life and disability insurance that was heretofore denied to them, praised the bill.

See also: Six in 10 Americans wrongly believe that HIV can be spread through casual contact

“With HIV-positive individuals living longer, healthier lives than before, we need to end discrimination when it comes to accessing life and disability income insurance to protect themselves and their loved ones,” Lara said in a statement. “I thank Senator Lena Gonzalez for authoring SB 1255, which will finally give the same insurance rights to people living with HIV that others have.”

The bill was also praised by LGBTQ rights group Equality California.

“No one should be denied the security of life or disability income insurance because of their HIV status,” Rick Zbur, the group’s executive director, said in a statement. “Thanks to modern medicine, people living with HIV lead happy, healthy lives — it’s time for our laws to keep up with the science.

“This legislation is a critical step toward eliminating stigma against people living with HIV and finally ending the epidemic. We are deeply grateful to Senator Gonzalez and Commissioner Lara for championing this issue.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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