No discrimination against HIV patients, solons remind HMOs, insurance firms

A lawmaker on Tuesday said insurance companies should cease to discriminate against Filipinos living with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) under the new law on AIDS prevention and control.  

Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny T. Pimentel said health maintenance organizations (HMO) and life insurance firms are expected to revise policies or face sanctions under law.

Pimentel made the statement after an unnamed leading insurer’s standard policy reportedly stipulated that, “No benefit shall be payable in cases of HIV and or any HIV-related illness, including AIDS and/or any mutations, derivations or variations thereof.”

The lawmaker also cited another major insurer’s policy which states that “No benefit shall be payable in malignant cancer cases when the tumors are in the presence of HIV infection.”

“All insurers in the country are expected to revise their standard policies to comply with the provision of the law that prohibits the exclusion of persons living with HIV,” Pimentel said.

Pimentel said people living with HIV could no longer be left without insurance coverage and protection by reason of their condition.

Under Republic Act 11166, which took effect January 25, “No person living with HIV [PLHIV] shall be denied or deprived of private health insurance under a HMO and private life insurance coverage under a life insurance company on the basis of the person’s HIV status. Furthermore, no person shall be denied of his life insurance claims if he dies of HIV or AIDS under a valid and subsisting life insurance policy.”

The law said violators of the provision face up to five years imprisonment and a fine of at least P50,000, plus administrative sanctions, such as suspension or revocation of business permit, business license or accreditation and professional license, according to Pimentel.

“We’ve gone over several standard insurance policies issued prior to the passage of the law, and we came across a number [of policies] that categorically excluded HIV-related cases from coverage. These exclusions are no longer possible,” Pimentel said.

HIV causes AIDS which destroys the human body’s natural ability to fight off all kinds of infections. The condition still does not have any known cure, but Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) slows down the virus.

A total of 11,427 new HIV cases were diagnosed in the country in 2018, according to the Department of Health’s (DOH) National HIV and AIDS Registry.

The figures brought to 62,029 the cumulative number of people found living with HIV since the government began passive surveillance in 1984.

Of the 62,029 cases, the registry said 3,054 have died, while another 7,098 had “clinical manifestations” of advanced infection based on World Health Organization standards.

A total of 33,575 Filipinos living with HIV were undergoing ART as of December 2018.

Rep. Ron P. Salo, citing latest figures from the DOH, said four pregnant mothers in their 20s and 52 adolescents are among the 877 new HIV-AIDS cases recorded last December.

“All the adolescents found to have been infected with HIV got it through sexual intercourse and two of them were in the 10 to 14 years age range. The four pregnant with HIV are in the 22 to 25 age range,” Salo said.

“The latest report is deeply disturbing. We really need more prevention, education and other forms of effective intervention. The new law must be implemented fast,” he added.

“Considering that the 108 patients who said they paid for or received payment for sex were aged 17 to 53 years, that means for those who are 10 to 16 years old, there was no money involved, so other factors like rape, sexual abuse, molestation or experimentation would have been present,” Salo added. 

With the new HIV-AIDS law, teenagers aged 15 to below 18 can volunteer for HIV testing and do not need parental consent.

“Persons younger than 15 who are pregnant or engage in high-risk behavior making them open to infection can also choose to be tested but with the assistance of a licensed social worker or health worker,” Salo said.

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