Organisations working with people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHA) are pinning their hopes on the recent circular issued by the Insurance Regulatory Development Authority to insurance companies. According to the draft circular, all life insurers are required to put in place a board-approved underwriting policy with respect to life insurance products for PLHA. The circular states that life insurance cover for PLHA should not be denied if the eligibility criteria as per the board approved underwriting policy are satisfied.

The draft explains that health insurance products will have to take into account the possibility that a person who is HIV negative at the inception of the policy could acquire HIV / AIDS at a later date. The circular states that insurers should not reject such claims and in all such cases, the underwriting guidelines and claims settlement guidelines applicable at the time of commencement should be applicable.

R. Thangadurai of Genesis Trust, which has been campaigning for insurance cover for PLHAs in the State, said the move would encourage more PLHAs to come out of the closet. “The State has an estimated two lakh persons with AIDS, and of them, over 69,000 are on anti-retroviral therapy offered by the government.” He suggests that the State government pay the premium, besides giving financial assistance of Rs. 50,000 to families losing their breadwinners to the disease. Though organisations such as Sahodaran and Sneham, working with PLHAs and sex workers welcome the move, they are also skeptical. Sunil Menon, founder of Sahodaran, who runs a support group for PLHAs, said the proposed insurance cover would take care of the burden of medical expenses. But the stigma that women in rural areas suffer will persist.

For K. Gajalakshmi, who runs Sneham, an organisation working with sex workers and positive women in Tiruchi, is not so certain about the efficacy of insurance policies. “For minor ailments, I cannot use insurance and for surgeries, private hospitals direct us to government facilities. The members of my group are often sent to government hospitals for procedures or surgery. Even there, only if the doctor is available do they get treatment immediately.”