Award-winning insurance provider Emerald Life is now the only UK provider of travel insurance where there is no requirement to disclose HIV as a pre-existing medical condition if the customer is on stable anti-viral medicine and their viral load is undetectable and also importantly at no extra cost to the customer. Here, Emerald Life Chairman, Steve Wardlaw, explains why the company is proud to introduce this revolutionary, game-changing travel insurance.
Hi Steve. Why is it important to be able to offer this type of policy?
We set up Emerald Life for a simple purpose – to involve and include those groups who don’t normally fit within the white, male straight world of insurance, with all its images of straight couples and impossibly lovely kids getting out of Volvos with their golden retrievers. One of these groups is the LGBT community, which for too long has suffered with being ignored or even actively discouraged by the insurance world. Pre-launch we found lots of cases of direct and indirect discrimination. One of the worst was in travel, where in buying most online insurance travellers have to declare any ‘pre-existing medical conditions’. HIV is a pre-existing condition and when we launched in 2016, some insurers would increase or even double their premiums for HIV positive customers so that they would buy somewhere else.
What does it mean to you and the Emerald Life team to be able to offer this particular travel insurance?
The insurance industry has now improved on pricing. An HIV positive traveller who is undetectable and on medication is no extra risk to a traveller without HIV, and so now many premiums should be the same for both (we led on that one too). Simply put, those customers should not be paying any more for their insurance than someone without HIV. However, even with matched pricing, that still doesn’t recognise that HIV is a special category in some ways, because of the stigma, discrimination and rejection that may come with an HIV diagnosis. In some parts of the LGBT community, as many as 1 in 5 people feels that way. And if you declare your HIV status, not only does the insurance company know about it, but it goes on your certificate of insurance. Depending on where you are travelling, that’s a problem. For example, I wouldn’t want to have to show my certificate of insurance to, say, a boat hirer in Dubai, if it shows my HIV status. So our offering is simple – customers living with HIV but undetectable pay no more for their insurance than customers without HIV, and there’s no need to tell us!
Emerald Life is the first insurance provider to offer such a policy at no additional cost – why are you the first, and how are you able to do so?
I think that the mainstream insurance sector simply doesn’t recognise the different and sometimes extra cover that the LGBT community needs. Apart from our work on HIV, we were the first insurance provider to allow Mx as a title, we have a special trans advisory group (the ‘T Squad’) and we also made sure that the definitions of families included foster, adopted and surrogate children. So we have always led the way showing how insurers should deal with those that don’t fit the ‘normal’ model. We do talk a lot to other insurers about our work – as we’d like them all to change – but in the end they don’t. Perhaps the LGBT market is not really of interest to them, or their systems are too big to change for what they see as a small part of the overall population? There’s lots of nice talk in the sector but no real change, which means that LGBT customers aren’t getting the service or products that they should.
Previous to this new Emerald Life policy, how would people living with HIV disclose their status when buying insurance, and how is the process different now when using Emerald Life?
I may have answered this: when you buy insurance, the price depends on the risk that you might make a claim. Your health and age are the two big factors in that, so insurers require you to tell them about your health. Moreover, if you aren’t honest, then they may not pay out for ANY claim, not just one related to health or medical expenses. For most insurers, HIV is a declarable condition. Because of the concern from HIV positive travellers about disclosing their status, many simply don’t, thinking it’ll be OK. That’s a huge risk if you do need to claim on a policy. So the difference with an Emerald travel policy and most other insurers? When you go online, you are asked about pre-existing medical conditions, and if you are HIV positive you click ‘yes’ and get a little drop-down menu that says if your medical condition is HIV but you are undetectable and on stable medication, then don’t tell us. We don’t need to know and so it’s simply not recorded anywhere. Easy!
What more do you think still needs to change regarding HIV and travel insurance?
I would like the insurance sector to keep pace with the latest medical situation with HIV. They manage to keep up with other medical breakthroughs, such as for type 2 diabetes, where there are new insurance products coming out all the time. To me, it’s just another example of how the LGBT community is forgotten – or worse – within financial services. But hey, if it didn’t make me angry, we wouldn’t have set up an LGBT-friendly insurer in the first place! I hope that we can change the whole sector over time, but until then I want my community to get the protection they are entitled to.