CA Dept. of Insurance: Legislation co-sponsored by Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara ends unfair discrimination in California’s HIV statutes

June 20, 2022

LOS ANGELES –Today Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara issued a Notice strongly encouraging insurers to provide life and disability income insurance to individuals living with HIV in advance of upcoming mandatory changes to California’s HIV statutes that take effect on January 1, 2023.

“California’s outdated HIV statutes needed to be changed to protect individuals living with HIV,” said Commissioner Lara, who also thanked the bill’s author, State Senator Lena Gonzalez, and the bill’s co-sponsor Equality California. “HIV status will no longer be unfairly used as a barrier to obtaining life insurance or disability income insurance. Now individuals living with HIV will have the same opportunity as other individuals to protect themselves and their loved ones by purchasing the insurance they need.”  

Commissioner Lara co-sponsored a bill in 2020 to outlaw unfair discrimination against applicants for life insurance and disability income insurance based on HIV status. The operative date of the statutes was delayed until January 1, 2023 to give insurers time to collect the information they need to underwrite individuals living with HIV.

The Equal Insurance HIV Act means California is standing up against HIV-related stigma and ending once and for all the unjust practice of insurance companies unfairly discriminating against HIV-positive individuals,” said Senator Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach). “Thanks to the dedicated advocacy of community groups such as Equality California, and the leadership of Commissioner Lara, individuals living with HIV and their families will now have equal opportunities to obtain life and disability income insurance.”

In 1988, Insurance Code sections 799 through 799.09 were enacted, as an article titled “Underwriting of AIDS Risks.” The statutes include Insurance Code section 799.02, which allows insurers to decline an application for life or disability income insurance if the applicant tests positive for HIV. At that time, there was no effective treatment for HIV and the illness was believed to be a life-threatening condition.

Now medical advances in testing and treatment have made it possible for individuals living with HIV to have better life expectancies and quality of life. But until Commissioner Lara co-sponsored changes to the law, the old statutes remained in place, and insurers could simply reject applications from HIV-positive individuals who applied for life insurance or disability income insurance based solely on HIV status.

"For far too long, California's outdated laws have kept people living with HIV from getting the insurance coverage they need," said Equality California Executive Director Tony Hoang. "We know that people living with HIV can live a long, healthy life and we are glad to see California's law treat them with the respect they deserve. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Senator Lena Gonzalez and Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara for their tireless advocacy and implementation of the Equal Insurance HIV Act and all Californians living with HIV."

In response to this injustice, Commissioner Lara worked to change California law governing applicants for life and disability income insurance, by co-sponsoring the “Equal Insurance HIV Act” which replaced the old “Underwriting of AIDS Risks” statutes. He also made sure that the California Department of Insurance worked with advocates for individuals living with HIV and the insurance industry to ensure that the new statutes would become law.

The Notice that the Commissioner is issuing today provides guidance to insurers on complying with the requirements of the Equal Insurance HIV Act. Insurers that fail to comply with the new laws are subject to the Commissioner’s enforcement powers, including his authority to review consumer complaints, investigate violations of the Insurance Code, and bring enforcement actions for violating statutes that protect individuals living with HIV.

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