Life insurers make available telephonic pre-testing HIV counselling service

14 July 2008 Life Offices Association (LOA)

Consumers who apply for life insurance policies that require an HIV test are now for the first time also able to receive telephonic pre-test counselling via a toll free number before taking the HIV test.

Gerhard Joubert (pictured), CEO of the Life Offices’ Association (LOA), says by making counselling available via a call centre, South Africa has achieved another world first. Internationally in the insurance environment, life insurance applicants receive only written pre-test counselling information before consenting to the HIV test.

Joubert says while this has been available in South Africa as well, LOA member companies and their partnering pathology groups have also been offering individual pre-test counselling by trained counsellors at the laboratories.

"But while this service fills a need, it is not easily accessible to our clients living outside major centres. In addition this counselling is only available in English and during office hours.”

He explains that this prompted the LOA to approach an independent service provider to provide nationwide telephonic pre-test counselling. The new service became available at the beginning of this month, and can be accessed from 07h00 to 19h00, Mondays to Fridays, in all official languages.

Joubert says half of the costs of the call centre will be funded by the National Pathology Group (NPG), which represents most of the private laboratories who conduct the HIV tests on behalf of life companies.

Clients can access this telephonic pre-test counselling service once they have applied for a policy which requires an HIV test by calling 0800 562 562 and providing their name, the insurance company’s name and their policy or policy quote number. Counsellors are trained in everything relating to HIV/AIDS, as well as the relevant insurance aspects.

Counsellors will inform callers of their rights, which include:

  • The right not to be tested, which may, however, result in the application for life insurance being declined.
  • The right to consider alternative life products that do not require testing for HIV.
  • The right to confidential pre-test counselling, which will inform the applicant of the implications of taking the test.
  • The right to have the test results treated confidentially.
  • The right to post-test counselling should the test be positive.

Joubert says the South African insurance industry continues to take the client’s right to information before consenting to a potentially life changing medical test very seriously.

"For this reason the LOA Board agreed to amend the LOA’s HIV Testing Protocol to provide for the call centre. This protocol forms part of the LOA’s Code of Conduct and is therefore binding on all member offices.”

The purpose of the HIV Testing Protocol is to ensure that the life industry follows the highest standards in all aspects of HIV screening of applicants for life insurance. This Code applies to all HIV tests performed by LOA member offices and addresses issues such as identification, confidentiality, informed consent, pre- and post-test counselling, transmission of test results and accreditation of test kits and laboratories.

Joubert says South Africa has achieved a number of milestones in recent years all aimed at improving the plight of South Africans living with HIV and ensuring that they are treated more fairly. These include:

  • The introduction of the LOA’s HIV Testing Protocol, which has been hailed one of the best in the world.
  • The high level of testing quality by members of the National Pathology Group.
  • The scrapping of HIV exclusions for all lump sum death and disability benefit claims.
  • The removal of HIV/Aids specific waiting periods.
  • South Africa remains one of only two countries worldwide where HIV positive people have access to life insurance products. Local life insurers introduced life policies for HIV/Aids positive people in 2001, and the Netherlands followed suit two years later.
  • Currently the following life companies offer life products for HIV/Aids positive people: Old Mutual, Sanlam, Metropolitan, AllLife and AltRisk.
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