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Legislation co-sponsored by Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara ends unfair discrimination in California’s HIV statutes

News: 2022 Press Release

For Release: June 20, 2022
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Legislation co-sponsored by Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara  ends unfair discrimination in California’s HIV statutes

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“California’s outdated HIV statutes needed to be changed to protect individuals living with HIV,” said Commissioner Lara, who also thanked the bill’s author, State Senator Lena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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Media Notes:

  • Link to Notice: The “Equal Insurance HIV Act”: Changes in Existing Law Governing Life Insurance and Disability Income Insurance for Individuals Living with HIV
  • This action follows a Bulletin issued by Commissioner Lara earlier this month to insurance companies to prevent insurers from arbitrarily and unlawfully refusing coverage for necessary treatments, or limiting coverage for periodic sexually transmitted infection screenings to one screening per year, among other protections.
  • In addition to his work on the Equal Insurance HIV Act, the Commissioner has acted to prevent insurers from unfairly discriminating against individuals living with HIV in other ways. Pursuant to legislation sponsored by Commissioner Lara, beginning January 1, 2022, California law forbids insurers from discriminating against individuals in large employer health insurance coverage based upon their sexual orientation or health status, including HIV status or use of pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, amongst other factors.
  • In 2021 and 2020, Commissioner Lara issued Notices reminding health insurers that PrEP be covered without cost-sharing. And in 2019, the Commissioner issued a Notice reminding insurers that they cannot use a person’s history of using PrEP as a justification for denying life, disability, or long-term care insurance coverage, or for charging higher premiums for that coverage.

Led by Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, the California Department of Insurance is the consumer protection agency for the nation's largest insurance marketplace and safeguards all of the state’s consumers by fairly regulating the insurance industry. Under the Commissioner’s direction, the Department uses its authority to protect Californians from insurance rates that are excessive, inadequate, or unfairly discriminatory, oversee insurer solvency to pay claims, set standards for agents and broker licensing, perform market conduct reviews of insurance companies, resolve consumer complaints, and investigate and prosecute insurance fraud. Consumers are urged to call 1-800-927-4357 with any questions or contact us at via webform or online chat. Non-media inquiries should be directed to the Consumer Hotline at 800-927-4357. Teletypewriter (TTY), please dial 800-482-4833.

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