Plans by the Government for new legislation to prevent discrimination against HIV positive people, by insurance companies are being met with uncertainty.Minister in the Ministry of State, Rodger Samuel, said the initiative, which is being discussed ahead of World Aids Day next Thursday, is aimed at tackling discrimination against people living with HIV/Aids, including discrimination in the workplace and public places.Leading local insurance consultant, Bertrand Doyle, said more stringent and careful scrutiny needed to be explored by Government and stakeholders for the proposed legislation to be successful.
He urged Government to properly explain how the intended laws would work. "If you're talking with respect to taking HIV/Aids positive people and charging them a different premium, I don't think that makes very much sense," Doyle said. He explained that if a person went to an insurance company and it was discovered that the person had a disease, an appropriate rate was granted to the person, based on the type of disease. He added: "If it is they have a heart condition they would not rate them in the same way they would someone who did not have a heart condition.
"It is a matter of what might take place down the road...how soon they would call upon the fund to pay," he said."So in that sense all insurance premium rating is discriminatory in the sense that you do charge more, depending on what it is you are insured for." Doyle said that was not isolated to just life insurance but any type of insurance.
Using a house as an example, he explained a person who owned a timber structure would pay more for coverage for fire compared to someone who owns a structure made of concrete. He added: "That is in a sense discriminatory. So in that sense there always would be discrimination in the insurance industry with respect to rating for rating purposes.
"In that sense discriminating means differentiation between different types of risks. Which ever risk it is that comes with the insurance company, they rate that risk accordingly."He said one avenue Government might be exploring was to have insurance companies not reject people who were already HIV/Aids positive.That, he said, could add an entire new dimension which could transform the insurance industry.
"It is worthy of discussion. Should HIV/Aids people be rejected outright or not by insurance companies? I think that's the question they should start with," Doyle proposed. If in fact insurance companies do accept HIV/Aids people what would they offer? According to Doyle, an insurance company does not "carry the insurance for itself." He explained: "The insurance company has reinsurance considerations. They have to buy insurance for the insurance they have sold.
"One will need to find out the international market for reinsurance with respect to victims, people who are within certain categories and know what kind of rate they would have to pay in order for them to know what kind of rates they themselves will charge." Asked whether there were specific insurance policies offered to people with HIV/Aids, Doyle said that was very unlikely.
"If you did that you would have to get a special fund, special insurers who would undertake that risk," Doyle said.However, he added, if a person took out a policy and subsequently discovered he or she had been infected with the deadly virus the contract should not be affected. He said: "A life insurance contract is not one in which you could just cancel. If it is a policy that has a renewal date it is quite possible that if the insurance company knows at that time the person is infected, subsequently they may not want to renew.
"But not for a life insurance policy which is existing and which was bought when the person did not have any disease when they bought it."The fact that they have now acquired the disease is not going to invalidate the contract which is existing," Doyle added. A senior financial adviser, assigned to Tatil, said local insurance companies did not provide any coverage to HIV/Aids people.
He maintained, however, that it was not a matter of discrimination but rather a situation deemed to be too risky. He said: "Our market is very small and it is very difficult to offer that kind of coverage. The local insurance companies take up a percentage of the risk and the reinsurers abroad take up the balance. "But if there are no support mechanisms in place then it will not work."
Teeth needed-Equal Opportunities Commission
Discrimination against HIV/Aids positive people exists at all level of the society.In the work place the problem was very real and without proper laws very little could be done to assist the aggrieved, said Michelle Benjamin, Legal Officer 11 with the Equal Opportunities Commission. Benjamin said at present the Equal Opportunities Act of 2000 did not cover discrimination against HIV/Aids people in the workplace.
She said part of the commission's mandate was to eliminate discrimination and for the period 2009 to 2010 they received ten complaints from HIV/Aids positive people who cited discrimination in terms of employment.The figure, she said, could either indicate that more infected people were gaining the courage to speak out and report such matters, or that people were too afraid to come forward.
Benjamin said proposals to amend the Act already have been put forward by the commission and it is up to Parliament to have the legislation placed on the Order Paper for discussion. "Once the Act is amended, the commission would now have the power to launch an investigation as HIV/Aids would now be included as a status. HIV/Aids infected people must also be protected just like other people facing discrimination," she said.
NGOs facing discrimination
Non-Governmental Organisations whose mandate is to specifically assist HIV/Aids people are also facing discrimination from the wider society.One such organisation was the Caritas Aids Ministry (CAM), based in Diego Martin.CAM's chairman, Malcolm Joseph, recalled late last year that the owner of a Tunapuna hardware refused to deliver building material to the organisation upon discovering it was to be used for construction of a HIV/Aids screening and counselling facility at St John's Road, St Augustine.
Joseph said when a portion of the material was initially delivered at the site the delivery man inquired what was the purpose of the facility. "We told him and apparently he must have gone back and told his employer because when I went back to the supplier to query a discrepancy on the bill all the clerks came out and were watching us."The boss asked us what we're doing with the material and when we told him he said we should have informed him about the facility. He then told us he would not be sending any of his employees to do any deliveries again," Joseph said.
As part of it mandate, CAM counsels HIV/Aids infected people.Discrimination in the workplace, Joseph said, often causes severe mental and emotional stress. He added: "Most times our clients were emotionally disturbed. We know of situations where people were dismissed when it was discovered they were HIV positive."CAM has no local standing to go into the workplace and talk to employers but we would advise workers to talk to their supervisors hoping they would become sympathetic," Joseph said.
He said in some cases there is no discrimination by employers but in other instances infected people are transferred to different departments."There was one particular cases where the employees were so incensed that one of their colleagues had the disease that the employer was forced to transfer him to a different location and also told him to keep quiet and not let his status be known," Joseph said.
He is calling for legislation to be implemented to deal with all forms of discrimination and said the initiative should not be "punitive" but must also focus on educating employers to deal with HIV/Aids positive employees.At 18, Lorna Henry contracted the HIV virus. Seventeen years later she has full blown Aids.Henry, a vociferous HIV/Aids activist, never believed she would live past her 30th birthday, or even become a mother.In January this year, Henry gave birth to her third child, Janaya.
Janaya and her siblings Jequan, seven, and Japhia, five, were born HIV negative due the availability of medication to prevent mother to child transmission of the disease. Janaya's birth, however, was clouded with bitter sweet moments as Henry was verbally humiliated and shunned by nurses at the Port-of-Spain General Hospital."I was placed at the very back of the ward. The nurse was very rude and obnoxious and I was crying.
"The nurse was saying, 'I don't know who send you all to make children. Why all you does make children to put other people life in danger?' What about the other infected mother who would again come into the system and receive the same treatment. When will it end?" Henry asked.In August this year, Henry launched her NGO, Mothers to Mothers Trinidad and Tobago.She said: "Mothers to Mothers mandate is to support HIV positive mothers. Some women who are already HIV positive may decide they want to have a family.
"The organisation will go to clinic appointments with them, ensure they take proper medication and we are trying to get the Government on board to help some of them who may not have a proper place to live or access a proper meal," Henry said.She said Mother to Mothers also was seeking to establish nurseries to enable infected mothers to be gainfully employment to sustain themselves.In her community of Malick, Henry and her children are often forced to deal with constant harsh and hurtful remarks from neighbours.
"Most of my neighbours talk behind my back. Most of the times my children would get remarks like, 'Your mother have Aids.' But that bounces off them. They would leave the other children outside and come inside the house."My son asked me the other day what is Aids and I told him. He told me the other children kept saying I have Aids and he asked me why they have to say that. I told him because his mummy is very important and that's why they talk about me."