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  • Writer's pictureNozibele Qamngana

I didn’t tell my insurer I was HIV positive

Lately, I’ve been having mini attacks whenever I read about an Insurer that refuses to pay out after someone has died. In 2018, one insurer stuck to its decision to reject a R2.4 million life insurance payout for a Durban man due to non-disclosure of his health condition. The man died from gunshot wounds, the insurance group rejected his policy claim after it was discovered he had high blood sugar levels. After weeks of public cry, where several people were cancelling their policies, the insurer eventually paid out the money to the family.

There was another issue recently with another insurer. Two women left social media users in shock after taking a family member’s dead body to the insurer branch offices after the company allegedly refused to pay out a funeral claim. Responding to the incident, the insurer said it had actually paid out the funeral claim and could not go into much detail as to what led to the situation. The bank said the claim had to undergo “further assessments”. Hence the delay.

This suddenly made me scared.

I bought Ma a house in 2014. It was my first property purchase. There had been a lot of back and fourth with the purchase. It initially looked like the bank was not going to approve my loan. I didn’t have any financial literacy when I started working. I became too excited when I was suddenly offered clothing accounts. I lacked financial discipline. I stopped paying my accounts. I didn’t even care when I started receiving letter of demands. I didn’t think anything of it until I started negotiating for Ma’s house. The bank initially refused to offer me a loan because of my bad credit. The consultant told me to wait another year or so, for my credit to clear, and apply again. I didn’t want to wait. Ma liked that house and I wasn’t sure it’ll be available after a year. After speaking to her superiors, the consultant eventually came back to me with an approval from the bank. The approval came with a higher interest rate than normal. I took it.

As I was signing the last batch of documentation, she mentioned something about insurance. In the event of my death, the insurance would pay out money to cover the balance of the loan amount. This way, my family still keeps the house. This was an amazing idea. Having been diagnosed of HIV the previous year, I never knew when I would die. At least with the insurance option, my family would still be taken care of. I agreed to it. She forwarded me the documentation to look over, sign and send back to her.

I looked at the document. It was a lot of information included. As I was going through it, I was struck by a section that included information on why the insurer may not pay. This information included the following:

- If I had a disease I didn’t disclose. In an event of my death, within a 2-year period after I have taken the policy, the insurer won’t pay.

- If I commit suicide within a 2-year period after I have taken the policy, the insurer won’t pay.

There was a lot of information included but these two points stuck with me the most. I’ll start with the suicide point. This was a bummer for me because I had been contemplating suicide during that period. I wanted to get my things in order first and buying Ma a house was one of those things. Reading that suicide note ruined all my plans. Then there was the disclosure point. I was scared to tell the bank I was HIV positive. With all the hassles of getting approved, I was scared they would take back their approval. I signed the documents, didn’t say anything about my status to the consultant, and forwarded the documents.

For two years, I prayed nothing happens to me. Although I still struggled with suicide thoughts, I still prayed I didn’t die because it would mean my family would be kicked out of the house. That couldn’t happen.

I was grateful when I passed the two-year mark. Then it was the anxiety of information my insurer about my status. What would be the repercussions of my actions? Was I ready to find out? In truth, no. I wasn’t. So once again, I shied away from the issue. It wasn’t until the recent scandals, years later, when I finally did reach out. I called the bank and informed them of my status. I told them I knew I was HIV positive a few months before I bought the house. I have been living with HIV for about 6 years. What did this mean? The reply came back from a consultant and said, “This would be reviewed at claim stage”.

I was taken back by the answer. “Reviewed at claim stage”? What did that mean? That it would be reviewed when I was dead? So, there was a possibly that they wouldn’t pay out? I immediately called their head office. I spoke to one of the top managers. I explained my story. I referred him back to the 2-year clause. She apologized and agreed that the consultant should have given me more information. Since the 2-year clause had passed, there was nothing that compromised my policy. She actually forwarded me something on writing, to confirm all of this.

I was relieved. But in all honesty, this shouldn’t have happened in the first place. I should have been honest from the start, empower myself with knowledge, and made an informed decision. All major insurers in South Africa have product offers for people living with HIV. Yes, premiums on some product offerings are slightly higher than someone who’s HIV negative, but even that depends. The insurer looks at your medical records. How well are you taking care of yourself? Are you on treatment? What is your CD4 count and viral load. And thereafter, they make you an offer.

So, in conclusion, don’t make the same mistake I did. Get as much information as you can. Disclose your status early.

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