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Manulife to become first Canadian insurer to offer HIV life coverage

A student makes an AIDS red ribbon during a World AIDS Day event.

JASON LEE/REUTERS

Manulife Financial Corp. will offer life insurance to people living with HIV as part of a company-wide push to make applying for coverage easier.

The Toronto-based insurer will be the first in Canada to offer individual life insurance policies of up to $2-million to those who have tested positive for the human immunodeficiency virus. Manulife has carefully studied scientific data on health and HIV for years and now considers it a chronic condition.

The extension of coverage represents a shift in the way the company is underwriting new insurance policies, using more analytics and data to assess survival rates and other factors. It's also part of the insurer's efforts to make obtaining life insurance easier.

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"We're going to be changing underwriting requirements to make it simpler for people to apply for an insurance product," said Karen Cutler, Manulife's chief underwriter. That means changing the parameters for some of the underwriting tests that are done on new insurance applications. Manulife will be rolling out more measures to improve the application process in the coming months.

HIV-positive Canadians seeking life insurance must be between 30 and 65 years of age and on a stable course of antiretroviral therapy, among other conditions. About 75,000 Canadians have tested HIV-positive, according to government assessments; not all of them would qualify for coverage.

"It's not a massive market for us – that's not what this is about. Its about how we are progressing forward on something that has been prohibiting people with HIV to apply for insurance," Ms. Cutler said. "It's one step forward toward modernizing insurance and thinking about insurance differently."

Still, the change affects Manulife's businesses across North America, including its Boston-based insurance group, John Hancock Financial. In the United States there are 1.2 million people living with HIV, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The insurer constantly reviews new medical data but needed time to reflect on the effectiveness of various new HIV treatments.

"We're at the point now where we've got enough information and there's enough long-term studies in the medical field that show that HIV-infected individuals are doing quite well and the mortality has improved significantly over the years," Ms. Cutler said.

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