There’s a drug that prevents HIV. Insurers discriminate against people who use it, investigation finds

Insurance companies discriminated against Californians who take an HIV-prevention drug by denying or limiting coverage, or charging higher premiums, according to a state investigation.

Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara announced Thursday that some life, disability income and long-term care insurance companies were targeting HIV-negative users of pre-exposure prophylaxis, also called PrEP, a medication that prevents the spread of that disease.

“PrEP prevents HIV, pure and simple, and I will not tolerate insurers violating California law by discriminating against people taking proactive steps to be healthy,” Lara said in a statement.

A person who uses PrEP cannot have that used to justify denial of life, disability or long-term care insurance, nor can they be charged higher premiums because of it, under California law.

“The Department of Insurance warns insurers to stop discrimination against PrEP users and review their underwriting rules before we take action,” Lara said. “As we celebrate Pride Month, ending HIV infections is within our reach. But first we have to eliminate prejudice and fear that still stands in the way of a cure.”

With daily usage, PrEP can prevent “upwards of 40,000 HIV infections annually in the United States,” according to Lara’s office.

The insurance commissioner issued a notice warning against discrimination to all companies who sell such insurance “in the nation’s largest insurance market.”

“During the Department’s investigation, a number of insurers reported that they have discontinued these practices,” according to a statement from Lara’s office.

The names of the insurance companies have not been made public.

“The market conduct exam we conducted is confidential so we cannot release the names of specific insurers. However we are communicating with those insurers directly to make sure they have ceased practices that discriminate against PrEP users,” spokesman Michael Soller said in a statement.

Anyone who believes that they were discriminated against by their insurance provider for using PrEP can contact the Department of Insurance at 800-927-4357.

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Andrew Sheeler covers California’s unique political climate for the Sacramento Bee. He has covered crime and politics from Interior Alaska to North Dakota’s oil patch to the rugged coast of southern Oregon. He attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks.