A gay doctor who was on PrEP has revealed that he could not get insured on a critical health insurance policy unless he stopped taking the HIV-prevention drug.

Dr Philip Cheng started taking PrEP (Pre-exposure Prophylaxis) as part of a preventative measure after he cut himself and came into contact with an HIV positive patient.


Man holding a pill used for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent HIV infection
Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP)

After the month was up, Dr Cheng decided that he would stay on the preventative drug as at the time he was a single gay man.

However, he was shocked to learn that being on PrEP meant that he would be blocked from accessing a necessary type of insurance that covers disability.

Disability insurance is common for doctors to apply for because it protects their income if they should be rendered unable to work.

Related: What is PrEP and how can I get it? Everything you need to know about HIV-preventing drugs

Usually, the policy is offered for a lifetime but Dr Cheng was only offered a five-year policy because he is on PrEP.

The policy is undoubtedly backwards because it favours men who are not protecting themselves from HIV over men who are.

HIV testing kits are available at doctors surgeries (Photo by: BSIP/UIG via Getty Images)

It has been criticised by LGBTQ+ activists and top healthcare professionals who likened it to discriminating against women who took birth control medication.

“It’s like refusing to insure someone because they use seatbelts,” explained Dr Robert M. Grant, an AIDS researcher at the University of California, San Francisco who led a landmark clinical trial on PrEP.

Related: New Zealand to introduce PrEP for less than two dollars a month

“It doesn’t make any sense,” Dr Anthony S. Fauci, a world-renowned specialist on HIV and AIDS, told the NYT. “It ought to be the other way around.”

Dr Cheng tried numerous times to get his insurance company to change it’s policy and even offered to sign a waiver that would have voided his policy if he contracted HIV.

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However, the company remained steadfast in its decision, insisting that the use of PrEP indicate “high-risk sexual behaviour”, and so he turned to a different insurance company and was offered the full lifetime coverage.

He is now in a long-term relationship with a man who is HIV negative and so he has come off PrEP, but Dr Cheng explained that he felt it should never have been made as difficult as it was for him to obtain the insurance.

“It was blatant discrimination,” he said.

Of the 800 life insurance companies in America, it is unclear how many reject applicants on a similar basis to Dr Cheng but advocates working in HIV awareness say that is is a common occurrence.

Related: Giving gay and bi men HIV-preventing PrEP on the NHS would save £1 billion, new study finds

Bennett Klein, a lawyer for GLAD (GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders), said he knew of 14 cases where companies had denied life insurance, long-term-care insurance or disability insurance to gay men on PrEP.

He is now suing four separate companies for the violations, but each of the companies has denied the allegations of discrimination.

“The irrationality is enough to make your mind spin,” Klein said.




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