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ACLU Files AIDS Discrimination Suit;
Challenges South Carolina Insurance Risk Pool
For IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 6, 1993
The American Civil Liberties Union has challenged the exclusion of
people with AIDS of HIV infection from the South Carolina Insurance Risk
The complaint, filed in Federal District Court in Columbia on March
26, seeks to allow people with AIDS and HIV disease to receive insurance
coverage from the risk pool.
Established in 1989, the Insurance Risk Pool is a state insurance
program for people who can afford but cannot obtain private health
insurance because of pre-existing health conditions.
Unlike approximately 20 other states with Insurance Risk Pools,
however, South Carolina specifically exempts people diagnosed with AIDS
and HIV infection from participation in the Pool. It is the only
disqualifying disease the State of South Carolina recognizes.
"South Carolina is the only state in the country that deliberately
prevents people with AIDS from obtaining the medical assistance they
need," said Steven Bates, Executive Director of the South Carolina ACLU.
"Only meanness, bigotry, and ignorance can explain such discrimination".
Participation in the Risk Pool is available to every other
uninsurable South Carolina resident whose age, income, and assets make
them ineligible for other government-funded insurance programs like
Medicare and Medicaid. People whose premiums for comparable coverage from
a private insurer exceeds 150 percent of the pool rate are also eligible.
Participants in the Risk Pool pay premiums that are 200 percent to
300 percent of the rate for comparable basic commercial insurance. Health
insurance companies doing business in South Carolina pay any remaining
costs of the program.
A pre-existing serious health problem is no bar to participation in
the plan. Insurance Risk Pools are created specifically to provide health
care coverage for people with high risk, high cost ailments that private
insurance companies will not insure.
"This lawsuit is an important national test case because South
Carolina is the only insurance pool in the United States that excludes
people with HIV disease," said William B. Rubenstein, Director of the
ACLU's National AIDS Project. "This case is also being brought to test
the applicability of the new Americans in Disabilities Act to
discrimination in government programs."
Despite a common perception that the cost of treating AIDS is too
high for the State to bear, the disease is not more expensive than many
diseases that are covered. The S.C. Insurance Risk Pool accepts patients
with costly ailments like hearts disease, cancer, and Alzheimer's, and
pays up to $250,000 to treat people who need costly medical procedures
such as heart transplants.
Excluding HIV infected people from coverage ends up costing -- not
saving -- taxpayer's money. Under the Pool, treatment costs are offset by
substantial premiums and deductibles paid by the insured and augmented by
the private insurance industry.
Yet without coverage, many HIV patients are forced to quit their jobs
and divest themselves of all assets in order to become eligible for
Medicaid -- a fully taxpayer supported program in which the state and
federal governments share costs. And because Medicaid often does not
provide full reimbursement, public hospitals usually absorb the remainder
of the costs at a financial loss to taxpayers.
Columbia attorneys Michael J. Thompson and Harriet Hancock represent
the plaintiff John Doe for the American Civil Liberties Union of South
Carolina. Doak Wolfe, also of Columbia, represents the co-plaintiff
Palmetto AIDS Life Support Services. Rubenstein and Ruth Harlow of the
American Civil Liberties Union AIDS and Civil Liberties Project in New
York are co-counsel in the suit.
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