Foreign Students Who Contracted HIV in Israel Find Out 'Full' Insurance Won't Cover Treatment

Some policies allow insurance firms to send students back to their homelands, citing public health concerns.

Ido Efrati
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Thousands of students come to Israel each year from Europe. (Illustration)Credit: Bloomberg
Ido Efrati

Foreign students who contracted HIV during their time in Israel have discovered that their insurance policy doesn’t cover treatment of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, despite the insurance being sold as a full and comprehensive policy. An AIDS nonprofit has teamed with the National Union of Israeli Students (NUIS) to combat the problem.

Thousands of students come to Israel each year from Europe, the United States and elsewhere to attend academic institutions. Usually, foreign students purchase the insurance policy offered them through the institution they are attending. However, in recent months, the Israel AIDS Task Force has identified a number of foreign students who were infected with HIV during their time in Israel and subsequently learned, when attempting to obtain treatment, that HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases are excluded from their policy. Subsequently, some of the students had to halt their studies since they could not afford to pay for the expensive medical treatment in addition to their academic programs.

In addition, the language and culture barrier – often combined with the lack of a strong and supportive social network – makes it that much harder for these students to cope with their difficult situation and insist on their health-care rights.

Some of the policies also give the insurance companies the right to send students who are HIV carriers back to their country of origin for reasons of public health – which can be seen as a demonstration of the insurance companies’ retrograde attitude toward the disease, given the fact that medications can significantly reduce the chance of transmitting the virus.

The Israel AIDS Task Force contacted the insurance companies and requested that they cease excluding treatment for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases from their policies. At first the insurance firms refused, but later agreed to cancel the exclusion for HIV alone, starting from June 2016. However, they left the exclusion for other sexually transmitted disease unchanged.

Dr. Yuval Livnat, director-general of the AIDS Task Force.Credit: David Bachar

The Israel AIDS Task Force has also tried to work with NUIS to find a way to offer better insurance coverage for the foreign students.

NUIS entered into a negotiation process with the insurance companies with the aim of providing comprehensive coverage that does not exclude sexually transmitted diseases. So far, the best and most comprehensive proposal has come from the Ga’ash insurance agency, which is the official insurance agency of the student union. The insurance covers infection with sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, and service at health maintenance organizations across the country. This policy is not just unprecedented in what it offers foreign students, but is also the first policy to operate in accordance with the new guidelines issued by the insurance commissioner, which says that, as of 2016, HIV carriers may not be excluded from the range of policies on the market.

“It’s really ridiculous. The policies that were offered until now covered much rarer diseases than HIV and other STDs,” says Ram Shefa, deputy chair of NUIS. “Students’ health and their studies were being severely affected, and we couldn’t sit by and not try to offer a real alternative. It may not help the students who were already harmed, but at least the same kind of thing won’t happen in the future.”

Dr. Yuval Livnat is director-general of the Israel AIDS Task Force. “We believe that the institutions of higher education, which want to attract foreign students, also have a duty to look after their welfare, including their health, and not leave them alone in their time of distress,” said Livnat. “We also regret that, despite the insurance commissioner’s directive, there are still insurance companies that, instead of taking care of the students, are going to wait another year before adopting the new guidelines. We are grateful to NUIS for its cooperation, which is helping to maintain and improve the students’ health, and to the Ga’ash agency, which became a pioneer in implementing the new guidelines for not excluding HIV-carriers from insurance coverage.”