Viatical Vampires

Besides evil liquor companies, the gay and PWA (People with AIDS) press get much money from the viatical industry. What is a viatical company? Viatical companies buy life insurance policies from people for a percentage of their value, giving people money now in exchange for the full value of the policy after the holder's death. This generally applies to cases where the person bought the policy while they were young and expected to live a long life, but they have since contracted a potentially fatal illness such as AIDS, which reduces their life expectancy and thus makes is more liely that the policy will be redeemable sooner.

Look in a glossy gay magazine or a magazine about AIDS such as Poz or Art and Understanding (which I refer to as Fag Hag Monthly, due to their habit of putting sympathetic straight women on the cover of the magazine.) I guarantee you will find advertisements from viatical companies. Those ads are not cheap for a company to place, so there must be money to be made in the viatical field.

I find one advertisement in particular interesting. It has the headline, "NEG to POS" and has a goateed guy on a motorcycle driving towards the camera. "NEG to POS" indicates a change in serostatus, from HIV negative to positive, but could also indicate a financial change, such as a bank balance going from negative to positive, from the red to the black. The motorcycle symbolises money, health, and power. The sequence suggested is: buy insurance policy; contract HIV; cash in insurance policy; get rich. It's the gay American dream. A Faustian bargain to be sure--to trade the rest of your life for a season of prosperity.

Many gay men never buy insurance policies--who are the lucky ones with enough foresight to do so? Gay urban professionals?

The historic purpose of insurance policies has been to provide for the well-being of a person's family after their death. As everyone knows, gay men have no families. So I don't know why they buy the policies. Unless they do plan on following the seroconversion scenario even before they buy the policies. But perhaps the aquisition of the policies is accidental, for instance through signing just another paper at work.

An example of the way profiting from death can poison the mind: the introduction of drugs which prolong the lives of people with AIDS worried many within the Viatical industry because they would stand to not get their money as fast because people were living longer.

In some cases, the companies are more evil than others because they pay very low percentages of the value of the policies. I am not saying that this is true of the company I singled out above. In that ad, there is a quote from the company's president saying "I was my first client." I have seen this claim made for other such companies--a person may first sell off their policy, then use the proceeds to buy other people's policies. I would like to suggest an alternative to this cycle of profiteering--rather than continue a capitalist cycle, set up a non-profit cooperative which will buy policies and maintain a fund of money, purchasing policies without gouging.


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