2 min

Cash out

Ghoulish idea is 'humane,' says lobbyist

There’s money in your AIDS death – for a US company.

Viaticals, which have long targeted their advertising at gay men in order to buy up the life insurance policies of the terminally ill, are about to become legal in Ontario.

“I don’t think there was any disparaging word,” says Gordon Walker, the only registered political lobbyist in the province for viaticals. He shepherded the project for a New York-based company, Enhance Life Benefits LLC.

“I think it’s a very humane thing. Several companies will make their services available. There will be companies that will establish here in Ontario.”

In fact, there are disparaging words.

Viaticals have been illegal in the province since the depression, when farms were repossessed and insurance policies pulled. A law was passed forbidding the “trafficking” of policies.

Walker says the language – and opinion – is outdated. “Since 1930 a thousand kinds of consumer protections have been introduced,” he says.

Things are perhaps different in the US. There, some fly-by-night viaticals have a reputation for fraud, for taking advantage of the ill and vulnerable.

“There are quite a few warning signals up around this one,” says the AIDS Committee Of Toronto’s Lee Zaslofsky. “People have to think carefully about it, about all the consequences before they go for the money. At ACT we’re committed to people having the widest possible range of choices.”

A viaticals company pays upfront a certain percentage of the face value of a policy. It takes over paying the premiums, and it gets the payout when you die.

But in Ontario, OHIP and the Trillium Drug Program already provide a safety net. In addition, that chunk of money must be reported, and will jeopardize welfare, disability and drug program coverage.

The quiet legalization of viaticals was in the omnibus Bill 119, the Red Tape Reduction Act. It has been criticized for its quick passage and the dozens and dozens of Ontario laws it changed – with little debate.

Written viaticals regulations are expected within the next three months, at which time that section of the bill will become law. That’s what those on the outside are saying, at least – the Ontario finance ministry did not return calls.

The umbrella group Canadian Life And Health Insurance Associations expressed reservations during committee hearings. “We don’t like them very much,” says president Mark Daniels. “They’ve been the source of immense abuse.”

Employees need to call regularly and find out if you’re dead yet, for example.

Daniels says almost insurance companies now offer what’s called living benefits. The company pays out a certain percentage of the policy in advance, but heirs still inherit some money.

But his competition says insurance companies are cheapskates.

There’s only one big Canadian viaticals company, Life Source And Associates.

Living benefits gets you a maximum of $50,000 or 50 percent of your policy, complains president Victor Lansdown – and he claims he’ll better that.

His business is now based in Montreal (where the concept is legal). It was founded in 1994 and also lobbied for the law change.

“You can actually create a better quality of life,” Lansdown says. “Our industry has expanded [to] anyone with an expected life [span] within a 10-year window.”