Health insurer Aetna revealed the HIV status of patients in several states by mailing envelopes with a large, clear window that showed confidential information, a lawsuit claims.
The letters were sent to customers currently taking medications for HIV treatment as well as for Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), a regimen that helps prevent a person from acquiring HIV.
Without opening the letter, it was possible to see details of HIV prescriptions and details for purchasing more, lawyers claim.
The Legal Action Center and the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania say some patients’ relatives and neighbors learned of their HIV status as a result.
Without opening the letter, it was possible to see details of HIV prescriptions and details for purchasing more. This is a redacted photo of one patient’s letter from Aetna
Patients were in Arizona, California, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.
Aetna says that ‘this type of mistake is unacceptable’ and that the company is reviewing processes to ensure it never happens again.
The Hartford, Connecticut-based Aetna started notifying customers of the breach in letters sent this week.
The legal organizations sent a cease-and-desist letter to Aetna. They want the insurer to show what corrective measures are being taken.
Sally Friedman, Legal Director of the Legal Action Center in New York City, is coordinating the efforts of attorneys with eight organizations in pursuing the issue.
Friedman said: ‘Aetna’s privacy violation devastated people whose neighbors and family learned their intimate health information. They also were shocked that their health insurer would utterly disregard their privacy rights.’
Ronda B. Goldfein, Executive Director of the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, said the Aetna letters casual disclosure of a person’s HIV status or use of HIV medication is far more than a technical violation of the law.
‘It creates a tangible risk of violence, discrimination and other trauma,’ she said.
The attorneys said additional legal action is under consideration.