Aetna letters reveal customers' HIV status

Aetna letters reveal customers' HIV status

It's not entirely clear how the letters were packaged, but they were created to alert HIV positive people to changes in their medication.

According to the consumer organizations, on July 28 Aetna sent mailings to about 12,000 customers informing them of changes on how to fill the prescription for their treatment of the HIV virus.

The letters were sent to customers now taking medications for HIV treatment as well as for Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), a regimen that helps prevent a person from acquiring HIV.

An Aetna spokesperson indicated the company is notifying state and federal authorities about the breach, per federal law.

It is not known how many people's HIV statuses were exposed, but the groups have received numerous reports that the letters were seen by family members, roommates and neighbours. They did so on behalf of Aetna customers in Arizona, California, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia.


The revealing envelopes have caused "incalculable harm" to Aetna beneficiaries, the group said in a letter [PDF] to the insurer.

"Recipients were stunned when they realized information about HIV medication was clearly visible through the window on the envelope", Legal Action Center and the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania said in a press release.

Freidman also said that her agency is working with attorneys from eight other organizations to possibly pursue legal action against the insurance company. "This type of mistake is unacceptable, and we are undertaking a full review of our processes to ensure something like this never happens again". In that notification, Aetna claimed that the vendor that handled the mail used a windowed envelope, and in some cases the paper inside shifted to make personal health information viewable.

The Legal Action Center said that while medical advances may have helped transform HIV into a chronic yet manageable condition, there was still a widespread stigma against people living with HIV, leading to discrimination and violence in the workplace, the home and the school system. They also were shocked that their health insurer would utterly disregard their privacy rights'.

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