Published: Sat, August 26, 2017
Medical | By Carla Vaughn

Aetna envelopes reveal customers' HIV status

Aetna envelopes reveal customers' HIV status

"We sincerely apologize to those affected by a mailing issue that inadvertently exposed the personal health information of some Aetna members", declared a spokesman for Aetna following complaints. The legal organizations said the incident violates federal and state privacy laws and exposes Aetna to a potential discrimination lawsuit.

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.

In a letter to Aetna, the two groups asked the insurer to develop a plan to correct its procedures so mistakes are avoided in the future.

The Washington Post reports that the Legal Action Center and the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania have released a letter requesting that Aetna immediately cease and desist these mailings, and take measures to assure that nothing like this ever happens again.

Patients in Arizona, California, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia received the letters and contacted attorneys, according to the organizations' letter to Aetna.

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Aetna was made aware of the problem on July 31, after the letters were mailed on July 28. The mailing used an envelope with a clear address window which showed the usual name and address info, but the way the letter was folded also exposed the first sentence of the statement, describing options for receiving HIV medications.

Though Aetna claimed that only some envelopes were affected, adding that, "The letter could have shifted within the envelope in a way that allowed personal health information to be viewable through the window", Friedman stated that the error existed in every instance they had seen.

In a press release, the center said the letters were sent to customers who are now taking medication for HIV treatment and Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), "a regimen that helps prevent a person from acquiring HIV". Friedman said the breach of privacy should be of "grave concern" to anyone with a health condition they wish to keep private.

They say it creates "a tangible risk of violence. and other trauma".

"You've effectively fanned the flames of #HIV stigma", Lambda Legal wrote.

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