Aetna hit with class-action lawsuit over HIV disclosure

Aetna hit with class-action lawsuit over HIV disclosure
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Aetna on Monday was hit with a class-action lawsuit alleging the insurance giant violated the privacy of its customers by mistakenly revealing the HIV status of approximately 12,000 people.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in federal court in Pennsylvania, claims Aetna sent customers information about HIV medication that was clearly visible through envelopes with large, clear windows.

The “highly confidential matter” was visible to “family, roommates, friends, neighbors, landlords, mail carriers, and even complete strangers,” according to the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, which filed the suit with the Legal Action Center and Berger & Montague P.C.

The suit demands that Aetna cease the practice of sending information about HIV medications through the mail, reform its procedures and pay damages.

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The attorneys argue that by mailing the information the insurer violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, a federal law that oversees the privacy of health information.

“For 40 years, HIV-related public health messages have been geared toward assuring people that it’s safe to come forward to get confidential HIV treatment, and now our clients come forward for HIV-related healthcare and Aetna fails to provide confidentiality,” Ronda B. Goldfein, executive director of the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, said in a statement.  

The letters were sent to Aetna customers in July. The incident came to light last week, when the legal groups informed Aetna that it and six other AIDS service organizations had received complaints from the insurer’s customers regarding the mailings.

Aetna last week acknowledged the incident and said it's starting a full review. The company declined to comment on the lawsuit.