STAT News reports:
Thousands of people with HIV received mailed letters from Aetna last month that may have disclosed their HIV status on the envelope. The letters, which Aetna said were sent to approximately 12,000 people, were meant to relay a change in pharmacy benefits. Text visible through a small window on the envelopes listed the patients’ names and suggested a change in how they would fill the prescription for their treatment for the virus.
“People have been devastated. We’ve had a number of people tell us they had chosen not to disclose their HIV status to family members — but this is how their family members found out,” said Sally Friedman, legal director at Legal Action Center, which is pushing Aetna to correct the mistake and which highlighted the violation Thursday. Aetna is in the process of notifying both state and federal authorities about the breach, a company spokesman said. The mailing was sent July 28.
“I know of someone who has been kicked out of his home because somebody who saw his envelope learned his HIV status,” said Sally Friedman, legal director of the Legal Action Center, who is coordinating the efforts of attorneys alongside Ronda B. Goldfein, executive director of the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania.
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.
“People with HIV need to feel they can seek medical help without their private information being illegally shared with neighbors, family, etc,” Friedman said. “So when an insurance company breaches confidentiality in this fashion, it can deter people from getting health care.”