Health insurer Aetna allegedly mailed out more than 12,000 letters to customers who take HIV-related medication or those who take medication to prevent HIV infection (PrEP). According to the Legal Action Center and the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, these letters clearly reveal the fact that these clients were taking HIV-related medication by exposing this information through a window on the envelopes.
According to the groups, and reported by CNN, patients in Arizona, California, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia have received the letter and already contacted attorneys. It is likely that more Aetna customers will come forward in the near future.
“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.
“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.”
According to The Hill, the lawsuit seeks damages as well as a reform in Aetna’s mailing practices.
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.
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.
Aetna acknowledged the incident, which originally took place in July, last week. The health insurance company has so far not commented on the pending lawsuit.