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Published: Sat, August 26, 2017
Medical | By Garry George

Aetna sends mailing with clear address windows, reveals patients' HIV status

Aetna sends mailing with clear address windows, reveals patients' HIV status

Twenty-three people have reportedly issued complaints regarding the letter, and Aetna began notifying their customers about the issue in July, blaming the vendor for the breach of data. "They also were shocked that their health insurer would utterly disregard their privacy rights".

Aetna said the letters went to about 12,000 customers; the law firms say they have received 23 complaints, with more coming in.

Aetna inadvertently exposed the HIV-positive status of 12,000 of its members through the windows of envelopes carrying letters about HIV medication.

But for some members, a plastic window on the envelope stated the patient's name and address as well as the information about medication, which inadvertently revealed their HIV status.

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.

The health care company Aetna mailed envelopes that revealed the HIV status of some of its customers in multiple states, according to the Legal Action Center and the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania.

Despite calling the incident "unacceptable" and saying they were "ensuring something like this never happens again", the CT company insinuated in a letter it sent to to affected customers on August 2 that the blame should fall on a vendor that chose the incorrect envelope. "We will work to ensure that proper safeguards are in place to prevent something similar from happening in the future".

According to the groups, the letters were sent to customers now taking medications for HIV treatment as well as for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a course of drugs which help prevent a person from acquiring HIV.

The errors have caused "incalculable harm" to Aetna customers, the attorneys wrote.

For example, in a letter sent to a customer in Brooklyn, N.Y., the window revealed considerably more than the address.

They add that additional legal action is being considered.

"When you're holding confidential information, you have a heightened responsibility to protect that information, and Aetna failed to do that", explained Ronda Goldfein, executive director of The AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania and the legal issues expert for TheBody.com.

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