A Major Health Insurer Accidentally Revealed Patients' HIV Statuses

Photographed by Megan Madden.
Health care company Aetna is currently under fire for sending out thousands of envelopes that inadvertently revealed their patients' HIV statuses.
According to CNN, Aetna sent out about 12,000 letters on July 28 to patients who were taking HIV medications as well as Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PreP), an HIV preventative medication. However, the envelopes that the letters came in had large windows through which anyone who came across them could read a patient's information.
Advertisement
Attorneys working with the Legal Action Center and the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania have sent a demand letter on behalf of at least 23 people who have filed complaints in Arizona, California, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.
"Aetna’s privacy violation devastated people whose neighbors and family learned their intimate health information," Sally Friedman, legal director of the Legal Action Center in New York City, said in a statement. "They also were shocked that their health insurer would utterly disregard their privacy rights."
Unfortunately, the stigma around HIV and AIDS means that this also opens up room for patients to be discriminated against. Friedman told BuzzFeed News that she had heard from someone who was kicked out of his home after the letters were sent out, and another who described feeling suicidal.
CNN reports that Aetna sent a letter of apology to affected customers, explaining that the vendor that handled their mail used a windowed envelope, and in some cases, medical documents shifted and made patients' information visible.
"We take the privacy of member information very seriously and deeply regret that this incident occurred," the letter reads.
Advertisement
But for many patients, Friedman said, the apology is too little, too late.
"It creates a tangible risk of violence, discrimination and other trauma," she said in the statement.
Friedman told CNN that the next steps are still being determined, but that "we and others are evaluating legal options right now."
Read these stories next: