Aetna Insurance failed to protect the privacy of some clients in a recent mass mailing. Apparently, they outsourced the July 28 mailing to a vendor that they have chosen not to name. The incident is under investigation by the insurer, but this is what we know so far.
When the vendor prepared the mailing, they used an envelope with a window that was bigger than the address area of the letter. The mailing was for Aetna’s insureds who are currently taking HIV medications or PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), which is taken to prevent contracting HIV. The correspondence listed the recipient’s medications and the options for filling those prescriptions. If the contents of the envelope shifted, the names of the HIV drugs could be seen through the window of the envelope.
The AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania and the Legal Action Clinic issued a press release stating how deep this mistake really runs. There have been many people who have had their privacy taken from them, as their neighbors and other members of their households, along with the postal service, have all seen their HIV status, which is private information and protected.
According to CNN, attorneys have also sent a demand letter to Aetna on behalf of those who have already been affected. The insurer is being called upon to change the way these mailings are handled and safeguard the privacy of their insureds.
So far, Aetna insureds from the District of Columbia, Arizona, California, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania have all contacted attorneys regarding their privacy being breached. The legal director of Legal Action Clinic, Sally Friedman, shared her thoughts on this situation. When incidents like this happen, it can cause people to make the choice to go without medical insurance and care, rather than take a chance on their HIV status getting out. She also shared the story of one man, who was kicked out of his home when his HIV status was revealed. Clearly, the recipients of the mass-mailing have had their privacy rights broken.
At this point, Aetna has their mass mailings on hold. Safeguards should be put in place so that this never happens again. They have issued an apology, but the damage is done. This breach of privacy is expected to lead to many lawsuits for Aetna to face.
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