Class-action Lawsuit: Aetna Faces Punishment for HIV Privacy Breach

Approximately 12,000 customers were affected by the breach.

Last week, Aetna accidentally displayed the HIV-positive status of some customers via envelope windows sent to their homes. Now, the insurance giant is facing a class-action lawsuit that alleges the company violated the privacy of its customers.

The federal suit was filed Monday by the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania and the Legal Action Center and Berger & Montague PC, which alleges the breach affected as many as 12,000 customers across 23 states, according to STAT News.

The lead plaintiff in the Aetna case is listed by the pseudonym Andrew Beckett, 52, whose sister discovered he was taking HIV medications through an unopened envelope with a transparent window, according to the report.

Although the plaintiff is HIV-negative, Beckett was undergoing treatment with Truvada to protect against contracting HIV.

Truvada received FDA approval for use as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to lower the chances of high-risk individuals contracting HIV. According to the CDC, PrEP reduces the risk of HIV infection from sex by more than 90%.

Consumers receiving Truvada were among approximately 12,000 Aetna customers who received the mailings aimed at alerting them of a change in pharmacy benefits, according to STAT News.

“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 health care and Aetna fails to provide confidentiality,” Rhonda B. Goldfein, executive director of the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, said in a written statement reported by STAT News.

On Thursday, the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania and the Legal Action Center sent Aetna a cease-and-desist letter that urged the insurer to act and suspend the mailings. According to STAT News, the letters were meant to address privacy concerns surrounding 2 lawsuits in 2014 and 2015.

Plaintiffs in the prior lawsuits claimed their privacy rights were being violated by a proposed company requirement that its HIV-positive customers receive medications via mail rather than at pharmacies in person.

Aetna was required to pay the plaintiffs $24,000 as part of the settlements and to send a notice through the mail stating they were no longer required to receive their medications through the mail. A third-party vender was provided 12,000 mailing addresses by Aetna and the letters were then sent out using envelopes with transparent windows.