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Aetna Mailings Revealed Patient HIV Information
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Summary: Aetna sent health plan changes to customers that revealed patient HIV information through the window on the envelope.

Aetna made a big whoopsie in one of their recent mailings that could get the health insurer in big trouble. The personal data of HIV patients was revealed through the large window on the front of envelopes sent out across the country. The mistake is a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) violation.


The letter sent to customers on July 28 had a rather large clear window on the front of the envelope, revealing their name, address, claim number, and options provided for how the full their HIV medication prescriptions under their health plan. There had been changes to pharmacy benefits and access to HIV medications that Aetna was informing patients about.

The AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania and the Legal Action Center are taking action against Aetna for their breach of privacy with a cease-and-desist letter. In the letter, the two groups accuse the insurer of mailing the letters to patients taking medications for HIV treatment or HIV prevention. They request that Aetna change its mailing practices to “ensure that this gross breach of privacy and confidentiality never reoccurs.”

The two groups go on to claim that the patients had their family members and neighbors find out about their use of HIV medications through their handling of their mail. They have received reports from these patients about the exposure of their private matters. Legal director Sally Friedman of the Legal Action Center in New York City said, “Aetna’s privacy violation devastated people whose neighbors and family learned their intimate health information.”

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Nearly a month later, Aetna notified patients of a breach in letters, issuing a statement that they will be reviewing a matter. The company stated, “This type of mistake is unacceptable. We sincerely apologize to those affected by a mailing issue that inadvertently exposed the personal health information of some Aetna members.” They claim that a vendor was responsible for the mailings where letters may have shifted in the mail, revealing the sensitive information.

Bloomberg News reports that approximately 12,000 patients received the letter in the large window envelope. These patients were in Washington D.C, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Georgia, Illinois, Arizona, and California. The letters were sent out July 28 and apparently learned of the problem on the 31st.

The groups are concerned about the people who have been affected by this defective mailing, stating that those with HIV face “widespread stigma” such as discrimination when it comes to employment, housing and education. Executive director Ronda Goldfein of the Pennsylvania AIDS group said, “It creates a tangible risk of violence, discrimination and other trauma.”

Do you think Aetna should be punished for the blatant exposure of their customers’ private medical information or was it just a simple mistake? Tell us in the comments below.

To learn more about Aetna, read these articles:



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