Aetna has agreed to a $17 million settlement of a lawsuit centering around the HIV privacy violation that affected approximately 12,000 of the insurer’s customers in 2017.
Aetna has agreed to a $17 million settlement of a lawsuit centering around the HIV privacy violation that affected approximately 12,000 of the insurer’s customers in 2017. As Contagion® previously reported, in summer 2017, Aetna mailed letters to patients that included information regarding filling prescriptions for preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and antiviral treatments. The controversy occurred because the information was mailed in envelopes with large address windows that, in some cases, had visible information regarding how to fill HIV-related prescriptions.
Aetna previously settled lawsuits filed in 2014 and 2015 against the company policy that required HIV prescriptions to be filled through mail-order pharmacies, preventing patients from interacting with pharmacists regarding questions and concerns. The letters in question from the 2017 privacy violation, were ironically sent out as a response to the earlier lawsuits, notifying customers that they could now fill their HIV prescriptions in-person.
In August, The AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania and the Legal Action Center issued a letter demanding that Aetna cease mailing the letters. The company released a statement saying: “This type of mistake is unacceptable, and we are undertaking a full review of our processes to ensure something like this never happens again.” In addition, Aetna set up a relief fund for their affected clients.
Ronda Goldfein, director of the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania along with the Legal Action Center and Berger & Montague PC, filed a lawsuit stating that Aetna “carelessly, recklessly, negligently, and impermissibly revealed HIV-related information of their current and former insureds to their family, friends, roommates, landlords, neighbors, mail carriers and complete strangers.”
The settlement must be approved by a federal court, but the health insurer has agreed to pay $17.1 million and develop new strategies to prevent future privacy breaches. Of the $17.1 million, $12 million will contribute to payments of at least $500 to the individuals who received the letter. The rest of the payout with go to a fund for individuals seeking further financial support for emotional or financial loss. And the remainder of the settlement will pay legal fees.
The result of the settlement not only emphasizes the value of a patient’s right to privacy, but also clearly indicates that health care providers need to improve the way in which patients with HIV are treated and develop practices that guarantee the confidentiality of their medical histories.