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Child's hands holding an HIV awareness ribbon, Cape Town, South Africa

Source: BigFive Images / Getty


Insurance giant Aetna really messed up with this one! The health care companaccidentally revealed the HIV status of thousands of patients by sending out mailings in poorly-fitted envelopes.

According to the New York Daily News, on July 28 roughly 12,000 customers, who were filling for HIV medication prescriptions, were sent envelopes with a large clear window — revealing the contents of the letter. The letters were also sent to HIV-negative people who were taking Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), a regimen that helps prevent a person from getting HIV.

These envelopes were sent to people who lived in Arizona, California, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.

The health care company claims they didn’t learn about the mistake until three days later.

Attorneys for their patients sent a letter to the health care corporation demanding they stop sending these letters “in the current form.” Lawyers also want for Aetna to develop a better plan to correct its practices and procedures. 

“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 said in a statement.

“They also were shocked that their health insurer would utterly disregard their privacy rights.”

So why does this mix-up matter?

Yes HIV is no longer the death sentence it was before, but stigma around the disease is still pretty common for people living with the disease. It can lead to loss of employment, housing and education discrimination and even violence. 

Thanks to is breach of confidentiality, several clients have said that family members and neighbors learned that they were using HIV medication from these mailers.

“This is unacceptable. Discrimination against persons with HIV continues to persist,” New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman wrote. “Our office is deeply concerned over Aetna’s commitment and ongoing efforts to protect patient health information.”

Schneiderman plans on sitting down with the Connecticut-based insurer next week.

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