Aetna Accidentally Revealed The HIV Status Of Clients In A Mailing To 12,000 Members


Perhaps one of the defining social issues of the 1990s was AIDS (and AIDS activism). Even Dave Chappelle got involved. Part of the reason was the disease was, and still is, stigmatized, and those living with HIV have to carefully protect their status for a number of reasons. That’s why HIV status is confidential under federal law, and Aetna is in serious trouble for disclosing the HIV status of thousands of people, all because it was too cheap to print addresses on envelopes.

It’s not entirely clear how the letters were packaged, but they were designed to alert HIV positive people to changes in their medication. Unfortunately, those letters also disclosed their HIV status to anybody who could glance into a plastic window:

The beginning of the letter, informing patients about options under their Aetna plan when filling their HIV prescriptions, was in some cases visible below the person’s name and address on the envelope, through a large plastic window, according to the Legal Action Center and the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, which first revealed the mailing problem…The advocacy groups said they were contacted by individuals whose letters had been viewed by family, roommates and neighbors.

It appears this happened because Aetna, or the vendor it claims made the mistake, wanted to save some money on printing. The letters are packaged in such a way that the address at the top can also be used as the mailing address, thus making a portion of the letter below visible. As to potential consequences, Aetna is already in violation of HIPAA, the federal law ensuring your medical records stay private, and will likely have to settle with its customers. Seems a high price to pay to save the pennies apiece it takes to print 12,000 blank envelopes.

(via Bloomberg)