The insurance company Aetna faces a class action lawsuit that alleges the HIV status of certain customers was revealed, when the company sent letters in “window” envelopes that allowed others to see information about certain medications used.
The complaint (PDF) was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on August 28, by a plaintiff using the pseudonym “Andrew Beckett”, which is the name of the main character from the movie “Philadelphia”, which is credited for raising awareness about the AIDS epidemic. The pseudonym is meant to conceal the plaintiff’s identify to prevent further information becoming public about his HIV status.
According to the lawsuit, Aetna has repeatedly failed to protect the privacy of individuals taking HIV medications. The lawsuit indicates that Aetna sent notifications to 12,000 customers through a third party vendor, which provided information about their medications in envelopes with clear plastic “windows” that allowed others to see the individual’s HIV status.
The notifications were the result of a previous settlement regarding the company’s practices toward HIV patients. Several years ago, two Aetna class action lawsuits were filed over its practice of requiring patients to receive their HIV medications through the mail, instead of allowing them to pick them up at a pharmacy.
Plaintiffs in those cases also alleged that Aetna was jeopardizing their privacy. Aetna settled with the individual plaintiffs for about $24,000 plus legal fees. The letters that allegedly revealed their HIV status were meant to notify patients that they no longer had to receive their medications through the mail.
“The instructions about how individuals could obtain their HIV medications were visible from the outside of the envelope,” the lawsuit notes. ” Defendants’ actions… 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 lawsuit presents charges that Aetna violated the Pennsylvania Confidentiality of HIV-Related Information Act, as well as charges of neglect, breach of contract, invasion of privacy, violation of Pennsylvania consumer protection laws and unjust enrichment.