Aetna, a major health insurance provider, is in hot water after a mailing gaffe made the HIV status of thousands of customers clearly visible to anyone who saw the envelopes.
Information about HIV medication was mailed out in envelopes with windows large enough to make the contents of the letter visible exposing the deeply personal medical information without customer consent.
This is no small error. The letter, which provided information on how to fill HIV prescriptions to people living with the disease, went out to 12,000 people. The potentially devastating implications of this are clear: Not only does this break medical privacy laws, opening Aetna up to lawsuits galore, the personal and relational damage that may be done in the lives of the customers is significant.
Ronda Goldfein of the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania said in a statement that the information breach “creates a tangible risk of violence, discrimination and other trauma” for people living with HIV.
"Although medical advances have transformed HIV into a chronic yet manageable condition, widespread stigma still exists against people living with HIV, leading to everything from employment, housing and education discrimination to violence," the statement reads.
The mailing error was made public Thursday, and already there are reports of HIV positive customers who had their information revealed to neighbors or family members who saw the envelopes.
Aetna has issued a statement acknowledging the mistake as unacceptable, and promising to perform a full review of mail processes to prevent further occurrences.
That might not be enough to protect the company, however. Legal action against Aetna is still a possibility, according to attorneys at the Legal Action Center and the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania.