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Did my insurance company violate HIPPA privacy rules?

Sep 21, 2017

Hello and thank you in advance for your time in answering me.

I live in Virginia and the company that I work for is a very small engineering services contractor who offers health insurance from Aetna. I recently received a letter from Aetna via the US Postal Service and I think that Aetna violated my privacy by disclosing that I am taking medications for HIV.

I have not opened the envelope that was sent to me by Aetna. The envelope that contains the letter has a large oval plastic window on its left-hand side where part of the letter is visible. My name and address are clearly shown in the window. Under my name and address I can clearly see the following, "Dear [my name], The purpose of this letter is to advise you of the options" ... "Aetna health plan when filling prescriptions for HIV Medica"..."members can use a retail pharmacy or a mail order pharmac".

Did Aetna violate my right to privacy under HIPPA? If so, then could you please advise me on the course of action that I should take in this matter? Again, thank you very much.

Response from Ms. Goldfein

Disclosing HIV-related information in this way violates federal and state law.

After hearing many complaints about Aetna's mailing from individuals living with HIV or on PreP, my law firm, the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, filed a federal class-action lawsuit along with the New York-based Legal Action Center and the Philadelphia law firm Berger & Montague, P.C., on Aug. 28, 2017.

The lawsuit alleges that information about HIV medication was clearly visible through the large window of the Aetna envelope, revealing the highly confidential matter to family, roommates, friends, neighbors, landlords, mail carriers, and even complete strangers. It demands that Aetna cease the practice, reform procedures, and pay damages. Aetna estimates that its mailing was sent to about 12,000 customers. Ironically, the mailing was an attempt to address privacy concerns raised in two lawsuits filed against Aetna in 2014 and 2015. The company had wanted customers to get their HIV medications exclusively from mail-order pharmacies rather than retail pharmacies. Customers objected, saying that using the mail could breach their privacy. As part of the settlement in those cases, Aetna sent the letter July 28 explaining its revised HIV medication procedures.

Now that we have filed a class action lawsuit, the court will decide whether everyone's claims can be handled in one case. If the court decides that they can, everyone who received letter is part of the class. If the court decides that claims should be handled individually, you'll still be able to file your own case. We believe a class action is the best approach because of the strength in numbers, and because it allows people to share the costs and risks of suing a giant corporation like Aetna.

Anyone who received the Aetna mailing should contact the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania at (215) 587-9377. New York state residents should contact the Legal Action Center at (212) 243-1313. Additional information about the lawsuit is available at

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