CVS Caremark Says It Is Settling HIV Disclosure Lawsuit

Contributing Editor
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Remember in March last year when a federal lawsuit alleged that the drugstore giant CVS had unintentionally revealed the HIV status of 6,000 Ohio customers?

The company had mailed out letters to participants in the state's AIDS Drug Assistance Program -- with which CVS had a drug-providing contract -- with envelopes featuring clear windows and the word "HIV" showing through just above recipients' names and addresses.

The suit, filed by three HIV-positive anonymous plaintiffs, also named Fiserv, the company hired by CVS to mail the letters. One of the plaintiffs, "John Doe One," said he felt that "CVS has essentially handed a weapon to anyone who handled the envelope, giving them the opportunity to attack his identity or cause other harm to him," according to the complaint.

Well, last week, the website reported that CVS Caremark, the prescription-benefits subsidiary of CVS, gave notice to an Ohio federal court that it had reached a tentative settlement on the "core terms" of the case.

No further details were given, but the notice said that the plaintiffs would ask for preliminary approval of the settlement by the start of July.

This came several months after a U.S. district judge denied a bid to dismiss the case, which is similar to a case filed against Aetna in 2017 over HIV statuses that were also disclosed by envelopes with transparent windows. Last year, Aetna reached a $17 million settlement with 12,000 letter recipients.

A rep for CVS said in a statement: "CVS Health places the highest priority on protecting the privacy of those we serve, and we take our responsibility to safeguard confidentiality very seriously. As we stated in the past, we eliminated the [HIV] reference code in question from future program mailings."

Several law firms represented the plaintiffs.

Scott Schoettes, the openly positive HIV Project director at the LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS advocacy organization Lambda Legal, applauded the settlement. "It represents an acknowledgment of the importance of giving people with HIV control over their medical [information] and who knows about their HIV status," he said.

"Unfortunately," he continued, "HIV is still a highly stigmatized condition. Until stigma and the discrimination that too often results is rooted out, heightened protection for this information will be necessary."