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Robert B. Vogel, MD, JD
Retinal Ophthalmologist at Piedmont Eye Center, Lynchburg VA;
Attorney, Overbey Hawkins & Wright, PLLS, Lynchburg, VA;
Adjunct Professor, Humanities and Bioethics, Liberty University School of Medicine, Lynchburg, VA.
Health insurance giant Aetna was accused of revealing the HIV status of a large group of people living with HIV in multiple states via mailings to Aetna members.
According to a statement from the AIDS Law Project of Philadelphia, the HIV status of Aetna customers was visible through a window in envelopes in mailings regarding HIV medication refills. The mailings occurred in Arizona, California, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington, DC, according to AIDS Law Project.
Lawyers from the Legal Action Center and the AIDS Law Project sent a letter to Aetna legal counsel, demanding that Aetna “cease and desist from breaching the privacy [of insured HIV clients] by sending mail that illegally discloses they are taking HIV medication” and take corrective measures. The letter claims that HIPAA and various state laws were violated by the apparent disclosures. The Office of Civil Rights has been contacted, but as of this writing, no information appears on its website regarding the situation.
A Philadelphia-based law firm filed a lawsuit against Aetna in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, demanding that the company cease the practice, reform its procedures, and pay damages. The lead plaintiff in the case is a Pennsylvania man whose sister learned from seeing an Aetna letter that her brother was taking medications to prevent acquiring HIV.
“We sincerely apologize to those affected by a mailing issue that inadvertently exposed the personal health information of some Aetna members,” an Aetna spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement. “This type of mistake is unacceptable, and we are undertaking a full review of our processes to ensure something like this never happens again.”
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