Aetna offers 'immediate relief' program for those who say they were affected by HIV privacy breach

Aetna letter
This photo, provided by the Legal Action Center, shows a redacted mailing sent to an Aetna member, which the group says revealed the member's HIV status through the window of the envelope.

Aetna, which has been under fire for mailings in which a reference to HIV was visible through the envelope, has now rolled out a program that offers “immediate relief” to those who say they were affected.

The program has two main components: it will provide reimbursement and payments to those who say they have incurred financial hardship as a direct result of the privacy breach, and it will offer counseling services for affected individuals and their families. 

Aetna will solely determine who is eligible for either type of assistance, but it said customers can also contact the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania and the Legal Action Center, which are helping the company process requests.

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RELATED: Aetna mailings may have exposed members' HIV status

The insurer notes that it is not admitting any wrongdoing by offering the services, and adds that “individuals who avail themselves of the benefits offered under this program will not release any legal claims.”

The breach in question occurred when Aetna sent 12,000 mailings to individuals that contained information about filling HIV prescriptions, some of which could be seen through a clear window in the envelope without having to open it. Legal and advocacy groups have said some recipients reported that their family members, neighbors or roommates saw the mailing, thus exposing their HIV status.

When the breach first came to light, Aetna publicly apologized, said it is reviewing its processes to prevent such incidents in the future, and confirmed that it had notified those affected by the breach. Still, the incident has already sparked two proposed class-action lawsuits against the insurer.

One of the lawsuits noted that previously, Aetna received complaints about its policy of requiring HIV patients to fill prescriptions through mail order. In response, the company changed its policy—but informed members via the problematic mailings. 

Meanwhile, a similar breach involving CVS Health came to light in early September. The company’s pharmacy benefits arm sent mailings to 4,000 members of Ohio’s HIV Drug Assistance Program, which inadvertently made a reference to HIV visible through a window in the envelope. Like Aetna, CVS said it is taking steps to prevent similar incidents going forward.

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