Aetna Insurance Co. is facing a class action over claims that it failed to protect the privacy of HIV patients by mailing sensitive information in see-through envelopes.
According to the complaint, filed in Philadelphia-based federal court, Aetna has been sued for this alleged conduct before: two separate putative class action lawsuits in 2014 and 2015 were settled with Aetna paying the individuals $24,000 and paying their lawyers an undisclosed sum.
The lawsuit was filed by a man using the pseudonym Andrew Beckett, who according to court papers feared “severe harm” would befall him should his true identity be revealed.
In his complaint, Beckett alleged that the mail correspondence instructing HIV patients on how to fill their prescriptions broadcast their names and conditions through windows on the envelopes.
“The instructions for the recipient to fill their HIV medication prescription was plainly visible through the large-window section of the envelope,” the complaint said. “Specifically, the visible portion of the letter clearly indicated that it was from Aetna, included a claims number and information for the addressee, and stated ‘[t]he purpose of this letter is to advise you of the options … Aetna health plan when filling prescriptions for HIV Medic…’”
Aetna did not respond to a request for comment. Beckett’s attorney, Shanon J. Carson of Berger & Montague, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
“Rather than sending instructions about how people taking HIV medications could fill their prescriptions in an opaque envelope, Aetna and DOE vendor instead sent this highly sensitive information in an envelope with a large transparent glassine window,” the complaint said.
Beckett also said in his complaint that the disclosure could have been avoided if Aetna had used a cover sheet blocking the sensitive information from the window.
One of Beckett’s family members found the mailing and believed he was living with HIV and did not confide in his family, according to the complaint. Beckett was forced to admit his condition to his family.
An Aetna spokesman said the company does not comment on pending litigation. However, in an emailed company statement, the company said, “We sincerely apologize to those affected by a mailing issue that inadvertently exposed the personal health information of some Aetna members. This type of mistake is unacceptable, and we are undertaking a full review of our processes to ensure something like this never happens again.”