Aetna HIV

Aetna is facing a PR nightmare after 12,000 customers received letters that revealed their HIV status on the envelopes.

The Legal Action Center is pushing Aetna to correct the mistake that violated the privacy rights of 12,000 HIV-positive customers.

The letters were meant to relay health information to Aetna customers, but many of the envelopes revealed much more.

According to, text visible through a small window on the envelopes listed the patients’ names and suggested how they could fill their HIV prescriptions.

“People have been devastated. We’ve had a number of people tell us they had chosen not to disclose their HIV status to family members — but this is how their family members found out,” said Sally Friedman, legal director at Legal Action Center.

Aetna is in the process of notifying city and state health departments about the privacy breach in the mass mailings that went out on July 28.

“We sincerely apologize to those affected by a mailing issue that inadvertently exposed the personal health information of some Aetna members,” the spokesman said. “This type of mistake is unacceptable, and we are undertaking a full review of our processes to ensure something like this never happens again.”

The Aetna spokesman said the HIV status of “only a few” individuals were visible through the small window on the envelope — and only if the letter “shifted within the envelope.”

But Friedman said the customers’ HIV status was visible in every letter that AIDS advocacy groups had seen.

She added that while Legal Action Center has handled numerous cases of privacy violations from health care providers, she could not recall any case involving an insurer.

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