Medical insurance giant Aetna has settled a lawsuit for $17 million after a summer snafu in which the company sent letters that outed people taking HIV meds through a window in the envelope, NPR reports.
At the time, INTO reported that as many as 12,000 people were affected by the envelope peephole. Not everyone affected was HIV-positive, as some people taking pre-exposure prophylaxis were affected, as well.
“Through our outreach efforts, immediate relief program and this settlement we have worked to address the potential impact to members following this unfortunate incident,” Aetna wrote in a statement to NPR. “In addition, we are implementing measures designed to ensure something like this does not happen again as part of our commitment to best practices in protecting sensitive health information.”
Ironically, the letters sent out were in response to a previous privacy concern which required people get their HIV medication in the mail as opposed to at a pharmacy.
“My partner and I were kinda shocked,” Fernando, an HIV-positive person who asked to go by first name only, told INTO in August. Fernando’s partner, who is HIV negative and on PrEP, received a similar envelope, according to Fernando. “Even to have a letter that has the letters HIV on it is really bad.”
Sally Friedman, legal director at the Legal Action Center, told STAT, that they’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.”
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs wrote that Aetna “carelessly, recklessly, negligently, and impermissibly revealed HIV-related information of their current and former insureds to their family, friends, roommates, landlords, neighbors, mail carriers and complete strangers.”
According to NPR, Aetna has agreed to pay the settlement while also setting up “best practices” to prevent a similar problem in the future.
Of the $17 million, each of those affected will receive a payment of at least $500, while others will be able to apply for more if they experienced additional financial or emotional distress.