Insurance provider slapped with class-action lawsuit after outing 12,000 patients taking HIV meds

The health insurance company Aetna has just slapped with a class-action lawsuit after accidentally outing as many as 12,000 patients taking HIV medications.

On July 28, Aetna sent out information about HIV meds and pharmacy benefits in envelopes. No big real right? Except that the paperwork was sent in envelopes with see-through plastic windows that clearly displayed each patient’s full name, address, and what HIV medications they were taking.

Now, the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, the Legal Action Center, and the law-firm Berger & Montague P.C. have filed a lawsuit against the insurance provider on behalf of the patients.

The lawsuit’s lead plaintiff is Pennsylvania man whose sister learned he was taking HIV meds through the letter. The man is HIV-negative but taking the meds as a precautionary measure. To help protect his identify, the lawsuit uses the pseudonym Andrew Beckett, after Tom Hanks’ character in the 1993 AIDS drama Philadelphia.

In a follow-up letter, Aetna apologized to patients for the error, placing the blame on an unnamed vendor that had sent out the mailings.

“The vendor handling the mailing had used a window envelope, and, in some cases, the letter could have shifted within the envelope in a way that allowed personal health information to be viewable through the window,” the company said. “We sincerely apologize to those affected.”

It’s not clear how many patients had their personal info revealed, but Aetna says it hopes to “earn back” their trust.

Related: This poz bear says he is DONE internalizing other people’s shame and HIV stigma