Health & Medicine

Aetna settles California privacy lawsuit over mailings that exposed patients’ HIV status

Attorney General Xavier Becerra settled a lawsuit with healthcare giant Aetna for $935,000 after the provider was found to have breached patient privacy. Letters revealing the HIV status of the addressee were went to nearly 2,000 Californians.
Attorney General Xavier Becerra settled a lawsuit with healthcare giant Aetna for $935,000 after the provider was found to have breached patient privacy. Letters revealing the HIV status of the addressee were went to nearly 2,000 Californians. Associated Press

Attorney General Xavier Becerra has settled a lawsuit against healthcare provider Aetna, which was in hot water after sending out letters to almost 2,000 Californians that revealed their HIV status through a window on the envelope, according to Becerra’s office.

The $935,000 settlement was announced Wednesday, and court documents detail the 2017 breach of patient confidentiality that led to the lawsuit and a multimillion-dollar class action settlement.

In July 2017, a vendor for Aetna mailed 12,000 letters, including 1,991 to Californians, that revealed through a large clear window on the front of the envelope that the addressee was taking HIV-related medication, according to the attorney general’s lawsuit filed in San Bernardino Superior Court. The lawsuit alleges the mailing error violated several state laws, including the Confidentiality of Medical Information Act, the Unfair Competition Law, the state Constitution and health and safety codes.

“A person’s HIV status is incredibly sensitive information and protecting that information must be a top priority for the entire healthcare industry,” Becerra said in a press release. “Aetna violated the public’s trust by revealing patients’ private and personal medical information. We will continue to hold these companies accountable to prevent such a gross privacy violation from reoccurring.”

The final judgment in the settlement requires Aetna to pay the Attorney General’s Office $935,000 and requires the healthcare giant to implement new training and strategies to prevent any further breaches of patient confidentiality, court documents show. It also requires annual assessments to review their compliance with state and federal measures.

Patients affected by the privacy breach won a $17 million private class action settlement earlier this year, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

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