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HIV Status Accidentally Leaked

As many as about 12,000 people with HIV may have had their status accidently disclosed by Aetna last month.

On July 28, the insurer sent letters to its members advising them about a change in pharmacy benefits, but visible through a window on the envelopes were the beneficiaries' names and a change in how they needed to fill their prescriptions for their HIV treatments.

Sally Friedman of Legal Action Center, who is trying to get Aetna to correct the mistake, told Stat that affected Aetna members 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."

Her organization is pushing Aetna to stop the mailings and to remedy the mistake. It and other AIDS advocacy and privacy groups have suggested some patients who received the Aetna letter have filed complaints with the Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights and other state authorities.

The Hill reports that Aetna has acknowledged the incident and will be conducting a full review of what happened. "This type of mistake is unacceptable," the company said.

Meanwhile, Aetna is telling affected patients that the original letters may have shifted in their envelopes in such a way that the personal health information became viewable. The insurer also notes that "the viewable information did not include the name of any particular medication or any statement that you have been diagnosed with a specific condition."