Health insurance giant Aetna accidentally disclosed the HIV statuses of some of its customers in a mailing it sent to 12,000 people last month.
The letters came in envelopes with large, clear windows, allowing some of the information to be read without opening it.
Portions of the letter, about HIV medications, can be seen from the outside of the envelope, as can the name of the patient and his or her address.
Aetna acknowledged the incident in a statement Thursday and said it’s starting a full review.
“This type of mistake is unacceptable,” the company said.
“We sincerely apologize to those affected by a mailing issue that inadvertently exposed the personal health information of some Aetna members.”
Attorneys from the Legal Action Center and the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania wrote to Aetna Thursday demanding that it “immediately cease and desist from breaching their privacy by sending mail that illegally discloses that they are taking HIV medication.”
“We also are demanding that Aetna take corrective measures to ensure that this gross breach of privacy and confidentiality never reoccurs,” Sally Friedman, legal director of the Legal Action Center, and Ronda B. Goldfein, executive director of the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, wrote in the letter.
The attorneys argue that the mailings violate HIPPA, a federal law that sets standards for the privacy of health information.
“A number of the individuals who contacted the above-referenced organizations reported that family members and neighbors learned their confidential information regarding their use of HIV medications as a result of Aetna’s breach,” the attorneys wrote.
“Many of them have already filed complaints with administrative agencies, such as the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and state insurance regulators.”
The attorneys said they’re writing on behalf of patients in Arizona, California, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.
CNN reports that the law firms have already received 23 complains about the letters.