Aetna agrees to pay more than $17 million to settle HIV privacy breach lawsuit
After what is believed to be the world’s largest HIV privacy data breach, Aetna Inc. agreed Jan. 16 to a $17 million settlement in a class action lawsuit filed after a faulty mailing revealed the private medical information of thousands of its customers.
In July 2017, current and former customers of Aetna, the nation’s third largest health insurance company, were alarmed when they received letters with large transparent windows that accidentally revealed that the recipients were prescribed HIV medications.
Among those who got the mailing was “Andrew Beckett,” a Pennsylvania resident who became the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, using the pseudonym of the fictional lawyer with HIV played by Tom Hanks in his Academy Award-winning role the 1993 movie Philadelphia.
The AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, the Legal Action Center, and Berger & Montague, P.C. filed the lawsuit in August 2017 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The plaintiffs included people taking medication to treat HIV as well as people who, like Beckett, take PrEP, a pre-exposure prophylactic that prevents HIV.
“HIV still has a negative stigma associated with it, and I am pleased that this encouraging agreement with Aetna shows that HIV-related information warrants special care,” Beckett said.
Aetna improperly sent to its legal counsel and a mail vendor the names of 13,487 customers who had been prescribed HIV medications, papers filed in support of the settlement allege. Of those, 11,875 people received the large-windowed envelopes revealing confidential HIV-related information, according to the papers.
Aetna has agreed to pay $17,161,200 to resolve the claims. All settlement class members will automatically receive a base payment of either $75 to those whose health information was allegedly improperly disclosed by Aetna to its legal counsel and mail vendor, or at least $500 (inclusive of the $75 payment above) to those received the large-windowed envelope.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit also may seek additional monetary relief of up to $20,000 by documenting financial or non-financial harm.
The settlement includes the implementation by Aetna of a new “best practices” policy to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future, and provides for attorneys’ fees and expenses.
May 11, 2018 – Preliminary Approval Order
Jan. 16, 2018 – Motion for Preliminary Approval of Class Action Settlement
- [Proposed] Order Granting Plaintiff’s Motion for Preliminary Approval of Class Action and Qualified Protective Order
- Memorandum of Law in Support of Plaintiffs’ Motion for Preliminary Approval of Class Action Settlement
- Settlement Agreement (with Exhibits)
- Declarations in Support of Plaintiffs’ Motion for Preliminary Approval of Class Action
Dec. 5, 2017 – Amended Class Action Complaint
Aug. 28, 2017 – Class Action Complaint
Aug. 24, 2017 – Aetna breaches HIV privacy of customers in multiple states
Jan. 17, 2018 (CNN) Aetna customers get $17 million in HIV privacy settlement
Jan. 17, 2018 (NPR/WHYY) Aetna agrees to pay $17M in massive HIV privacy breach