Aetna fined for HIV privacy violations

Rainbow colors art by Alina Oswald
Rainbow colors (the natural and man-made rainbow, including the color black, for remembering AIDS), in a Bauhaus rendering. Photo and art by Alina Oswald.
LGBT healthcare news

Aetna, Inc. has agreed to pay a fine of over $350,000 for violating the privacy of policy holders in the state of New Jersey in 2017. Those whose privacy was violated included some who were taking medication for HIV.

It was August of last year when Aetna revealed the HIV status of 12,000 patients across several states. Nearly 650 of them were in New Jersey alone. The company sent information on how to purchase HIV medication in large windowed envelopes. An Essex County gay couple sued the insurance company for the violation and two civil rights organizations also filed class action suits, winning $17 million in settlement.

In the case of the Essex County couple, the information was seen by a neighbor and a family member. Additionally, the following month, Aetna sent a mailer to 1600 people, including 186 New Jersey residents that had the name and logo for a study on the heart condition AFib. Atrial Fibrillation, known as AFib, is a condition where an irregular heartbeat that can lead to stroke, blood clots, and other serious medical issues.

“Companies entrusted with individuals’ protected health information have a duty to avoid improper disclosures,” Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in a statement. “Aetna fell short here, potentially subjecting thousands of individuals to the stigma and discrimination that, unfortunately, still may accompany disclosure of their HIV/AIDS status. I am pleased that our investigation has led Aetna to adopt measures to prevent this from happening again.”


J.L. Gaynor
Out In Jersey magazine contributor J.L. Gaynor spent eight years in the newsrooms of two major New Jersey papers. A Jersey girl through and through: born, raised, and educated in New Jersey. Jen now lives in Maryland and has two dogs she adores, and reads just about anything she can get her hands on.