Two Essex County men who take HIV medications have filed a lawsuit against Aetna, alleging breach of privacy and negligence on the part of Aetna relating to recent mailings by the company to over 12,000 Aetna customers. The plaintiffs are being represented by Roseland-based law firm Brach Eichler LLC, which filed the suit in state Superior Court in Essex.
Specifically, the suit alleges that Aetna violated the New Jersey AIDS Assistance Act, in its mailings that Aetna sent as part of the settlement of previous privacy-based lawsuits against the insurer relating to patient HIV-medication status. The complaint alleges the case is about “Aetna’s repeated failure to respect the privacy rights of people who are taking HIV medications.”
Lani Dornfeld, one of the Brach Eichler attorneys representing the plaintiffs, said in a written statement, “The allegations demonstrate an egregious violation of the New Jersey AIDS Assistance Act, as well as extreme negligence on the part of the defendants. The AIDS Assistance Act was passed by the New Jersey legislature to place strict privacy safeguards around HIV and HIV-related information in order to protect individuals from the very type of harm and stigmatism suffered by these plaintiffs.”
A spokesperson for Aetna, in an email, said that the company does not comment on pending litigation.
Aetna was already being hit with two separate lawsuits in 2014 and 2015 relating to the same accusations: that it jeopardized the privacy of people taking HIV medications by requiring its insureds to receive their HIV medications through the mail and not allowing them to pick up their medications in-person at their chosen pharmacy. Those cases are Doe v. Aetna and Doe v. Coventry Health Carein California and Florida, respectively. Both suits were settled As a condition of those individual settlements and in addition to payment of damages, Aetna agreed to send notice to its insureds who had been required to mail-order their HIV medications, informing them they were no longer required to do so.
The two current defendants claim that “Aetna again failed to recognize the dangers associated with sending information about HIV medications through the mail,” according to the filing by Brach Eichler. Rather than sending the notices in an opaque envelope, the envelope used for the notices contained a large window, covering almost half of the front of the envelope, in which “instructions about how individuals could obtain their HIV medications were visible from the outside of the envelope.”
Aetna announced in May that intends to pull out of New Jersey’s individual and small group health insurance markets. The company does not participate on the state’s ACA Exchange, but insured more than 68,000 New Jersey residents at the end of 2016, according to its most recent annual report, many of which are covered through the unsubsidized individual market. The majority of Aetna customers in the state are through plans sold to small companies and other groups.