Aetna agrees to pay $17M to settle HIV data breach incident

Aetna reached a $17 million settlement Wednesday to resolve a federal class-action lawsuit filed in August after the insurer revealed thousands of customers' HIV statuses in mailings, according to court documents.

The Hartford, Conn.-based Aetna exposed members' HIV statuses through a window on envelopes containing information about filling prescriptions for HIV medications and pre-exposure prophylaxis, a pill that helps prevent a person from contracting HIV. The letters were mailed July 28 to about 12,000 customers in multiple states.

As part of the settlement agreement, which is now subject to court approval, Aetna agreed to pay $17,161,200 to rectify the privacy breach claims. The payer will use the money to send a base payment of at least $500 to those whose information was breached. Another automatic base payment of $75 will be issued to about 1,600 additional Aetna members whose health information was allegedly disclosed to the company's legal counsel and mail vendor.

Aetna will also offer its members an option to seek more payments for out-of-pocket expenses or emotional distress damages, Ronda Goldfein, executive director of the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania — the firm that filed the lawsuit along with the Legal Action Center and Berger & Montague P.C. — told CNN.

"Through our outreach efforts, immediate relief program and this settlement we have worked to address the potential impact to members following this unfortunate incident," Aetna said in an emailed statement to CNN. "In addition, we are implementing measures designed to ensure something like this does not happen again as part of our commitment to best practices in protecting sensitive health information."

After the lawsuit had been filed but before the settlement was reached, Aetna established a program to provide immediate assistance to its customers who claimed they suffered financial hardships as a result of the exposure.

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