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CVS Exposed HIV Status Of 6,000 Patients, Suit Says

By Jeff Overly, LAW360

March 22, 2018

CVS Health Corp. divulged the protected health information of 6,000 Ohio residents by mailing letters in envelopes with windows that revealed the names and references to HIV diagnoses, according to a proposed class action filed Wednesday in Ohio federal court.

The suit stems from mailings sent last year in connection with a CVS contract to supply drugs to participants in the state-run Ohio HIV Drug Assistance Program. Those mailings were allegedly sent in envelopes that blatantly disclosed HIV diagnoses.

According to the suit, which also targets mail-service contractor Fiserv Solutions LLC, the envelopes had two transparent windows. One window showed the logo of CVS and an address for the Ohio Department of Health, and the other window included patient names under the indentification number, "PM 6402 HIV." The front of the envelope contained letters in large red font that said, "Your new prescriptions benefits have arrived."

"Defendants clearly made no advance effort to test or review the disclosure of such information prior to disseminating the mailing, since had they done so they would have seen that the indentification number with 'HIV' next to it was prominently visible through the envelope," the complaint stated.

The suit was filed on behalf of three anonymous men who received the letters and allege unauthorized discloure of medical information and violation of an Ohio law that restricts disclosure of HIV diagnoses. All three of the men described emotional distress.

For example, one of the men "feels that CVS has essentially handed a weapon to anyone who handled the envelope, giving them the opportunity to attack his identity or cause other harm to him," the suit said.

One of the other men "lives in a small town and fears the stigma that would result from the disclosure of his HIV status," according to the suit.

Representatives of CVS, Fiserv and the Ohio Department of Health could not immediately be reached for comment on Thursday.

The case against CVS is highly similar to litigation filed against Aetna Inc. last year over disclosure of HIV diagnoses in letters that were sent in envelopes with clear windows. Aetna recently inked a $17 million settlement to resolve claims brought by 12,000 letter recipients.

CVS and Aetna, along with other health insurers, have also faced litigation from HIV-positive individuals over mandatory participation in mail-order pharmacy programs. Those programs raise privacy concerns because HIV drugs are often delivered conspicuously at frequent intervals in refrigerated packages, according to various lawsuits.

The proposed class is represented by Joe R. Whatley, Edith M. Kallas, Alan M. Mansfield and Henry C. Quillen of Whatley Kallas LLP, Jerry Flanagan of Consumer Watchdog and Terry L. Kilgore.

Counsel information for CVS and Fiserv was not immediately available.

The case is Doe One et al. v. CVS Health Corp. et al., case number 2:18-cv-00238, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.

--Editing by Orlando Lorenzo.

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