CVS On Hook for Letters Disclosing HIV Status
By Lisa Klein, COURTHOUSE NEWS SERVICE
December 24, 2018
CINCINNATI (CN) – A federal judge in Ohio ruled Friday that a company operating hundreds of CVS pharmacies must face a class action from patients claiming it sent letters disclosing their HIV status on the envelope.
Caremark, a subsidiary of CVS Health Corporation that runs about 320 pharmacy stores, is in charge of administering the Ryan White Program in Ohio. The federal program provides assistance with insurance premiums, co-pays and medications for HIV-positive patients.
The company contracted with Fiserv, also a defendant in the March 2018 lawsuit, to mail letters with program information to the over 6,000 participants in the state.
According to the complaint, “Ohio Department of Health” was visible through a clear window on the envelopes, as was “PM 6402 HIV” printed above each individual’s name.
“The use of envelopes with transparent windows contravenes the standard practice of the Ohio Department of Health, which is to send all mailings relating to HIV-related issues in opaque, non-windowed envelopes,” the lawsuit states.
The plaintiffs say their private health information was exposed to family, friends, neighbors, landlords and strangers.
“Persons with HIV are still subject to stigma, humiliation, mental anguish, embarrassment and stress based on their HIV status. They also run the risk of the loss of housing, relationships and employment with their HIV status is revealed,” the complaint states.
Caremark and its co-defendants filed motions to dismiss all claims against them, arguing the class has “not alleged sufficiently that there was an actual disclosure of plaintiffs’ personal medical information related to their HIV status because they do not name specific individuals who actually saw the information.”
However, Chief U.S. District Judge Edmund A. Sargus Jr. found Friday that the plaintiffs’ Biddle claims – that unauthorized disclosure of medical information is a tort – and claims for declaratory relief can move forward.
“Plaintiffs assert that, inasmuch as they did not know Caremark had their information…it is axiomatic that plaintiffs did not, and could not have consented to Caremark’s disclosure of their nonpublic medical information,” Sargus said in his 26-page opinion.
Other common law causes of action and counts pleaded in the alternative to Biddle claims were dismissed.
The class is represented by Ohio attorney Terry Kilgore and lawyers from the firms Whatley Kallas LLP and California-based Consumer Watchdog.