Aetna, still looking for scapegoat in HIV disclosure fiasco, sues plaintiffs firms

This case is the stuff derisive tweeters live for. Seriously. Aetna is only making itself look worse and worse.

Alison Frankel reports:

Aetna has intensified its search for someone else to blame for a settlement notification fiasco that has so far put the company on the hook for nearly $20 million.

Aetna stands accused, as you may recall, of violating the privacy of customers who take HIV medications by allowing postal delivery of a settlement notice that displayed patients’ names, addresses and HIV prescription information in a transparent envelope window. In February, the insurer sued the claims administrator Kurtzman Carson Consultants in federal court in Philadelphia, arguing that KCC should indemnify Aetna for the botched notice because KCC chose the overly-revelatory envelope. That case is ongoing.

But Aetna has meanwhile found a new target. On Wednesday, the insurer filed a complaint in Philadelphia federal court against the plaintiffs firm Whatley Kallas and the non-profit Consumer Watchdog, which represented Aetna clients in the cases that led to the botched notification. The new suit contends that plaintiffs lawyers demanded Aetna supply confidential information about its clients to KCC, then failed to assure that none of the information would be exposed in the settlement notification mailing.

Read more on Reuters.  Consumer Watchdog issued a press release yesterday in response to Aetna’s suit:

This morning, health insurance Goliath Aetna sued the nonprofit Consumer Watchdog and Whatley Kallas LLP, a consumer law firm, who’ve sued Aetna for it’s improper and negligent disclosure of the HIV positive status of thousands of its members. The disclosure was made as a result of Aetna’s use of a window pane envelope that was sent to communicate a member-wide business practice change Aetna agreed to make in order to resolve an earlier lawsuit brought by the consumer advocates.

Consumer Watchdog and Whatley Kallas sent a letter to Aetna’s lawyers denouncing the threatened lawsuit on Tuesday. Read the letter here:

The law firms currently represent a “John Doe” whose HIV status was publicly disclosed through the window pane envelope. This John Doe was one of several plaintiffs who Consumer Watchdog and Whatley Kallas LLP represented in a 2014 lawsuit challenging Aetna’s prior practice that mandated its HIV patients obtain their life-sustaining prescription medicines by mail order, rather than by going to their local pharmacy. This mail order policy exposed HIV patients’ health status to their families, friends, neighbors and coworkers, a violation of state and federal privacy laws. The mail order program also threatened HIV patients’ health by cutting off access to community pharmacists who provide essential advice and counseling that help HIV patients and their families navigate the challenges of living with a chronic and often debilitating condition.

Lawyers for Consumer Watchdog and Whatley Kallas LLP challenged the mail order policy in court. Aetna dragged its feet for two years, eventually settling the lawsuit by permanently stopping the mail order system and reimbursing patients who paid exorbitant prices by choosing to go to local pharmacies.

The latest lawsuit arose because Aetna mailed a required notice of the settlement to its 11,875 affected members, advising them of their rights under the settlement. Aetna sent the letter out in an envelope with a large window that revealed the recipient’s HIV status. Multiple lawsuits were filed against Aetna for the second privacy breach, including one brought on behalf of the original John Doe by lawyers for Consumer Watchdog and Whatley Kallas LLP. Aetna settled a class action suit in federal court in Pennsylvania and also agreed to new privacy practices with the State of New York.

Aetna is now trying to blame the lawyers from Consumer Watchdog and Whatley Kallas LLP for using the window pane envelope. Aetna, in its latest lawsuit, claims that lawyers from Consumer Watchdog and Whatley Kallas should have prevented Aetna from sending out the envelope exposing peoples’ HIV status.

Aetna has threatened to ask a California court to prevent the lawyers from representing John Doeon the ground that they are responsible for the harm caused to their client’s privacy.

“Aetna’s attempt to blame us is a frivolous waste of judicial resources and Aetna knows it,” said Harvey Rosenfield of Consumer Watchdog. “We had no control over the mailing process and had no idea that Aetna decided to use an envelope with a giant window that exposed the recipient’s HIV status.”

“Some have called Aetna’s mess a ‘comedy of errors,’ but Aetna’s inability to protect the personal health information of its members is no joke, and its attempt to sideline and disparage the attorneys who first exposed and prosecuted Aetna is a frivolous misuse of judicial procedures and resources,” said Joe Whatley of Whatley Kallas, LLP. “We look forward to employing all the tools of the legal system to expose how this occurred and who at Aetna and its many law firms was responsible, and we will take every action necessary to bring this wayward and arrogant corporation to justice.”

Consumer Watchdog and Whatley Kallas lawyers have successfully resolved challenges on behalf of HIV patients to the mail order privacy practices of United Health Care, Blue Cross of California, and Cigna.

Read about the original lawsuits against Aetna and Coventry:

Read about the settlement in the original case:

Read Consumer Watchdog’s suit against Aetna for the 2017 privacy breach:

Consumer Watchdog is a nonpartisan consumer advocacy organization with offices in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles, CA. For more information, go to:

The lawyers of Whatley Kallas, LLP have been repeatedly recognized in legal publications, such as The National Law Journal and American Lawyer, by their peers and by leaders of organized medicine for their work in the healthcare field. For more information, go to:

SOURCE Consumer Watchdog

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