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Insurance giant Aetna is blaming a vendor it used when mailing out a benefits statement to some 12,000 customers for inadvertently revealing private health information - namely, the patients' HIV status.

Aetna confirmed that they sent letters out to some 12,000 customers.

The Legal Action Center, an advocacy group, called on Aetna to correct the mistake, which they argue could expose patients to discrimination.

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The company's letters had instructions on how to fill prescriptions and were sent out to customers who were already taking HIV medications, and pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP, which helps prevent HIV.

"Recipients were stunned when they realized information about HIV medication was clearly visible through the window on the envelope", Legal Action Center and the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania said in a press release.

Despite calling the incident "unacceptable" and saying they were "ensuring something like this never happens again", the CT company insinuated in a letter it sent to to affected customers on August 2 that the blame should fall on a vendor that chose the incorrect envelope.

Patients were in Arizona, California, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.

Aetna's notification letter went on to emphasize the "the viewable information did not include the name of any particular medication or any statement that have been diagnosed with specific condition".

"We sincerely apologize to those affected by a mailing issue that inadvertently exposed the personal health information of some Aetna members", the company said in a statement.

"They also were shocked that their health insurer would utterly disregard their privacy rights", the organization said.

These privacy violations have caused incalculable harm to Aetna beneficiaries.

Many of these customers have filed complaints with agencies such as the Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Health and Human Services, the legal firms wrote.

The attorneys said additional legal action is under consideration. She fears that those who received the letters may report the loss of housing or employment or even violence because of having their HIV status revealed.

Aetna also sent notices to customers affected by the situation, claiming information may have been visible "in some cases". "You need to fix this".