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Ohio Department of Health, CVS Face Lawsuit After Possibly Disclosing Identity Of 6,000 HIV Patients

Jul 02, 2018 09:20 PM EDT
HIV Patients
A class-action lawsuit is filed against the Ohio Department of Health and CVS Caremark after 6,000 people get their HIV status divulged in a mailing. HIV patients have various reason for keeping their medical status private, including keeping themselves from getting fired or uninsured.
(Photo : Gerd Altmann | Pixabay)

The Ohio state health department is being sued for their involvement in the CVS Caremark case divulging the identities of 6,000 HIV patients.

The case focuses on a mailing sent by CVS in relation to a program of the Ohio Department of Health. CVS Caremark has been sued for their role in the incident last March 2018. Now, it's the health department's turn.

The Case Against Health Department, CVS

According to the Columbus Dispatch, CVS Caremaker agreed to be a pharmacy-benefit manager for the state's HIV drug-benefits program. In relation to this role, CVS sent a mass mailing to 6,000 patients.

This mailing included the recipient's name and address, along with the designation "PM 6402 HIV" right above the name.

"They wholesale delivered personal health information," Terry Kilgore, the Cleveland-based attorney who filed the class-action suit in the Ohio Court of Claims, points out in Dispatch.

Kilgore adds that there are patients who opt to keep their HIV status under wraps for a variety of reasons including the risk of being uninsurable.

"Persons with HIV are still subject to stigma, humiliation, mental anguish, embarrassment, and stress based on their HIV status," the complaint against CVS states in a report from Dayton Daily News last March. "They may also run the risk of the loss of housing, relationships, and employment when their HIV status is revealed."

The suit is claiming the Ohio Department of Health wrongfully allowed CVS to send out a mailing of CVS membership cards to participants of the Ohio HIV Drug Assistance Program. At that time, many of the recipients did not have an existing relationship with CVS, which means they haven't authorized the company to access their information.

"Last year, as part of a Caremark benefits mailing to members of an Ohio client, a reference code for an assistance program was visible within the envelope window," CVS spokesperson Michael DeAngelis says in an e-mail to Columbus Dispatch. "This reference code referred to the name of the program and not to the recipient's health status. This reference code has been eliminated from future mailings."

Furthermore, the letter mailed to the OHDAP participants also included marketing and promotion of the CVS retail and mail-order pharmacies. The recipients were told that they could acquire their HIV medication exclusively through the two CVS channels: retail and mail order.

The company's retail pharmacies are supposed to be separated by a firewall from the pharmacy-benefit manager CVS Caremark.

Another CVS Lawsuit

This recent lawsuit is not the only controversy that CVS has been facing during the past month or so. Another scandal against CVS was over an employee in one of their retail pharmacies being loose-lipped about a client's medication, specifically, erectile-dysfunction pills. Despite being told that the man did not want the purchase to show up in his insurance, the CVS worker spilled the beans to the client's wife.

The client, Michael Feinberg, said it resulted in the collapse of his marriage. He is seeking damages for the resulting "genuine, severe mental injury and emotional harm."

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