The California Health Services Department inadvertently revealed the names and addresses of up to 53 Californians enrolled in an AIDS drug assistance program to other enrollees by putting benefit notification letters in the wrong envelopes, officials said.
The letters went out to recipients in 16 counties, and the department learned about the mix-up after 12 people in the drug assistance program phoned to say they had received letters addressed to someone else, said health services Director Sandra Shewry.
The breach of confidentiality is particularly sensitive after the state legislature's decision last year to change from an HIV tracking system based on alphanumeric codes to one based on patient names. California had been slow to make the change because of fears it would compromise patient privacy and deter testing.
Proponents defended the name system by arguing that AIDS, which can take a decade or more to develop after HIV infection, had long been tracked in a confidential database of names. HIV/AIDS services and advocacy groups said this was the first known breach of that database.
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