The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association allowed federal employees' sensitive medical information to be obtained by third-party technology companies, including TikTok, according to a lawsuit filed Nov. 7 in a federal court in Chicago.
BCBS provides health coverage to more than 5.5 million federal employees, retirees and dependents. The lawsuit was filed by five former federal health plan enrollees who are seeking class-action status and a jury trial.
The plaintiffs allege that BCBSA's website for federal policyholders, www.fepblue.org, uses tracking technology that allows third-party organizations such as Chinese-owned TikTok "to secretly intercept and record the employees communications and activities on the website in real time, including specific searches for sensitive health-related topics."
"While federal and state governments across the country have banned TikTok on government devices, and national security experts have warned about TikTok's aggressive data-collection practices, [BCBS] has secretly deployed the TikTok Pixel on its website to intercept the sensitive medical information of federal employees and transmit that information to TikTok," the plaintiffs' attorneys wrote.
According to the suit, obtained member data is then allegedly used to sell targeted advertising or is used by BCBS directly for "marketing campaigns through TikTok and other third-party advertisers, as well as for its own data analytics."
The plaintiffs reside in California, Texas, South Carolina, Pennsylvania and Florida. They are seeking damages for violations of the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act, along with violations of individual state privacy laws.
The BCBSA told Becker's it does not comment on active litigation.
Currently, more than 18 hospitals and health systems nationwide are being sued for their use of the Meta Pixel, which plaintiffs say shared their protected health information with the Facebook parent company, allowing it to tailor ads based on their medical conditions.
In August, Advocate Aurora Health agreed to pay a $12.25 million settlement after it was hit with multiple lawsuits about pixel tracking technology placed on its website and patient portals. Costco is also facing a lawsuit over allegations it shared customers' protected health information with Meta.
In July, HHS' Office for Civil Rights and the Federal Trade Commission sent letters to 66 hospitals and health systems about the risks associated with pixel tracking technologies. The American Hospital Association, the Texas Hospital Association and two health systems filed a lawsuit against HHS in November over new guidance that prohibits hospitals and other healthcare providers from using tracking tools to monitor visitors on their websites.