Company pushes for proper needle disposal reimbursement

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Friday, January 31, 2003

BROADVIEW HEIGHTS, Ohio - A medical device company here has teamed up with a U.S. Congressman in an attempt to win Medicare reimbursement for proper needle disposal in the home.

Safeguard Medical Devices has convinced Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) to introduce language before Congress that would force Medicare to reimburse home syringe users for the costs of disposing of their needles properly. LaTourette will probably introduce the language as part of the Medicare bill that’s currently pending in Congress.

Joe Adkins, president of Safeguard, said the company is initiating the change because improper needle disposal poses the risk of infection or injury to anyone who encounters them. He said more than 2 billion needles and syringes are used outside traditional healthcare settings, mostly by diabetics in the home. Typically those needles are thrown in the trash.

Although some people put their needles in a puncture-resistant container such as a milk jug and then throw them in the trash, even puncture-resistant containers can break open when they’re thrown into garbage trucks, Adkins said.

Adkins admitted the company’s mission is partly self-serving: Safeguard sells a machine called the Disintegrator that disintegrates syringe needles into bb-shaped balls, allowing users to throw them safely into the trash. But few people with diabetes and Medicare as their insurance carrier have the disposable income to buy the $100 machine. If needle disposal options were added to the definition of DME, though, options like the Disintegrator would qualify for reimbursement, Adkins said.

Another option for safe needle disposal is the Sharps containers manufactured by Franklin Lakes, N.J.-based Becton, Dickinson. Joan Rogers, a brand manager for BD, said this spring, the company will begin shipping their containers in a box with materials for having them and the needles they carry mailed to an incinerator. Rogers said the cost of the package - somewhere in the mid-$20s - will include postage, as well as having the container incinerated.

“We’re currently working on getting third-party payers to reimburse part of the cost of buying the containers,” Rogers said.

Providers said that reimbursement for proper needle disposal would give people with diabetes an incentive to buy machines that disintegrate needles or Sharps containers.

“I’d say at least 90% of my clients throw their needles in the trash,” said Joe Cloud, owner of Pineland Pharmacy in Pineland, Texas. “It’s not good, but they don’t know of another system or they can’t afford one.”

Cloud said he’d carry the Disintegrator or Sharps containers in his pharmacy if he could get reimbursement for them.

Safeguard is encouraging people to write their representative or senator to support reimbursing home syringe users for the costs of disposing of their needles properly. HME

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