NEEDLE SAFETY: Bill Aims to Take State Law Nationwide
Supporters of national safe-needle legislation received a "surprisingly warm welcome" in Congress last week, as they lobbied lawmakers to pass the measure aimed at reducing the number of accidental needle sticks among medical workers, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Sponsored by Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), the bill would expand California's first-of-its-kind safe needle law adopted in 1998. Calling accidental and potentially dangerous needle sticks an "epidemic," Service Employees International Union spokesperson and San Francisco nurse Lorraine Thiebaud told the House subcommittee on workforce protections last Thursday that the majority of hospitals do not use safety syringes because they cost more than traditional hypodermic needles. Although more expensive, safety needles spare hospitals the high costs of testing and treating workers for needle injuries; tests and preventive treatment for one high-risk needle stick can cost nearly $3,000 per case, or $1.8 billion per year nationwide. By the mid-1990s, a variety of safety needles were marketed to hospitals, including devices with self-blunting needles and protective, sliding plastic sheaths. An estimated 600,000 medical workers each year are exposed to blood-borne illnesses as a result of accidental needle sticks, with 1,000 workers contracting an infectious disease, such as HIV or hepatitis C. Since California adopted a safety needle law, several states have followed suit with similar regulations. Although Stark's bill was well-received by the Republican-led subcommittee and has the backing of 186 co-sponsors, it is not likely to pass this year as time is running out in Congress. However, Stark said that the measure has a good chance next year since "Republicans have finally discovered" the issue (Lochhead/Carlsen, 6/23).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.