Sell your excess supplies here?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

YARMOUTH, Maine - Ads targeting seniors that offer cash for excess diabetes supplies have been popping up in local newspapers around the country. That has some providers worried it casts a bad light on the HME industry.

"It gives the perception that we are sending people stuff they don't need," said Dave Doubek, president of Alsip, Ill.-based Doubek Medical Supply.

With CMS constantly scrutinizing providers for improper billing and documentation issues, the idea that a so-called black market for test strips exists has providers understandably worried.

Provider Mark Gielniak called one of the advertised numbers after a customer complained. He was offered $45 for six boxes of test strips. What, Gielniak asked, happens to the strips?

"I was told they give them to people without insurance or sell them at a low cost," said Gielniak, vice president of Warren, Mich.-based Diabetes Plus. "The guy said he was completely licensed by the post office."

So where is this surplus of supplies coming from?

"Many people don't test as usual and they receive auto-shipments month after month," said Wayne Stanfield, president of the National Association of Independent Medical Equipment Suppliers, who has heard reports of the ads from several members. "These supplies are ending up on the open market. I think some crafty entrepreneurs are buying and reselling these."

Compounding the problem: Patients are frequently targeted by telemarketers offering to ship supplies, say providers. They either don't realize it's not their regular provider, or they are swayed by offers of free meters or other promotions. Then they wind up receiving shipments from multiple providers.

"I have tried to get Medicare to allow us, through the same or similar tool, to see when a patient last got supplies," said Mike Eberly, CEO of Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Care 1st Medical. "As of right now, the tool does not allow a provider to check test strips to see on what date the patient last received strips. Having access to this info would save Medicare and suppliers millions."

At the end of the day, black market supplies pose the biggest risk to patients, say providers. There's no way to know whether the items have been properly stored or how old they are. That can lead to false readings, said provider Doug Cruitt.

"All of a sudden, you think you are out of whack and making adjustments based on false information," said Cruitt, president of Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Horizon MedCorp. "Then the patient winds up in the emergency room. That costs everyone more money."