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July 09, 2001
Red Cross Boosts Blood Prices
Having fallen $335 million into debt and saying it has underpriced blood for years, the Red Cross is raising prices nationwide.
For some New England hospitals, the tab has doubled, leaving executives in a panic over how to pay for the 420,000 units of blood they buy for patients every year, the Boston Globe reports.
"We're worried sick," said Dr. Eugene Berkman, medical director of New England Medical Center's blood bank. "It's difficult in this day and age to go down to administration and say `I need an extra half-million for blood.' But right now, the Red Cross is the only supplier in town."
Since neither patients nor their medical insurance companies pay specifically for blood - it's woven into the overall hospital bill - they will not immediately feel the impact of the price increases.
But along with prescription drugs, the climbing cost of blood will be one more factor that drives up health care costs and insurance premiums, the Globe reports. The increases also could lead hospitals to adopt stricter controls over which patients receive blood.
The Red Cross, a nonprofit that collects and sells more than half of the nation's blood for transfusions, already faces enough turmoil. It recently adopted new rules to protect the blood supply from mad cow disease. Some doctors argue those rules are unnecessary and will disqualify thousands of donors at a time when the blood supply already is dangerously low.
Even the agency's decision to sell only a certain type of specially filtered red blood cells as of this summer - one of the reasons Red Cross executives cite for raising prices - is a source of controversy.
This process, called leukocyte reduction, requires using a plastic filter to strain out the donor's white blood cells or leukocytes, which can cause fevers in some blood recipients and more serious reactions in the very ill.
Cancer patients, for example, receive only leukocyte-reduced blood because they may develop antibodies to the white cells, hampering the effectiveness of subsequent blood transfusions.
Canada and several European nations already require the filtering for all blood; a Food and Drug Administration committee also has recommended it.
The process ads $35 to the cost of a unit of blood, according to Jacquelyn Fredrick, Red Cross senior vice president of biomedical services, and that cost can no longer be absorbed by the agency.
The agency will no longer sell cheaper, unfiltered red blood cells.
But many doctors say widespread filtering is unnecessary, since most patients have no reaction to donors' white blood cells.
To view the Boston Globe story, click here.
pitals around the U.S. are getting surprises in the form of their latest blood bills from the American Red Cross.