BLOOD BANKS: California Facilities in Critical Condition
Most of California's 15 not-for-profit blood centers are financially hemorrhaging, having racked up a collective $33 million in debt, the Wall Street Journal reports. Most blood banks are forced to sell their blood for less than it costs to collect, test and distribute because hospitals receive insufficient reimbursement from Medicare or health plans to cover the full price. And with increased demand for improved blood safety tests, 'a greater difficulty' finding donors and soaring costs, the financial forecast appears dim. "If the blood banks can't be financially viable, how can the public expect us to maintain the blood supply?" Cathy Bryan, a spokesperson for the Blood Centers of California, asked. While the problem affects blood banks nationwide, in California, where HMOs maintain greater influence on hospitals, competition among centers to cut blood prices is "more intense." Theresa Wiegmann, director of government affairs at the American Association of Blood Banks in Bethesda, Md., said: "California is often ahead of the rest of the country, and in this case, it's ahead in feeling the pinch." Blood centers have responded to the crisis by laying off workers, merging with rivals and slashing programs and services. Banks also have asked state lawmakers for help, urging the passage of Joint Senate Resolution 31, which calls on Gov. Gray Davis (D) and federal officials "to ensure that adequate reimbursement measures be implemented for all mandated safety initiatives imposed upon California's blood centers" (Muto, 6/7).
To Pay or Not to Pay?
In the wake of recent blood shortages, the Sacramento Bee asks whether the California Legislature should ban companies from offering compensation for donating platelets -- the components of blood that promote clotting. The editors argue that, with no solid evidence showing its products have been less safe than those from volunteer donors, HemaCare, a Southern California company, should be allowed to pay platelet donors for the two-hour procedure. They throw their support behind AB 2714, which would allow HemaCare to continue its practice but prevent diseased drug addicts from giving platelets for "quick cash." While they admit that ideally, blood should be donated freely, the editors maintain that the problems facing the state's health system may require less-than-perfect solutions (6/7).